In its most distilled form, a “case study” involves investigation of “real-life phenomenon through detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions, and their relationships.”1 The “case” may focus upon an individual, organization, event, project, or phenomenon, anchored in a specific time and place. Most cases are based on real events, or a plausible construction of events,2 and tell a story, often involving issues or conflicts that require resolution.3 The most effective case studies facilitate multiple assessments of the same situation, “leading to several equally plausible and compelling conclusions, each with different implications for action.”4

A case study usually focuses on a single subject of analysis; however, case study analyses can also be designed as comparative investigations that highlight the relationship between two or more subjects. They also frequently include central characters and quotations and dialogue.5 The methodology can be a quantitative, qualitative, or mixed method.6

Often the objective of a case study approach is to develop a theory regarding the nature and causes of similarities between instances of a class of events.7 The purpose may be to illuminate key themes and results that help us to predict future trends, reveal previously hidden issues that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means for understanding an important research problem with greater clarity.

In recent years, researchers have increasingly embraced the study method in recognition of the limitations of purely quantitative methods to provide in-depth and holistic explanations of social problems.8 A case study, in the context of environmental issues, usually involves the focus on an actual environmental situation, commonly involving a decision, an issue, a challenge, or an opportunity faced by a group of individuals, an organization, or a society.

Case studies enjoy a natural advantage in the research of an exploratory nature. As Yin concludes, case studies allow a researcher to “reveal the multiplicity of factors [which] have interacted to produce the unique character of the entity that is the subject of study.”9Explanatory case studies can facilitate conducting causal studies, and in extremely complex and multivariate cases, help to structure analyses that employ pattern-matching techniques.10Descriptive case studies help researchers to formulate hypotheses of cause-effect relationships from descriptive theories.11 Indeed the testing of hypotheses is related directly to the question of “generalizability,” which is intimately related to the question of case selection.12

Case studies have been employed throughout history to facilitate the pursuit of knowledge and its dissemination. The Hippocratic Corpus in the 5th Century BC employed case studies to develop insights into medicine that stimulated discoveries for centuries to come.13 The case study approach also informed the work of Darwin, Freud, and Piaget.

The formal use of case studies in academia began at Harvard Law School at the turn of the 20th Century.14 In recent years, empirical research has demonstrated the value of the case study method as a pedagogical tool in the classroom, with case studies employed in the humanities, social sciences, engineering, law, medicine, and business.15 Case studies have been effectively used in environmental science and studies courses to help students grapple with the interdependence of societal, ethical, and environmental issues,16 Case studies have also been used by practitioners in a wide array of fields, including medicine, law, business, and education.17 In the environmental science and policy sectors, case studies are particularly salutary in providing practitioners with examples of best practices18 and to assist them in developing effective recommendations and policy prescriptions.19

Many learners are more inductive than deductive reasoners. Case studies can help to facilitate learning by helping them to reason from examples, analogies, and models, as well as from basic principles.20 Studies surveying faculty and student learning results associated with the use of case studies demonstrate significant increases in student knowledge acquisition, as well as enhanced ability to make connections between multiple content areas and to view issues from different perspectives.21

Case studies also promote active learning, which has been proven to enhance learning outcomes by fostering critical thinking skills,22 an area of grave deficiency in many contemporary learning environments.23 This, in turn, increases comprehension of concepts taught in the classroom,24 as well as fosters problem-solving and the translation of theory into practice.25 Through careful examination and discussion of various cases, “students learn to identify actual problems, to recognize key players and their agendas, and to become aware of those aspects of the situation that contribute to the problem”26 Moreover, cases can serve as models or paradigms that facilitate understanding of similar cases.27

Additionally, case-based instructional methods usually employ empirical or realistic narratives to allow students to integrate multiple sources of information in real-world contexts in ways that might not be captured through experimental or survey research methods.28 Studies have indicated that this can increase student motivation to participate in class activities, promoting learning and increasing performance on assessments.29 It also often affords students the opportunities to more fully engage with ethical and societal issues related to their disciplines,30 as well as facilitating interdisciplinary learning.31 The fostering of effective integrative learning experiences in the classroom was identified as one of the four essential learning outcomes in the Learning for the New Global Century report of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.32

