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A Comparison of Case Study and

Traditional Teaching Methods for
Improvement of Oral Communication
and Critical-Thinking Skills
By Lynnette Noblitt, Diane E. Vance, and Michelle L. DePoy Smith

This study compares a traditional cientists must be able to useful service. Development of such
paper presentation approach communicate scientific and communication skills must be spe-
and a case study method for the technical issues to a vari- cifically focused on conveying sci-
development and improvement ety of professional and lay entific concepts to both scientific and
of oral communication skills and audiences in both oral and writ- nonscientific audiences. Students
critical-thinking skills in a class ten form. In todays collaborative must understand the importance
of junior forensic science majors. workplace, scientists are frequent- and relevance of communicating
A rubric for rating performance ly called on to work in teams that scientific concepts to a nonscientific
in these skills was designed on the include a variety of nonscientific audience and should be encouraged
basis of the oral communication participants. Scientific researchers to identify possible hurdles that such
competencies developed by are continually required to justify an audience will encounter.
the National Communications research and development needs to
Association for college students. funding entities. Promotion within Purpose and background
The results provided evidence that corporate, academic, and other en- of study
case studies are a more effective tities inevitably requires the ability The purpose of this study is to com-
approach for teaching scientific to communicate outside the scien- pare two teaching methods, a tra-
oral communication skills. tific community. Furthermore, sci- ditional paper presentation method
entists are increasingly called on and a case study method, to teach
to explain scientific research and oral communication and critical-
its broader implications to various thinking skills. The course is part of
nonscientific communities to in- the curriculum of the Forensic Sci-
form the general public and even ence Program at Eastern Kentucky
influence the government. University. This program was es-
Undergraduate science curricula tablished in 1974 and is one of only
often focus primarily on problem 16 undergraduate forensic science
solving, computation, and scientific programs in the United States that is
concepts. Such a skill set, however, accredited by the Forensic Science
is not broad enough to encompass Education Programs Accreditation
all the tasks and challenges sci- Commission. The forensic science
ence students will encounter in program has a strong chemistry and
their careers. Science curricula that molecular biology focus with addi-
provide students with significant tional skills specific to forensic sci-
opportunities to improve their com- ence added to the curriculum. The
munication skills will provide a program has always recognized the

Journal of College Science Teaching
need for forensic scientists to be Expert Witness Testimony course, tical lectures on legal concepts re-
both scientifically competent and which combines law and science. lating to expert witness testimony
able to effectively communicate Although there is a great deal of and oral presentation skills. In the
difficult technical concepts to lay literature about the case study ap- noncase format, students selected
persons who make up juries. Thus, proach and examples of case stud- a research paper from a group of
a course entitled Expert Witness ies, there is much less written about about 20 published, peer-reviewed
Testimony has been a part of the the assessment of the effectiveness papers that instructors had selected
program since its inception. of case study teaching (Lundeberg so that they would be appropriate
Students take the Expert Witness and Yadav 2006a, 2006b). A na- for the students. The papers repre-
Testimony course in the second se- tional survey of faculty perceptions sented a variety of topics in foren-
mester of the junior year. This semes- provided evidence that case-based sic science that students had been
ter is a communication intensive instruction is perceived by faculty exposed to in course work. Instruc-
semester in the program. Students to be effective in improvement of tors then asked students questions
give technical oral presentations in student critical thinking and ability about the research and calculations
two forensic science classes to an to grasp the big picture (Yadav et described in the paper and basic
audience of their peers, as well as al. 2007). A meta-analysis of the ef- background scientific concepts.
three speaking sessions during the fects of problem-based learning on Students were required to answer
Expert Witness Testimony course. student performance indicated that so that a layperson could under-
The Expert Witness Testimony the case study method has little ef- stand their conclusions. No further
course is intended to familiarize fect on accumulated knowledge but context was provided to the stu-
students with courtroom procedure did improve students application of dents. The students had about three
and the role of the expert witness. knowledge and higher-order think- weeks to prepare for their first tes-
A more important goal, however, is ing (Dochy et al. 2003). timony session.
to have the students assimilate and There is very little published work In the case study format, instruc-
apply knowledge gained from previ- on the use of case studies to improve tors assigned students an expert
ous forensic science courses and to students oral communication skills. role to play in a mock trial simu-
communicate results, concepts, and Previous studies have noted that lation/case study. The mock trial
conclusions at a level that would be faculty perceive that the case study case study was largely based on a
understandable to a jury. The goals method does strengthen student case the American Mock Trial As-
of this course are directly related communication skills. However, sociation (AMTA) used during the
to the Eastern Kentucky University these observations are intertwined 20062007 competition year (used
Quality Enhancement Plan, which with faculty perception of the overall in this course with permission from
strives to develop informed, criti- level of student class participation, AMTA). Instructors gave all stu-
cal, and creative thinkers who com- not specific components of basic dents an identical case packet that
municate effectively. oral communication skills. This contained materials such as court
The case study instructional study attempts to clarify and confirm filings and witness affidavits that
method is a well-established instruc- these findings through focusing on related to the case. Whereas the
tional tool with extensive literature defined student learning outcomes original AMTA case focused only
(Camill 2006; Gallucci 2006; Her- related to oral communication that minimally on scientific information,
reid 2005, 2006). In the case study are measured using appropriately instructors adapted the case packet
approach, students are provided designed instruments. to include raw data related to the
with true or realistic stories that students scientific background.
form the basis for study. This ap- Methodology Five different data sets were pre-
proach has been used most often in The study compares the oral com- pared (DNA, bullet comparison,
law, medicine, and business schools, munication performance of students solid-dosage drug identification,
but has become more common in in the course taught using two dis- blood alcohol determination, and
college-level science courses in re- tinct formats: case study and non- gunshot residue analysis). Students
cent years. The use of the case study case study. In both course formats, selected the topic of their choice.
approach is an excellent fit for the students were given virtually iden- To prepare for class, students had

