Notes Regarding the Integrative, Case-Based, Applied Learning

Pedagogical Model


This method is grounded in the recognition that fostering development of the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required both for ethical and effective communication and critical thinking requires an integrative approach.  The abilities to hear and be heard, understand and be understood, for example,  are vital to the ability to communicating effectively across cultural boundaries in shared pursuit of reasoned,  informed,  and wise decisions.  

Pedagogical research has revealed further that case-based, applied learning models offer among the most successful pathways to fostering development of these abilities, as well as inspiring civic engagement throughout participants’ lives.


After providing opportunities for each student to share something about himself or herself (through an “ice breaker” exercise), engage the  class with a “brain-storming” exercise in which participants identify topics they would like to see the class engage. Begin by emphasizing the importance of selecting topics that are controversial,  easy to research,  likely to sustain interest over time,  and  that will be likely to provide  meaningful and significant insights of direct relevance to the course learning goals.   Emphasize the importance of selecting a topic is broad enough to enable groups to identify a multiplicity of different “real-world” cases  that offer the promise of exciting, engaging, and insightful exploration,  but narrow enough to be tenable. 


As students identify topics, put them on the board.  Do not “screen” the topics at this time, encouraging as much open participation as possible without interruption, judgment, comment, or critique.


Once every student who wishes to offer a possible topic for exploration has had the opportunity to share, move to a highly preliminary consideration of each topic’s strengths and limits as a topic.  To complete this step, invite open discussion of each topic’s strengths and limits. Invite anyone who wishes to advocate for selection of the topic to share his or her thoughts regarding the topic’s ability to meet the topic selection criteria (controversial, easy to research, likely to sustain interest, offer insights, and help fulfill the course learning goals).  Next, invite anyone who opposes adoption of the topic to share their concerns.


During this part of the process, it is important to help participants speak only about the topic’s strengths or limits as a topic, while avoiding talking about the issues at the heart of the topic’s controversy. For example, if the topic in question is free expression on campuses,  the focus needs to be on why this would be either an effective or a problematic topic for class exploration (based on the topic selection criteria), rather than on arguments for and against various policies related to free expression on campuses. When executed successfully, this exercise helps to foster engagement, create community, and generate enthusiasm for the work to follow. 


During the next class meeting, invite students who have topic suggestions not yet explored to add their ideas to the list. Next, provide opportunities for students to offer their rationales for why they would like to see a particular topic selected or rejected by the class.


 After you are confident that everyone has had an opportunity to contribute, take an initial “screening” vote in which each student is permitted to vote three times. This step provides a valuable tool for narrowing the “pool” of available topics.


At this stage of the process, it is helpful to use a small group exercise in which groups are asked to work together to select one, two, or three favorite topics, and report back to the class.


During the third class session, continue exploratory discussion as needed, followed by a “final” vote.




At this stage, the class needs to identify specific areas of interest under the broad general topic.  Below are a few examples:


General topic:  Freedom of expression


Some possible “specific” group foci:  Policies regarding free expression on college campuses; Resolving conflicts between protecting governmental security on the one hand, and freedom of the press on the other; Regulating bullying and hate speech on social media;  Net neutrality;  Censorship of entertainment programming;  Pornography;  Regulating “dangerous” speech on the internet.


Form groups based on interests. 

Work with groups to identify a specific case and begin the process of developing a case narrative.  To assist with this process, see  the “Topic Selection” Exercise, “Forum Worksheet and Exercise,”  and “Group Forum” assignment provided in the Instructional Resources section of this site.


Provide ample time for completing these critically important steps. Be sure the class carefully reviews the book’s chapters on deliberative inquiry and deliberative framing to facilitate this work.


The remaining course readings, exercises, and assignments provided in the site’s instructional resources section are designed to move from these initial steps to completion of the course.