The use of case studies is also conducive to helping students translate “book knowledge” into potential responses to real-world problems they may address in the future.33 The case study method has also been used in “flipped classroom” environments to foster engaged and collaborative learning,34 including in environmental studies and science courses.35

In the specific context of environmental studies and science courses, case studies have proven valuable by fostering critical transdisciplinary perspectives conducive to addressing environmental issues.36 Case studies are also a valuable tool for environmental practitioners. They can provide guideposts for the best practices,37 as well as lessons learned by others in any given professional sector, including in the environmental arena.38 The case study method has proven to be an effective tool to assist environmental professionals in developing effective recommendations and policy prescriptions.39 Also pertinent to the environmental sector, case study research can also help to identify relevant variables to facilitate subsequent statistical research.40 Moreover, case studies can be employed in organizations for training purposes to foster problem-based learning and the ability to formulate solutions,41 as well as the development of critical professional skills, including effective group work and communication.42


Most instructors and environmental professionals, who have utilized case studies in the classroom or in their work, have found them to be a valuable tool.43 However, within the classroom environment, one of the main obstacles to use a case-based instructional method is lack of preparation time,44 with most instructors currently preparing their own case studies.45 The imposing nature of case study construction, as well as the imposing cost of developing cases internally,46 ensures that many instructors eschew this teaching method.47 Moreover, available case studies are often not subjected to sufficient academic rigor, undermining their effectiveness and credibility.48 To foster greater use of this approach CSE aspires to develop a sizeable library of peer-reviewed case studies suitable for use in classrooms and in other learning environments. The journal’s case studies will be divided into the following categories in the field of environmental science and studies:

  • Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation

  • Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

  • Environmental Law, Policy and Management

  • Energy and the Environment

  • Water Management, Science and Technology

  • Sustainability

Moreover, the journal also includes a section dedicated to case study pedagogy.

Many instructors also find the transition from lecture-focused to case-based instruction in the classroom to be challenging, including learning how to effectively present cases and engendering active student participation.49 As Huckvale and Riper observe, the benefits of case studies are optimized “when implemented with a clear purpose and facilitated with authentic guidelines.”50CSE seeks to foster effective use of case studies in several ways. Prospective authors are encouraged to formulate discussion questions as part of their manuscripts. Such questions can greatly assist in scaffolding case-based learning exercises in the classroom or in other instructional environments.51 Moreover, many of the journal’s articles include a set of PowerPoint slides that can be used in classroom lectures, or for presentations in professional environments. Moreover, the journal regularly publishes pieces that focus on the pedagogy of case studies. It is our hope to ultimately develop a community of academics and practitioners around case studies through workshops, conference panels, and online interaction.


Yin R, Moore G. The use of advanced technologies in special education. J Learn Disabil. 1987;20(1): 60–61. See also George AL. Case Studies and Theory Development, paper presented at Carnegie-Mellon University, 15–16 October 1982, at 45.


Some case-based learning experiences involve the use of a scenario-based story that utilizes a hypothetical problem, supporting literature, and guiding questions to help facilitate active learning of the concepts contained in the case study, Laura Trujillo-Jenks. Guiding Students to Think Critically Using Case Studies, Faculty Focus, 21 February 2014, Available: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/guiding-students-think-critically-using-case-studies/, site visited on 21 October 2017.


Teaching with Case Studies,5(2) Speaking of Teaching (Winter, 1994), Available: https://web.stanford.edu/dept/CTL/Newsletter/case_studies.pdf, site visited on 20 August 2016.


Angelo T, Boehrer J. Case learning: How does it work? Why is it effective? Case Method Website: How to Teach with Cases, University of California, Santa Barbara, Available: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/projects/casemethod/teaching.html, site visited on 15 January 2019.


Herreid CF, et al., My Favorite Case and What Makes it So. J Coll Sci Teach. 2012;42(2): 70: 70, Available: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/pdfs/FavoriteCases.pdf, site visited on 2 May 2017.


Weisberg DJ. The Utility of Interdisciplinary Case Study: Research and Education in the Arts and Sciences 261, 262, in Case Study Methodology in Higher Education 47, 48 (Annette Baron & Kelly McNeal, eds. 2019).


