Teaching Socio-Environmental Synthesis with Case Studies

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SESYNC Short Course: July 15–18, 2014
Supplemental Information

What is a case study?

In most contexts, a “case study” is a detailed descriptive or exploratory analysis of a particular example or problem. Case studies are commonly used for teaching, as well as for research in social science disciplines. Although case studies used in teaching are often based upon case studies used in a research context, they are not the same. Cases for classroom use may not follow standards for research cases, and also contain all the information and materials that another instructor would need to teach the case: teaching notes that provide background information about the case; learning goals and objectives; guidance on classroom management of the exercise; suggested assessment questions; supplementary materials such as videos and PowerPoints; and all materials needed for the students to carry out the case. In this course, each participant will develop a case study classroom activity.

Considerations for the course:

  • Applications from teams are encouraged but are not a requirement for selection. We will also facilitate the formation of new teams before and during the course, and participants are not required to work in a team to write their case. Thus, individuals are also encouraged to apply.
  • Participants are expected to stay for the entire duration of the course.
  • All participants are expected to complete a case study focused on socio-environmental synthesis (S-E synthesis), either individually or as a team (no more than four members) by October 31, 2014. The case must contain all the critical elements of an S-E synthesis case (this will be explained during the course), and all qualified cases will be posted on the SESYNC website (cases may be revised by authors at a later date, and we will replace the post with the revised version). Completion of case studies will require time outside of the course to complete. In our experience, individually written cases took the longest to produce.
  • Participants will retain copyright for their cases and are free to submit their cases to other collections. We only require acknowledgement of SESYNC and NSF support, and permission to share the case on our website.
  • In preparation for the course, participants will be asked to develop topic ideas for their case studies in advance; readings about S-E synthesis and the case study method will be provided.
  • Following the course, participants will be asked to complete follow up surveys about their experiences with writing and teaching their case studies. We strongly encourage all participants to seek opportunities to test their cases in a classroom.

Tentative Course Agenda

Course topics:

  • S-E synthesis
  • Teaching S-E synthesis
  • Assessing S-E synthesis learning goals
  • The case study method in teaching: Overview and introduction
  • An example of a S-E synthesis case: Endangered Species Case
  • Writing S-E synthesis case studies: Lessons learned
  • The Jigsaw Approach and lessons learned from the SESYNC Teaching Study
  • Writing case studies: Teaching notes and tips
  • Challenges and strategies for developing S-E synthesis cases
  • Using models to understand S-E systems dynamics: Building and using dynamic models for cases


  • Dr. Cynthia Wei, Assistant Director of Education and Outreach
  • Dr. Andres Baeza Castro, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Dr. William Burnside, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Dr. Judy Che-Castaldo, Postdoctoral Fellow


  • Dr. Margaret Palmer, Executive Director
  • Dr. Jonathan Kramer, Director of Interdisciplinary Science
  • Dr. David Hawthorne, Director of Education and Outreach
  • Dr. Cynthia Wei, Assistant Director of Education and Outreach
  • Dr. Andres Baeza Castro,  Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Dr. William Burnside, Postdoctoral Fellow