May/June 2010 27
research and teaching

to perform calculations on the given dents playing roles of attorneys and that a layperson could understand
raw data and integrate their find- other witnesses, including a series their conclusions.
ings with other facts in the case. of eyewitnesses and a forensic
The given raw data was designed science supervisor. Students then Participants
to force students to make decisions testified as expert witnesses who The two student groups included
regarding the types of calculations worked for the forensic science in this study shared many simi-
to perform and to come to scientifi- supervisor. Instructors, acting as at- larities, and great care was taken
cally sound, defensible conclusions torneys, asked the students a series to control the study populations.
based on the data. Two sessions on of questions related to the scientific All students involved in the study
different days were needed to ac- theory behind the data analysis, were second-semester juniors in
commodate the testimonies of all the approach used to analyze the the Eastern Kentucky University
students. data, and ultimate conclusions in Forensic Science Program. As re-
Students also watched video- the case. Once again students were quired in the program, the students
taped performances of other stu- required to answer the questions so had completed a core of approxi-

Scoring rubric for communication assignment.
4 3 2 1
Critical-thinking Accomplished Competent Developing Beginning
or communication
factor Exceeds course Meets course Incomplete in Inadequate in
expectations objectives meeting course meeting course
objectives objectives

Critical thinking: Message is fully Message is Message is supported Message is not

effectively researches supported and supported with by information but supported with
information challenges listener(s). relevant information. may at times be accurate, relevant, or
inaccurate. recent information.

Critical thinking: Message is logical and Message is logical and Message structure Message is not well
effectively organizes easy-to-follow and easy to follow. is somewhat logical, organized; is difficult
information compelling. but listener(s) may to follow.
struggle to follow.

Critical thinking: Orally cites Orally cites research in Uses research to Fails to use outside
effectively integrates research that adds the message. support message support and/or fails
information insights in the sometimes. to acknowledge
message. supporting

Critical thinking: Strategically uses Tailors language and Understands needs Uses inappropriate
adapts oral communication for nonverbal cues to the of audience but not communication so
communication styles context. listener(s). consistently adapts. that listener(s) are
to contexts distanced.

Oral communication: Language free Language is appropri- Language is usually Inappropriate,

successfully of serious errors, ate and free of serious appropriate to unethical, and/or
implements verbal appropriate, and errors. context; may contain potentially offensive
delivery unusually interesting. some errors. language is used.

Oral communication: Nonverbal cues are Nonverbal cues Nonverbal cues Speaker is largely
successfully strategically used support and do not are sometimes unaware of the use or
implements nonverbal to emphasize the distract from message. incongruent or importance of nonver-
delivery message. distracting to bal cues.

