Case studies have long been heralded as an impactful and critical pedagogical approach in college classrooms. Depending on how case studies are integrated into an educational space, students can increase research skills by conducting research to develop additional context when conceptualizing a case or locate additional sources to better understand themes; develop writing skills by drafting, peer reviewing, workshopping, and revising cases; expand critical thinking skills by defining or articulating problems or complexities in contexts; engage intercultural competency skills by listening to multiple perspectives, participating in dialogue, and considering cultural dynamics; and explore problem solving skills by conceptualizing action plans and analyzing consequences.
Yet there is another additional skill that is often overlooked in the implementation of case studies—the opportunity to develop questioning skills.
Questions are essential components of case studies. Tucked neatly at the end are a list of discussion questions that faculty can use to debrief or unpack the case. Initial questions faculty ask about a case can set the tone and dictate distinct pathways of discussion; frame and target the content of a dialogue or student learning; and encourage participation or quickly end a conversation. How questions are asked, when questions are introduced into the discussion, and what kinds of questions are posed affect how a case is processed and the terrains of student learning.
Developing effective questions is a skill most faculty acquired over time and with practice. Our ability as faculty to model the development and facilitation of dialogue through effective questioning is a skill that benefits all students. How can we guide students through the process of designing questions, understanding the importance of asking questions, and making connections through questioning?
Three ideas—evaluation, categorization, and ideation—for utilizing case studies to develop student questioning skills follow.
Faculty can have students critique the discussion questions associated with the case. After sharing some key ideas around types of questions and developing questions, faculty can ask students to evaluate case questions, helping students develop a critical lens that informs their own question development. Each of the approaches below highlights an important aspect of question formulation.
- Ask students to rank the questions based on importance in understanding the case and be prepared to advocate or share why their top-ranked question is the most important.
- Ask students to review and critique the wording of the questions in small groups. Do questions start with the same word or are a variety of forms of questions posed? Are the questions truly open-ended questions? Were questions too vague or too specific? Were questions loaded or leading?
- Ask students to rewrite some of the questions and then collectively negotiate a final list of questions.
- Ask students to elaborate on whether some of the questions facilitated a deeper class conversation about the case than others. Why might that be?
- Ask students to take one discussion question and create a class activity around that question that demonstrates how students’ answers can depend on how questions are asked.
- Ask students if the questions reflect the reality as they see it relating the to the case. Are the case and questions still timely? Are there questions that would be more relevant today than when the case was written?
- Ask students if the questions frame the conflict in the case in a particular way that might inform how students understand the case? Can questions be rewritten in a way that reframes the case from an alternative point of view?
- Ask students to create a concept map of all the discussion questions and the related course topics to determine if there are other concepts missing that could inform the formulation of additional questions.
Faculty provide students with categories around which to develop additional questions. These categories could be based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, related to the content, or demonstrate the process that you want students to engage with as they strategically unpack the case. For example, consider the following categories and questions.
Analyzing the case
- What is the situation?
- What are the different values, norms, or interests of different actors in this case?
- Are these different values, norms, or interests in opposition to one another?
- What are the power relationships between different actors in this scenario?
- How power relationships influence this case?
- What cultural frame clarifies the behaviors and actions of those involved?
- What factors may have influenced the evolution of events?
- What cultural, societal, or political aspects of this case created the problem?
Solving the case
- Do you foresee a viable solution?
- If you were the individual in this case, what would you do?
- If you were advising the individual in this case, what would you tell them?
- Would some sort of compromise be possible or useful in this case?
- What are alternative solutions?
- What ethical issues does this situation present?
Contextualizing the case
- What additional information would be useful as you consider this case?
- Where else may we see a similar situation?
- What assumptions underlie the actions of the actors in the case?
- How would you describe what it is like to experience what this individual experienced?
- What histories are important to consider when evaluating this case?
- What resources or support did the individual face in their situation?
- What barriers, if any, did the individual have in facing their situation on their own?
- Should others have helped support the individual in this situation? If so, how?
Learning from the case
- What can we learn from this case?
- What feelings do you have after reading and discussing this case?
- Will our discussion about this case change your behavior in any way?
- Does this case prompt you to rethink any of your assumptions?
- How would you have handled this situation differently?
- Was there something about this case that surprised you?
- If you had to describe this case in one word, what would it be?
How do you use questioning in your class? Recognizing the ways you deploy questioning in the classroom can inform and direct the questions students develop. In groups or individually, ask student groups to create discussions that are informed by one of the ways in which you use questions in your class. The have students share, comparing and contrasting the questions created by each small group.
- Perhaps you use questioning in your classroom to foster a climate of curiosity—therefore students can be instructed to develop questions that the case doesn’t answer.
- Perhaps you use questioning to facilitate self-assessment, peer-to-peer assessment, or formative feedback—therefore students can be instructed to design questions that facilitate a dialogue about what it was like to participate in the unpacking of the case.
- Perhaps you use questioning to generate new ideas or set a research agenda—therefore students can be asked to craft questions that explore the interrelated nature of course concepts.
- Perhaps you use questioning to help students make connections or synthesize information—therefore students can be asked to formulate a question that provides the space for students to relate personal experiences to the case.
With a plethora of student-generated questions, facilitating dialogue and engagement with course concepts becomes a more focused, student-centered collaboration.
Dr. Terra Gargano teaches in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC, and has worked in international higher education for over 25 years.
Kofoed Wind, D. (2020, September 28). How to Write Discussion Questions That Actually Spark Discussions · Eduflow blog. Www.eduflow.com. https://www.eduflow.com/blog/how-to-write-discussion-questions-that-actually-spark-discussions
Morgan, N., & Saxton, J. (2006). Asking better questions. Pembroke Publishers.
Rothstein, D., Santana, L., & Puriefoy, W. D. (2017). Make just one change : teach students to ask their own questions. Harvard Education Press, , Cop.
Walsh, J. A., & Sattes, B. D. (2012). Thinking through quality questioning : deepening student engagement. Hawker Brownlow Education.