Teaching with Cases

Cases can be taught in many different ways ranging from lecture to highly interactive formats that often involve students working in groups. 

Workshops and Institutes

Come to a workshop or institute for in-depth, in-person professional development in using Native Cases in your teaching.

Our teaching notes provide you with some suggestions, but these are only suggestions, not necessarily the right way for everyone. So feel free to adapt your approach to what fits your teaching style, your students, and the course expectations.

Voices of Teachers

We’ve learned over the years that our cases are used with students at all levels of education. Learn about some of the different ways our Native cases are being used. Contact us if you are interested in sharing your experience.

Resources on Pedagogical Approaches

See the pedagogical section of our Bibliography and the articles listed below:

  1. Oberholtzer, Classic Ways to Teach Cases">Smith and Oberholtzer, Classic Ways to Teach Cases
  2. Smith, Effective Groups
  3. Stumpff, Thinking about Teaching with Cases">Smith and Stumpff, Thinking about Teaching with Cases

Core Practices of Effective Teaching

We will admit upfront that we favor teaching approaches that honor what we call the five core practices of effective teaching:

Diagram of the cycle of teach methodologies for using cases


Education is about social and academic development. Much of the literature points to the importance of a sense of belonging and connectedness in Native student success. We think cases are an excellent way of building a sense of community and belonging as students get to know one another and jointly explore the issues cases raise.


Human beings are highly diverse and cases can provide an ideal platform for addressing diversity on many fronts. First and foremost, the content of our cases directly addresses issues relevant to an often neglected group of students. Secondly, the pedagogical approaches recommended here provide opportunities for bringing in the considerable community-based knowledge of the students. Third, the case method is an inclusive pedagogy. It is open-ended and inquiry-oriented, inviting a diversity of responses.

Active learning

Active learning has long been recognized as a component of effective educational practice. Alfred North Whitehead put it well in saying “ beware of inert ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.” There are many active learning approaches that go under more specific labels including collaborative and cooperative learning, labs and field student, debate, role playing, small group discussion, seminars, punctuated lectures, project-based learning, problem-based learning, and case-based learning. The common underlying premise of these approaches is that students learn more through educational experiences that involve applying key concepts, working with others, and utilizing knowledge.


When a curriculum promotes integration, it has coherence and provides opportunities for students to construct their own meaning. Interdisciplinary and problem-based learning are forms of education that promote integrative learning. Much of the literature on Native views of education resonates with the call for integration though its roots are very different. As Greg Cajete says, American Indian education emphasizes seeing things comprehensively and sees “integration and interconnectedness as universal traits.” (Cajete, 29-30, 1994)

Reflection and Assessment

Assessment activities bring the cycle of learning full circle to answer important questions about what students learned. We also know that reflection at the end of a learning activity deepens the learning process. Teachers build assessment into the ways they do cases in various ways: by asking students to write reflections in response to questions about the case at the end of a case discussion, by asking students to produce analysis papers on cases, by having students fill out surveys about the case and the case discussion, by having students assess the ways their group functioned. One creative approach that our students seem to really enjoy is to have them design an exam on the case!


What is the impact of cases on student learning? What do faculty say? How do teachers assess the impact of cases on their students? What are some good resources for classroom-based assessment?

Tools & Approaches to Assess Student Learning with Cases

Assessment is a key part of the teaching and learning process. We want to know what students are learning from using cases. The assessment process should begin with your goals and objectives. What were your learning outcomes for any given case? Our teaching notes contain the writer’s learning outcomes, but the teacher will obviously tailor the learning outcomes to their own students and course goals. There are many ways to assess the impact of cases on students.

Measures of student outcomes usually focus on 1) the aggregate results such as overall course retention rates, completion rates, attendance, and grade point averages and 2) on individual student learning outcomes.& assessment of individual student learning outcomes which covers a broad territory and may include cognitive outcomes (specific knowledge and skills) and affective measures (values, goals, motivation, attitudes, etc.)

Our surveys of faculty using our Native cases suggest that faculty were interested in data on student motivation, perceptions, attitudes, motivation, attendance, student engagement, grades/completion rates, learning and clinical skills/tasks. They report assessing students learning with cases through a variety of different approaches including course evaluations, tests, case analysis, journals, peer evaluation forms, projects, end-of-case reflections, portfolios, and papers. The Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG) website is a useful resource for a variety of classroom-based assessment resources.

For a summary of the research literature on the use of cases and other forms of problem-based learning, especially in the sciences, visit the SUNY Buffalo University National Center for Case Teaching in Science.

In our frequent  surveys, when asked about the results of using cases in their classrooms the respondents report very positive results with large majorities agreeing with the following statements about impact:

  • Students learn to view issues from multiple perspectives
  • Students are more engaged
  • Students develop stronger critical thinking skills
  • Students have a better grasp of the practical applications of core course concepts
  • Students strengthen communication skills
  • Students develop positive peer-to-peer relationships
  • Students gain confidence working in groups
  • Additional benefits of using cases reported by smaller numbers of faculty include attendance increasing, fewer students failing or withdrawing, and student evaluations of faculty becoming more positive.

When asked more specifically about the impact of Native cases the respondents pointed to several noteworthy dimensions:

  • Students gain understanding of important issues in Indian Country
  • Native cases raise awareness of non-Native students about Native perspectives and issues
  • Native cases enhance the scientific curriculum for Native students
  • Students feel the curriculum is more culturally relevant