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  January 27, 2003

Book Of Case Studies Helps First
Year Students Cope With Challenges
By Sherry Fisher

Peter, a freshman, was frustrated with one of his courses. He got a 62 on his first exam and the semester was half over. He'd attended every class and had taken plenty of notes, but that didn't seem to help. He found the lectures hard to follow and the textbook difficult to understand. "I never had this trouble in high school," he lamented.

What should he do?

Image: Book Cover
This scenario and many others are included in a book of real-life case studies designed to generate discussion among students taking first-year experience courses.

Case Studies for First-Year Experience Students addresses the personal, social, and academic challenges students face during their first year of college. It includes 40 case studies based on the experiences of actual students. The book was written by John Riesen, a professor of animal science; John Szarlan, a counselor in the Office of Special Programs (formerly counseling services); and Suman Singha, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources - all of whom teach First Year Experience courses. It is published by Wadsworth.

The concept behind case studies, say the authors, is to use classroom discussion to analyze problems and develop potential solutions. Case studies are especially useful for students in their first year of college, the authors say.

"Any one of the cases will get students talking," says Szarlan. "Students have often been in situations similar to the case studies or have known someone who has been there."

Case studies also provide students with the opportunity to discuss issues that matter to them, but with a degree of anonymity.

"People are often not quite willing to talk about their own problems, because they don't like to show weakness," Singha says. "This is an opportunity to raise issues, with the cloak of anonymity."

Many of the challenges faced by students have no simple solutions. Analyzing these different scenarios is an effective way for students to cope with the challenges and develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the authors say.

Discussions sometimes take on a life of their own, Szarlan says.

He recalls a case involving a roommate issue that he used in his course. "At first I thought it would be neat to talk about effective communication between roommates," he says. "The discussion went through that stage, but the students ended up exploring Department of Residential Life policies regarding who was responsible for damage on a floor. It was an exciting and powerful dynamic."

Riesen says case studies are particularly helpful to instructors who may not have experience with the course content. "I was used to teaching hard science," Riesen says, "and at first, teaching an FYE class was quite intimidating. The case studies helped generate discussion and made students think about the issues."

He notes that case studies encourage students to be actively involved in their own learning. "The instructor isn't telling them what they should be doing - they're in discussion with their peers trying to figure out a solution."

The authors hope that instructors across the country teaching first-year experience courses will use the book. It includes case studies relevant for students at all institutions of higher education, including community colleges.

The book is part of a bigger project. The authors have also written an instructor's manual and 60 additional case studies, which are available for purchase online from Wadsworth.

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