Journal of College Science Teaching
A Comparison of Case Study and Traditional Teaching Methods

mately 40 credit hours of natural Figure 1

science courses, along with 1015
hours of upper-division forensic Comparison of mean scores for case and noncase groups for each
science courses. All students had rubric factor. **P < 0.01. ***P < 0.001.
also completed a course in oral
communication as part of the East- Case study Noncase study
ern Kentucky University General 5.3 5.4 5.4 5.4
Education Program. 4.8
5 ** 4.5 *** *** ***
The treatment of the students in ***
each class format was also carefully ***
3.8 3.9
Mean score

controlled. Both groups of students 3.6
were presented with the same series 3
of lectures and in-class activities on
legal concepts, cases, and proce-
dures. The students were given the
same information on communica-
tion goals and skills. The textbook
and other reading assignments were
identical. Exams and written assign- 1 2 3 4 5 6
ments for both student groups were
Rubric factor
very similar and focused on identical
substantive information and higher-
order thinking skills. were carefully monitored through- critical-thinking goals of the course
The course instructors knew out the design process. (Table 1). The other 4 factors were
all of the students, so it was not The rubric was an analytic, not evaluated either because we did
possible to rate the students in task-specific scoring rubric with not have data available or the fac-
a completely blind manner (i.e., 10 factors for evaluation. Each of tors were not relevant or observable
without any knowledge of whether the 10 factors had four performance when the noncase study was used.
or not the students were in the case levels for the oral presentations. The first factor included in this
or noncase class). The instructors The factors were based on the oral study was the students ability to
attempted to rate the students as communication competencies the effectively research information for
objectively as possible, but this is a National Communications As- message production. Students were
potential source of bias in the study. sociation developed for college expected not only to review data that
A total of 56 students were included students (Morreale, Rubin, and was within their area of technical ex-
in the study. Jones 1998). Instructors adapted pertise, but also to conduct sufficient
these competencies to encompass background research to explain the
Rubric instrument additional substantive goals for the data and related concepts to a layper-
To assess student performance of course, including fulfilling legal son and to answer specific instructor
oral communication and critical- requirements for expert witnesses questions. Students were considered
thinking skills in the Expert Witness and demonstrating mastery of sci- to have conducted effective research
Testimony course, instructors had entific and technical knowledge if they could answer all questions
to design an appropriate evaluation appropriately. on the given data correctly, reach
tool. The instructors chose to devel- Six of the 10 factors in the rubric scientifically defensible conclusions,
op a rubric that would encompass were selected for inclusion in this and further explain concepts using
the many oral communication and study. These factors were identi- appropriate vocabulary and imagery
critical-thinking skills that students fied as observable on videotaped so that laypersons could understand
were expected to demonstrate dur- performances, reliably measurable the discussion.
ing oral performances. The validity by instructors, and indicative of The second factor studied was the
and ultimate reliability of the rubric the oral communication and related students ability to effectively orga-

May/June 2010 29
research and teaching

nize information for message pro- students ability to implement ap- define that score for the specific
duction. Whereas instructors asked propriate verbal delivery skills. The factor. Each student performance
questions in the order they chose, students were required to use correct had been videotaped in class. Two
students were responsible for ef- grammar, pronunciation, and word evaluators reviewed the videotapes
fectively organizing their responses choice. Students were further en- and rated each student performance
so that laypeople could understand couraged to use inflection, repetition, separately on the basis of the anchor
the content and consequences of the and varied speaking speed to engage performances. After scores were
testimony. Students were consid- the lay audience and effectively assigned, the evaluators compared
ered to have effectively organized convey the message. Students were scores to confirm interrater reliabil-
information if their oral responses considered to have effectively imple- ity. More than 95% of the scores
and related visual aides enabled mented such verbal skills if they used were identical or only a single scor-
laypeople to follow the testimony correct grammar and pronunciation ing level apart. Consequently, the
and reach appropriate conclusions while using other voice modulation total of the direct and deposition
based on the testimony. and speaking skills in a manner that average scores of the two evalu-
The third factor studied was assisted in message production while ators were used for the statistical
the students ability to effectively not being distracting. analyses (yielding possible scores
integrate information required for The final factor studied was the from 2 to 8). This approach simpli-
message production. Students were students ability to implement ap- fied the model by removing the de-
responsible for reaching conclusions propriate nonverbal delivery skills. pendency between deposition and
about the given data and for inte- Students were required to use direct scores for each student and
grating reasons for the conclusions nonverbal communication such as produced a response variable that
along with suggestions for further hand gestures, movement, and facial was more continuous in nature.
action. Students were encouraged expressions to assist in message
to focus on storytelling and other production. Students were con- Results
techniques to simplify and clarify sidered to have effectively imple- The data analysis for this paper was
the overall message. Students were mented such skills if their nonverbal generated using SAS software, Ver-
considered to have effectively inte- delivery resulted in highlighting, sion 9.1 of the SAS System for Win-
grated the material and arguments if emphasizing, or otherwise assisting dows (SAS Institute, 20022003).
they could successfully convey to a in message production while not The SAS software MIXED proce-
layperson the interpretation of the being distracting or detrimental to dure was used to analyze the follow-
data and the conclusions. the overall presentation. ing model: yijk = + i + j + ()ij +
The fourth factor studied was the eijk where yijk is the measure of score
students ability to adapt their com- Scoring procedure of the kth student in the ith teaching
munication style to the appropriate Reliability of rubric scoring was method group for the jth rubric, i
context. In both teaching methods, established using a variety of meth- is the main effect of the teaching
students were asked to explain sci- ods discussed in assessment litera- method group, j is the main effect
entific and technical information ture (Moskal and Leydens 2000; of the jth rubric, ()ij is the Group
to a lay audience and lead them Moskal 2003; Zimmaro 2004). Rubric interaction, and the eijk are
to a specific conclusion. Students Prior to scoring, instructors chose the residual errors, assumed uncor-
were considered to have effectively individual performances to serve as related for observation on different
adapted their communication style anchor performances that would subjects, but within subjects to have
to the lay audience if they used ap- guide future study scores. The an- some variance-covariance struc-
propriate nonscientific vocabulary chor performances were chosen for ture. Using various criteria such as
or carefully explained all scientific each of the applicable four perfor- the Akaikes Information Criterion
terms, described scientific concepts mance levels for each factor as- and Schwarzs Bayesian Criterion,
in a concrete and accessible fashion, sessed. The evaluators carefully the compound symmetry variance-
and incorporated appropriate visual discussed each anchor performance covariance structure was chosen to
aides and nonverbal cues. and defined general characteristics analyze the data. Satterthwaite ap-
The fifth factor studied was the of each performance that would proximation for the denominator

