Evaluators expend huge amounts of energy observing teachers in typical self-contained classrooms, searching for signs of effective teaching. In doing so they may gain a sense of what teaching influences student learning in these situations. At the same time they risk losing opportunities to judge teaching and professional behavior under other conditions. Case methods offer a possible remedy to this problem.
“We are inclined to the view that the case method—long used in medicine and law, and more recently in public administration and business—will in the coming decades be relied upon increasingly in the field of education, both in the pre-service and the in-service training of teachers and administrators.” (R.N.Bush, Stanford, 1954).
Early adopter Bob Bush correctly predicted the power of cases to educate educators. We have stretched his prediction to use cases—or multimedia web-based slices of educational life—to judge educators’ abilities to make professional decisions in any and all aspects of their work.
How? We record situations that educators face in their everyday lives and enrich the accounts with data and artifacts. Teaching Notes pose questions that prompt others—teachers, administrators, and parents—to make explicit what they know and what they think they know that is relevant to the case. We push case analysts to describe what they might do, why, and what might happen if they pursued a particular course of action. Answers to these questions provide the grist for judging people’s abilities to forecast behavior that is more and less defensible. Critical perspectives—analyses offered by people recognized as knowledgeable in the facts of the case—serve as benchmarks against which analyses can be judged.
Like other empirical research, good case analyses are high in external validity. Smart educators craft solutions that plausibly “fit” the people involved and the ecology—classrooms, schools, and communities—of the case itself.
Bob McNergney is co-founder of and partner in CaseNEX-DataCation, LLC.