Start With a Story: The Case Method of Teaching College by Clyde Freeman Herreid

By Clyde Freeman Herreid

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Nevertheless, most scientists and economists among 22 them hate to admit to something so childishsounding as telling stories. They want to emulate Newton’s elegance rather than Darwin’s complexity. One suspects that the relative prestige of the two methods has more to do with age than anything else. If a proto-Darwin had published in 1687, and a neo-Newton in 1859, you can bet the prestige of storytelling versus timeless modeling would be reversed. Storytelling in science is largely verboten. We seldom hear of the passion, emotion, or personal matters of a Newton, Einstein, Lavoisier, Lyell, or Pasteur—such things are regarded as asides or diversions from truth, the grand structure of the universe that exists separate from the observer.

James B. Conant of Harvard was apparently the first science educator to try and organize an entire course around this mode of teaching (Conant 1949). However, unlike the current practice in business and most other fields that present cases within a framework of discussion or Socratic dialogue, Conant presented cases entirely in a lecture START WITH A STORY THE CASE STUDY METHOD OF TEACHING COLLEGE SCIENCE 29 5 Case Studies in Science format. Conant’s model did not survive him and other attempts to use the method are not widely known.

Seasoned physicians have always posed problems to interns, residents, and students as they made their rounds. Not until McMaster University of Canada developed the method for its entire curriculum was the full potential of the approach realized. Since then, the method has spread to other medical schools that have been frustrated with the fact-crammed lectures in traditional curricula. A review of the method is provided by Barrows (1986) and an unpublished review by Koschmann, Myers, Feltovich, and Barrows (1994).

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