Crowe S, et al. The case study approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2011;11: 100–104, Available: http://bmcmedresmethodol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2288-11-100, site visited on 12 October 2016.


Zainal Z. Case study as a research method.Jurnal Kemanusiaan bil. 2007, June;9, at 1, Available: http://psyking.net/htmlobj-3837/case_study_as_a_research_method.pdf, site visited on 1 October 2016; Flyvbjerg B. Five misunderstandings about case-study research. Qual Inq. 2006;12(2): 219–226, Available: https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=590021110103114127070120077072083089033045032063002023097008099106064114093024005023018006111123006038051125019068114091116076014034002059078072126118099027027002079017049007092084067115007083006123025014118118100016015001083127030016096075024087087073&EXT=pdf, site visited on 24 September 2017.


Yin RK. Case Study Research: Design and Methods 1989;82.


Corcoran PB, Walker KE, Wals AEJ. Case studies, make-your-case studies, and case stories: A critique of case-study methodology in sustainability in higher education, Envtl Ed Res. 2004;10(1): 7–10.




Flyvbjerg, supra note 7, at 228.


Overview of Hippocratic Epidemics, University of Indiana, Available: http://www.indiana.edu/~ancmed/epidemics.htm, site visited on 26 August 2017.


Boubouka M, Verginis I, Grigoriadou M. Supporting the implementation of case activities using e-learning technologies. In: Spector JM, et al., editors. Learning & Instruction in the Digital Age (2010), at 260; Bennis WG, O’Toole J. How business schools lost their way. Harv Bus Rev. 2005;83(5): 96–104.


Shuttleworth M. Case Study Research Design. 2016, Available: https://explorable.com/case-study-research-design, site visited on 2 October 2016; Encyclopedia of Case Study Research (Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos & Elden Wiebe, eds. 2010).


Dori YJ, Herscovitz O. Question-posing capability as an alternative evaluation method: analysis of an environmental case study. J. Res. Sci. Teach. 1999;36(4): 411–415.


Barbara Peat, Case Studies in Corrections (2011); University of Minnesota, Extension, Children’s Mental Health Case Studies, Available: http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/cyfc/our-programs/case-studies/, site visited on 2 October 2016; Project Management Institute, Case Studies, Available: https://www.pmi.org/business-solutions/case-studies, site visited on 2 October 2016; Seeger JA. So they’re writing a case about you an open letter to the organizational host of a case writer. Case Res J. 2012;32(1): 188–192, Available: http://www.nacra.net/nacra/newsletter/nl_download.php5?file=HA_So_Theyre_Writing_A_Case_About You.pdf, site visited on 2 May 2017: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Environmental Justice in NEPA Case Studies, Available: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/environmental_justice/resources/case_studies/index.cfm#nepar, site visited on 20 October 2016; EdCan Network, The Innovation that Sticks Case Study Research Program, Land-Based Learning Case Study. 2017, Available: https://www.edcan.ca/awards/the-innovation-that-sticks-case-study-research-program/2016-2017-innovation-that-sticks-land-based-learning-case-study/, site visited on 21 October 2017.


U.S. Department of Transportation, supra note 16; BSI, ISO 14001 Environmental Management Studies, Available: http://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/iso-14001-environmental-management/case-studies/, site visited on 20 October 2016.


Gregg RM. Incorporating climate change in marine use plans for British Columbia’s First Nations. Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange. 2017, Available: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/incorporating-climate-change-marine-use-plans-british-columbia%E2%80%99s-first-nations, site visited on 2 May 2017; Summary of a project of the Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime, Environmental Crime Case Studies, Available: http://efface.eu/case-studies, site visited on 20 October 2016; Corcoran, et al., supra note 9, at 10.


Allchin D. Problem and case-based learning in science: an introduction to distinctions, values and outcomes. CBE – Life Sci Ed. 2013;12; 364; Boston University, Using Case Studies to Teach, Available: http://www.bu.edu/ctl/teaching-resources/using-case-studies-to-teach/, site visited on 24 August 2016; Herreid CF. Case studies in science – a novel method of science education. J Coll Sci Teach. 1994, Feb;33(4): 222–223.


