Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom

C. F. Herreid, and N. A. Schiller, “Case studies and the flipped classroom,’ Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(5), 2013, pp.62-66.

This week I found a great article on flipped classrooms, which was a technique I wanted to learn more about through this class. The authors describe, “In the flipped classroom model, what is normally done in class and what is normally done as homework is switched or flipped” (Herried & Schiller, 2013). Typically students in a flipped class would be assigned reading or viewing of videos on their own, outside of the formal classroom setting. With this advanced preparation, students then complete homework in class, with guidance or support of the teacher. More importantly, class time can be dedicated to active learning pursuits such as case studies, games, simulations, experiments, or lab activities. In reviewing several case studies on the topic, the authors found this style of teaching advantageous for many reasons. Some of the upsides were intuitive, such as students having the ability to move at their own pace, instructors gaining better insight into specific difficulties with homework completed in the presence of teachers, and more time working with scientific equipment that is only available in the classroom. Other reported advantages were more insightful or surprising to me. “Teachers can more easily customize and update the curriculum and provide it to students 24/7” and “teachers using the method report seeing increased levels of student achievement, interest, and engagement (Herried & Schiller, 2013). Good teachers know that motivation and engagement is at the heart of good teaching. In our electronic age, using videos to teach creates an appeal and an illusion of fun that is a precursor to curiosity and self-directed exploration.
Flipped classrooms have gained a foothold in Business schools and the humanities, where critical thinking and situational problem solving skills can be honed through case studies. STEM departments have been slower to adopt the methodology. Some of the explanation for this is that the “hard skills” necessary for these disciplines takes considerable time and practice to develop. The pendulum is swinging though and prevailing thought is that time and practice spent mastering a skill is better spent in the presence of an instructor than independently, outside of the classroom. Several studies cited in this article testified to improved grades, increased interest, and less intimidation about STEM subject matter in a flipped versus a traditional classroom.
The flipped approach, however, presents its own set of challenges. The authors state “students new to the method may be initially resistant because it requires that they do work at home rather than be first exposed to the subject matter in school” (Herried & Schiller, 2013). Change is time-consuming and intimidating; as we get older, we get more set in our ways and transitioning to a new way of doing or thinking becomes increasingly difficult. If a student has alway been introduced to new material with the safety net of peers and instructor near by, they may be resistant to the flipped methodology. This leads to students coming to class unprepared for the active learning part of the lesson. Teachers can combat this by giving quizzes or homework on material addressed only in outside reading or videos. Another challenge is finding quality videos on specific subject matter. Watching a video at home can only be a value-adding activity if the content truly prepares student for the in-class activity. This means teachers often need to create their own videos that are specific and targeted at the topic in question. This is extremely time consuming and often leads to marginal quality video presentations, at best. The authors recommend the Kahn Academy ( and BozemanScience ( as sources of good educational videos. Teachers creating their own videos are using Camtasia, PaperShow, ShowMe, Educreations, and Explain Everything. They then post their new videos to YouTube, iTunes U, and Podcasts (Herried & Schiller, 2013).
With the mounting case study evidence across academic disciplines, the future of flipped classrooms is bright. I think this model is popular with both teacher and students because its focus is increased time for active learning scenarios with less emphasis on lectures and passive learning. The authors of this article suggest that the next logical step in promoting this methodology is the standardization and sharing of cases and videos. They invite teachers and education professionals to upload videos they’ve created to the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science ( and to utilize videos and case studies available in their database.
This topic was really interesting to me, and made me realize that we used this model often in my undergraduate Business Management and Marketing courses. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but remember liking the format because we were able to demonstrate what we had recently learned and test ideas with classmates and instructors while new information was still in short-term, working memory. Case studies are so much more practical and applicable to the real world than text book definitions of concepts or practices. The biggest benefit of this article, however, was insight into how I might confront challenges with the unit plan we’re designing for this course. As stated in the “situational factors” weekly writing, I will likely only have one class meeting of 2-3 hours with each outreach group. This is not much time to activate prior knowledge, hook interest, engage in learning activities, and discuss implications outside of the classroom. A light bulb went off in my head reading this article. Why don’t I find or develop short videos on the topic, then send them to teachers to view with their class prior to field trip day? It’s an engaging way to prime students for the visit and lets me set the stage before the learning activities. Coming into the store, they’ll be more invested in the event because they have a frame of reference and have developed questions of personal interest around the topics we’ll cover. I love when we inadvertently stumble onto ideas that have the potential to make life easier while adding value and meaning to learning in the eyes of our students.

2 thoughts on “Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom

  1. Hi Craig,

    Nice review. I’ve been involved with several flipped classroom projects to varying success. As with all things, and as you rightly point out, the quality of the materials consumed is highly variable, as is out of class student motivation. There’s a lot of potential if your activities and supporting materials are designed well.

    In your case, I’m glad you’re considering making some supplemental videos for use prior to students arrival at your facility. As I mentioned in a comment to one of your previous posts, you might also consider some supplemental modules to accompany your field trip (or even independent of). Classroom aquariums are pretty common and some good curriculum materials would be valuable to a wide audience.


  2. I liked the review and I’ll probably take the time to read your article. I don’t have any questions for you really because this was fairly thorough but you got a lot of gears moving in my head! I’ll be honest and say that I often think of STEM as being “behind” in terms of how they teach. I can’t conceptualize many different ways to teach math beyond various iterations of the “explain, demonstrate, practice” formula. Very cool to hear that STEM is moving towards other classroom models.

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