Journal of College Science Teaching
A Comparison of Case Study and Traditional Teaching Methods

degrees of freedom was used for performing calculations and why. In od were able to reach conclusions
the F and t statistics. the case method, however, students about the given data and integrate
The overall model, both main had to decide what calculations to reasons for the conclusions with sug-
effect terms, and the interaction perform, formulate their own con- gestions for further action that were
term were all statistically significant clusions, and gather resources to understandable to a lay audience.
(P < .0001). Given the statistically support their conclusions. Despite Students in the paper presentation
significant interaction term, the two this more challenging task, students method struggled to suggest any-
teaching methods for each rubric were more successful in identifying thing not specifically mentioned in
factor were compared. These results the research required and success- the paper. It appears that the paper
are presented in Figure 1. For each fully conducting this research. may have stifled the students ability
factor, the average case teaching The second rubric factor, the stu- to think critically and create addi-
method score was significantly dents ability to effectively organize tional conclusions. The case study,
higher than the average noncase information for message produc- however, seems to have supported
teaching method score. tion, showed some improvement. such student efforts.
Although the paper presentation The fourth factor, the students
Discussion assignment provided students with a ability to adapt their communica-
The rubric scores clearly indicate clear outline of the material that was tion to the appropriate context,
that students critical-thinking and to be covered, students struggled to was also greatly improved with the
communication skills improved organize material from the paper into case study method. Although in
greatly when using the case study an oral presentation that was acces- both methods, students were given
method rather than the paper pre- sible to a lay audience. Although scientific information in a form ac-
sentation method. Although not students were taught how to design cessible to a scientifically educated
all rubric factors improved to the visual aides in the paper presenta- audience, only students in the case
same extent, students demonstrated tion assignment, they often merely method were successful in adapting
improvement in all areas. Such im- copied figures from the paper and did this information to a lay audience.
provement is particularly impres- not use these figures in a manner that It appears that students in the paper
sive in light of the greater difficulty effectively organized the material. presentation felt bound to the text
that was presented to students in the In the case method, students were of the paper and were unable to
case method. required to answer questions about adapt to the new audience. Such
The first rubric factor studied, their own calculations that were adaptation requires students to think
the students ability to effectively based on their own research and deeply and critically about the mate-
research information for message problem-solving process. It appears rial and recast the information for
production, showed modest im- that such deeper thought and un- the new audience. The case study
provement when implementing the derstanding of the material enabled seems to have provided the support
case method in lieu of the traditional students to better master the material and encouragement students need
paper presentation. Although this and organize it in a manner that was for adaptation.
factor was the least improved of all accessible to laypersons. The fifth factor, the students
those studied, this may not be unex- The third factor, the students verbal delivery of the material, also
pected because the level of research ability to effectively integrate infor- improved slightly using the case
students were required to conduct mation required for message produc- study method. Whereas students in
for the case study method may have tion, was greatly improved using the both the paper presentation and case
been slightly broader and more com- case study method. Although both study method struggled with word
plex than for the traditional paper groups of students were taught a choice, grammar, and pronuncia-
presentation. In the paper presenta- series of techniques to integrate in- tion, the students in the case study
tion, students were given data for formation into a coherent accessible method did show some improvement
which calculations had already been message, only those students in the over the paper presentation method.
performed and peer reviewed. The case method were able to success- The reasons for such improvement
students only needed to understand fully implement these techniques. are not immediately clear. Instruc-
what decisions were made when Students using the case study meth- tors believe that the case study may