Yadav, supra note 29, at 34; Smith BL, Strumpff LM, Cole R. Engaging students from underrepresented populations: the enduring legacies native case initiative. J Coll Sci Teach. 2012;41(4): 60–66, Available: http://nativecases.evergreen.edu/docs/Smith_Stumpff_Cole-%20Article%20J%20of%20College%20Science%20Teaching.pdf, site visited on 1 October 2016; Lee K. Online collaborative case study learning. J Coll Learn Read. 2007;37(2): 82–84 & 90; Herreid CF. Can case studies be used to teach critical thinking? J Coll Sci Teach. 2004, May;33(6): 12–14.


Allchin, supra note 19, at 364; Molise Habasisa & Dipane Hlalele, at 1000; Using Case Study as a Teaching and Learning Strategy in the Teaching of Economics: A Literature Review. Mediterranean J Soc Sci. 2014;23(5): 999–1000; Popil I. Promotion of critical thinking by using case studies as teaching method. Nurse Ed. Today. 2011;31: 204–205; Davis C, Wilcock E. Teaching materials using case studies, UK Centre for Materials Education, Available: http://www.materials.ac.uk/guides/casestudies.asp, site visited on 23 August 2017; Herreid CF. Using Case Studies to Teach Science, Actionbioscience, May, 2005, Available: http://www.actionbioscience.org/education/herreid.html, site visited on 20 October 2016; Fulbright S. Three active learning strategies that push students beyond memorization. Faculty Focus, 9 July 2014, Available: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/three-active-learning-strategies-push-students-beyond-memorization/, site visited on 21 October 2017.


Tsui L. Fostering critical thinking through effective pedagogy. J Higher Edu. 2002;73(6): 740.


Case R. Bringing critical thinking to the main stage. Edu Can. 2013;45(2): 1–2, Available: https://tc2.ca/uploads/PDFs/Critical%20 Discussions/bringing_critical_thinking_mainstage.pdf, site visited on 21 October 2017; Marton F, Saljo R. On qualitative differences in learning: I. Outcome and process. Br J Educ Psychol. 1976;46: 4–11.


Popil, supra note 21, at 1; Forsgren S, Christensen T, Hedemalm A. Evaluation of the case method in nursing education. Nurse Ed Pract. 2014;14: 164.


Merseth KK. The case for cases in teacher education. American Association for Higher Education (1991), at 11, Available: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED329541.pdf, site visited on 25 August 2016. See also, Kaddoura MA. Critical thinking skills of nursing students in lecture-based teaching and case-based learning. Int J Scholar Teach Learn. 2011;5(2): 1–2, Available: http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1305&context=ij-sotl, site visited on 21 October 2017; Chamany K, Allen D, Tanner K. Making biology learning relevant to students: integrating people, history, and context into college biology teaching. CBE-Life Sci Educ. 2008;7: 267, 268, Available: http://www.lifescied.org/content/7/3/267.full.pdf+html, site visited on 1 October 2016; Hudson JN, Buckley P. An evaluation of case-based teaching: evidence for continuing benefit and realization of aims. Adv Phys Edu. 2004;28: 15–21, Available: http://advan.physiology.org/content/ajpadvan/28/1/15.full.pdf, site visited on 2 May 2017.


Kuhn TS. The structure of scientific revolutions. 1970;187–191.


Habasisa & Hlalele, supra note, at; Zainal, supra note 7, at 4.


Bonney KM. Case study teaching method improves student performance and perceptions of learning gains. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2015;16(1): 21–22, Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 4416499/pdf/jmbe-16-21.pdf, site visited on 2 May 2017.


Yadav A, et al., Teaching science with case studies: a national survey of faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using cases. J Coll Sci Teach. 2007, Sept./Oct.;34: 34. Research indicates that case study method of teaching may translate into enhanced ability of students to engage in moral reasoning by facilitating more in-depth coverage and synthesis of both course content and theory, as well as by fostering the asking and answering of higher-level questions by students than in traditional lecture environments; Sudzina MR. Case study as a constructivist pedagogy for teaching educational psychology. Educ Psychol Rev. 1997;9(2): 199–204.


Bonney KM. Case study teaching method improves student performance and perceptions of learning gains. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2015,May; 16(1), Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 4416499/, site visited on 26 August 2016.


