The use of Case Studies can add to the educational experience.  Case Studies might even transform a course.  The focus of this page is to provide links into one of the foremost collections of Case Studies.

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS)

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) promotes the nationwide application of active learning techniques to the teaching of science, with a particular emphasis on case studies and problem-based learning.

Case Studies have a long history in business, law, and medical education. Their use in science education, however, is relatively recent. In our 20 years of working with the method, we have found it to be a powerful pedagogical technique for teaching science. Cases can be used not only to teach scientific concepts and content, but also process skills and critical thinking. And since many of the best cases are based on contemporary, and often contentious, science problems that students encounter in the news, the use of cases in the classroom makes science relevant.

We have also found the method to be extraordinarily flexible. It has been used as the core of entire courses or for single experiences in otherwise traditional lecture and lab courses. Moreover, cases can be presented in a variety of formats and taught in a variety of ways, ranging from the classical discussion method used in business and law schools to Problem-Based Learning and Team Learning, with their emphasis on small-group, cooperative learning strategies.

Case Studies Classification

The Case Studies Classification scheme shows the variety of case types and teaching methods. This is a good place to start in an over view of the Case Study approach.

The following titles of the classification scheme reveal the variety of exercises which are used in this system. Check the web page for details and examples of each of these types of Case Studies.

  • Analysis Case
  • Dilemma/Decision Case
  • Directed Case
  • Interrupted Case
  • Clicker Case
  • Laboratory Case
  • Problem-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Discussion
  • Debate
  • Intimate Debate
  • Public Hearing
  • Trial
  • Jig-Saw
  • Role Play

Searching the NCCSTS Collection

Use the NCCSTS search engine to find good examples of different types of Case Studies.

Useful Links

The NCCSTS website provides additional information and several sets of very useful links.


Case Studies Related to Ethnobiology

The NCCSTS collection includes several Case Studies that are potentially useful in ethnobiology instruction.

Is Guaiacum Sanctum Effective Against Arthritis?
Dr. Beth Tonoany, a tropical population ecologist, is studying an unusual tree, Guaiacum sanctum, in the tropical forests of Central America. Interestingly, several local Ticos have told her that they use the tree for medicinal purposes. Students read the case and then answer questions designed to explore the process of screening and testing the medicinal value of plants identified as having potential health benefits. This case can be used in an introductory biology course, an introductory botany course, or any course which encounters ethnobotany as a component, such as a tropical biology course or a plant ecology course. [from the Abstract]
Cancer Cure or Conservation?
This case is based on the controversy that surrounded harvesting of the Pacific yew from 1989 to 1997 to develop paclitaxel (Taxol), a revolutionary anti-cancer drug. The case was designed to expose students to basic conservation biology concepts by examining competing needs among scientists and other stakeholders in a real-life science-and-society scenario. Developed for a undergraduate introductory biology course for non-majors, the case could also be used in an environmental science course or in a course on the impact of science and technology on society. [from the Abstract]
The Case of a Tropical Disease and its Treatment
This case study highlights the epidemiological and socioeconomic factors associated with a disease which plagues thousands of people in Central and South America. The case follows the story of Adrian, a banana plantation worker in southwestern Costa Rica who develops a mysterious illness. Students learn about infectious diseases, pathogens, and vectors endemic to the region, and are asked to diagnose Adrian’s illness and consider his dilemma with respect to treatment options. The case is appropriate for courses with a component on health care, pharmacology, microbiology, medical anthropology, ethnobotany, or epidemiology. Instructors can choose to focus more on the biological components of the case or more on the socioeconomic and ethical aspects, depending on course goals and subject area. [from the Abstract]
Mildred Using Plants- The Medicinal Value of Plants
This case introduces students to the medicinal value of plants and to scientific investigations carried out to understand the effects of various plant chemicals on human physiology. Students first learn background information about medicinal plants and experimental design. They then meet Mildred and play the role of Mildred’s friend to help her sift through information about traditional herbal remedies in order to make a decision about her health. The case was developed for an introductory biology course. [from the Abstract]
Marketing Mostly Intangible Goods: The Case of Botanical Gardens and Arboretea
Like many not-for-profit organizations, numerous botanical gardens and arboreta are experiencing economic difficulties. Built from the late 1800s onwards in what were then rural areas relatively close to cities, North American botanical gardens and arboreta are now prime real estate, often worth millions of dollars. In addition, the many lures of modern life that compete with botanical gardens and arboreta together with the economic quandaries of their parent institutions (e.g., universities, cities or state governments, etc.) have forced many of them to ponder their mission and existence. [from the Website]