Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Investigative case-based learning for connecting science to society

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Investigative Case Based Learning (ICBL) is the core of the NSF-funded LifeLines OnLine project (CCLI-EMD 9952525) which uses science-society contexts as the basis for learning in STEM disciplines. Originally intended for students taking biology as a general education requirement in two year colleges, the ICBL pedagogical approach has been shown to work well with majors and in upper level undergraduate courses in a variety of STEM disciplines and institutional types.

The pedagogical approach, Investigative Case Based Learning (ICBL), aligns problem-based learning with the investigative approaches found in the software, tools and resources of the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium. ICBL engages learners in a collaborative problem space describing a realistic situation involving science in society. The case provides a meaningful context for learning, with a memorable anchoring experience on which to build new understanding. Available cases on the LifeLines website (bioquest.org/lifelines) include situations ranging from the problem of excess caffeine in the Willamette River leading to reduction in the salmon harvest, to sewage treatment in the arctic, to identifying snakes and their venoms to provide appropriate treatment for a snakebite, to conducting nucleic acid alignment procedures to identify unknown samples from whale meat vendors in Asia. These rich societal contexts are both multidisciplinary and motivational. They are written about people grappling with questions that scientific inquiry can help illuminate.

Once students have read a case together, they complete a brief but carefully structured case analysis discussion, which allows students a way to identify their own questions and prior knowledge. Students are next encouraged to explore questions derived from the case through extended science investigations. These investigations may take place in lab or field, or in a computational space using simulations, models or other tools. The investigations may be student or faculty initiated. They may be full-blown individual projects or they may be brief analyses by the whole class of data set from a published paper. Situating learning in a realistically complex context, followed by related investigations provides students with a more meaningful experience of science and scientific research.

In addition to several LifeLines workshops, we conducted over 30 more in which ICBL has been introduced to liberal arts and research institutions. As a result 135 faculty members from over 40 colleges and universities produced 65 curriculum modules, primarily in biology. Each module contains a case, suggested related investigative activities, resources, assessments and implementation plans. NSF-funded participants have actively field-tested ICBL curriculum modules in their courses. The curriculum modules are part of the LifeLines Online1 website which serves as a portal to resources for ICBL developed by a community of faculty users. Also available are extensive faculty development materials for ICBL, a student guide to using cases, field-testing evaluation forms, ICBL bibliography and links to other projects using cases or similar problem-based learning pedagogies. Included are several recent publications such as Using Investigative Cases in Geoscience2, Doing Science Collaboratively with Investigative Case Based Learning3, and a forthcoming book "Biological Inquiry: A Workbook of Investigative Cases" for Benjamin Cummings.

1 LifeLines OnLine

2 Using Investigative Cases in Geoscience

3 Doing Science Collaboratively with Investigative Case Based Learning