Association of American Colleges and Universities, College learning for the new global century, at 3, available: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/GlobalCentury_final.pdf, site visited on 1 October 2016.


Fulbright, supra note 21.


Herreid CF, Schiller NA. Case studies and the flipped classroom. J Coll Sci Teach. 2013;42(5): 62–66; University of Waterloo, Centre for Teaching Excellence, In-class Activities and Assessment for the Flipped Classroom, https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/lecturing-and-presenting/delivery/class-activities-and-assessment-flipped-classroom, site visited on 15 January 2019; Daly P. Methodology for using case studies in the business english language classroom. Internet TESL J. 2002, Nov;VIII(11), Available: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Daly-CaseStudies/, site visited on 15 January 2019.


Hardin R, et al. Towards a revolution in sustainability education: vision, architecture, and assessment in a case-based approach, World Dev Perspect. 2016;1: 58–59.


Scholz RW, et al. Transdisciplinary case studies as a means of sustainability learning: historical framework and theory. Int’l J. Sustain Higher Educ. 2006;7(3): 226–251.


Project Management Institute, Case Studies, 26 August 2016, Available: https://www.pmi.org/business-solutions/case-studies, site visited on 26 August 2016; The Pew Charitable Trusts, Case Studies, Available: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/health-impact-project/health-impact-assessment/case-studies, site visited on 21 August 2016.


Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Case Studies for Practitioners, Available: https://cscmp.org/education/case-studies/practitioner, site visited on 22 August 2016. For a good example in this context, see Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Case Studies: Renewable Energy & Human Rights, Available: https://business-humanrights.org/en/case-studies-renewable-energy, site visited on 3 May 2017.


Gregg RM. Incorporating climate change in marine use plans for British Columbia’s First Nations. Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (2017), Available: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/incorporating-climate-change-marine-use-plans-british-columbia%E2%80%99s-first-nations, site visited on 2 May 2017; Summary of a project of the Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, European Union Action to Fight Environmental Crime, Environmental Crime Case Studies, Available: http://efface.eu/case-studies, site visited on 20 October 2016; Corcoran, et al., supra note 9, at 10.


Mind Tools, Case Study-Based Learning, Available: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_94.htm, site visited on 26 August 2016.


Davis & Wilcock, supra note 21.


Zainal, supra note 7, at 4.


Habasisa & Hlalele, supra note, at 1001.


Yadav, et al., supra note 29, at 36.


Hardin, supra note 35, at 59.


Giang TT, et al. Teaching education courses based on case study method in pedagogical universities in Vietnam. Am J Educ Res. 2018;6(6): 681–687.


Marquez KCM, et al., Assessment of the methodological rigor of case studies in the field of management accounting published in journals in Brazil. Revista Contabilidade & Finanças, 2015;26(6): 27–28; Kyburz-Graber R. Does Case study methodology lack Rigour? The need for quality criteria for sound case study research, as illustrated by a recent case in secondary and higher education. Environ Educ Res. 2004;10(1): 53.


Orr L, Weekley L. Teaching with case studies in higher education, in Case Study Methodology in Higher Education, supra note 6, at 181.


Huckvale MU, Riper IV. Using case studies in the higher education classroom: case studies in higher education – what’s the big idea? in Case Study Methodology in Higher Education, supra note 6, at 48.


Tellis W. Introduction to case study. Qual Rep. 1997, July;3(2), Available: http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR3-2/tellis1.html, site visited on 22 August 2016; Sudzina, supra note 29, at 204; Herreid, supra note 21. Teaching notes can help to facilitate the effective use of case studies in the classroom, or in the professional sector in several ways, including helping the user to “explore possible angles they might have missed,” and derive insights into how the case study was used in the past and what pitfalls the user may face; Herreid CF. And all that jazz: an essay extolling the virtues of writing case teaching notes. J Coll Sci Teach. 2000;29(4): 225–226, Available: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/pdfs/And%20All%20That%20Jazz-XXIX-4.pdf, site visited on 2 May 2017. Knowing the “right questions” to ask students is particularly critical; thus, having accompanying discussion questions to a case can greatly assist instructors in ensuring optimal use of case studies in the classroom; Herreid CF. Don’t: what not to do in teaching cases. J Coll Sci Teach. 2001;30(5): 292–293.