May/June 2010 31
research and teaching

have emphasized the importance of such improved performance is par- college students. Washington,
appropriate grammar and pronuncia- ticularly noteworthy in light of the DC: National Communication
tion to students through the formal greater difficulty of the case study Association. www.natcom.
atmosphere that was provided by assignment. It appears from this org/nca/files/ccLibraryFiles/
the courtroom setting. The improved study that students can both think FILENAME/000000000085/
word choice may also be a direct more deeply and critically about College%20Competencies.pdf.
result of the improved adaptation scientific and technical informa- Moskal, B.M. 2003. Developing
that students demonstrated in the tion when provided real-life con- classroom performance assessments
case method format. text surrounding the material. This and scoring rubrics<em>Part
The final factor, the students non- additional context can also provide II. ERIC Digests (ED481715).
verbal delivery of the materials, also the means for promoting improved
improved using the case method. Al- communication skills as well other data/ericdocs2sql/content_
though both groups of students were professional skills that were not di- storage_01/0000019b/80/1b/7d/
taught the same material on the im- rectly studied in this research. n ee.pdf.
portance of nonverbal communica- Moskal, B.M., and J.A. Leydens,
tion such as gesture and eye contact, References J.A. 2000. Scoring rubric
students in the case study method Camill, P. 2006. Case studies add development: Validity and
were better able to implement ap- value to a diverse teaching portfolio reliability. Practical Assessment,
propriate nonverbal communica- in science courses. Journal of Research, and Evaluation 7
tion. Once again the reasons for this College Science Teaching 36 (2): (10).
improvement are not immediately 3137. asp?v=7&n=10.
obvious. Instructors believe that this Dochy, F., M. Segers, P. van den SAS Institute. 20022003. Version 9.1
improvement may be largely due to Bossche, and D. Gijbels. 2003. of the SAS System for Windows.
many students choosing to use visu- Effects of problem-based learning: Cary, NC: SAS Institute.
als aides when participating in the A meta-analysis. Learning and Yadav, A., M. Lundeberg, M.
case study method. When using these Instruction 13 (5): 533568. DeSchryver, K. Kirdin, N. A.
visual aides, students often chose to Gallucci, K. 2006. Learning concepts Schiller, K. Maier, and C.F. Herreid.
stand and move around the class- with cases. Journal of College 2007. Teaching science with case
room when testifying. This allowed Science Teaching 36 (2): 1620. studies: A national survey of faculty
students to engage in more natural Herreid, C.F. 2005. Using case studies perceptions of the benefits and
nonverbal communication than those to teach science. www.actionbio challenges of using cases. Journal
who remained seated throughout the of College Science Teaching 37 (1):
presentation. Although students in Herreid, C.F. 2006. Start with a story: 3438.
the paper presentation method were The case study method of teaching Zimmaro, D.M. 2004. Developing
also encouraged to use visual aides college science. Washington, DC: grading rubrics. Austin: University
and to leave their seat when appropri- NSTA Press. of Texas at Austin, Instructional
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2006a. Assessment of case study
Conclusion teaching: Where do we go from pdf/rubricshandout.pdf
In summary, the case study method here? Part I. Journal of College
promoted improved critical think- Science Teaching 35 (5): 1013. Lynnette Noblitt is an associate profes-
ing and communication skills for Lundeberg, M.A., and A. Yadav. sor in the Department of Government,
all rubric factors investigated. Par- 2006b. Assessment of case study Diane E. Vance (diane.vance@eku.
ticular improvement was noted in teaching: Where do we go from edu) is an associate professor in the De-
the students ability to adapt scien- here? Part II. Journal of College partment of Chemistry, and Michelle L.
tific information to a lay audience Science Teaching 35 (6): 813. DePoy Smith is an assistant professor
and to integrate a message through Morreale, S., B. Rubin, and E. in the Department of Mathematics and
presentation of the scientific in- Jones. 1998. Speaking and Statistics, all at Eastern Kentucky Uni-
formation. Instructors found that listening competencies for versity in Richmond.

Journal of College Science Teaching
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