Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Report #2: Zebras and Case Studies

Cases on the Brain

I did some Google-fu and found some case studies about zebras, but nothing about these wild equids learning from (or teaching using) case studies. I felt a sense of relief, because that would be terrifying to me.

Inaccurate Representation of Zebra, sharpie on legal pad, 2013

In all seriousness,  I've got cases on the brain because I'm developing a course that uses them (cases, not zebras). I'll use the term case study, but case method will work too. If you want to do a search you'll find resources using either term, though "case studies" tends to trend towards science. 

The purpose of this post, however, isn't to talk terminology. It's not about how to write a case study, either. This post is about case learning happening organically -- outside of the classroom. This post is also about zebras. 

You could also use the term "referees".

A Little Background Info

I went to the penalty box shortly after this. 
The hand signal you see is for "cutting the track".
 That is a very bad thing to do in roller derby.
Photo credit: Dutcher Photography/Madison, WI

I play roller derby, which means I'm connected with a large network of volunteer referees. It's not easy being a zebra -- they must know the ruleset exhaustively and apply it in real-life situations. Let's take that one step further:  the actions of skaters on the track happen lightning-fast and while these aren't life-or-death situations, one call can mean an advantage or disadvantage that affects the outcome of an entire game.  There are different levels of mastery for referees and they must go through some tough assessments to get there that include  a skills test, a written test, and performance evaluations. 

You can imagine how tough it would be to learn all of this (there are 60 pages in the ruleset, to give you an idea). Imagine being a novice and thinking about a penalty you just saw, and then thinking about the proper way to do the hand signal, and then making the call quickly. You can imagine all the practice it takes to be able to do this. 

Where the Cases Come In

How does this relate to cases? I noticed some similarities between a skater/referee online discussion and the case study I'm currently working on. What are the similarities? The referees need a lot of background information (the ruleset and the video scenario) and there was no clear answer.

A skater posted the following scenario from a recent tournament on Facebook. She thought the moves looked pretty cool but had a question: is that legal? In "case" you're interested,  here's the video in question.  Hint: in roller derby, you can't hit while moving backwards. Watch the skaters in the black uniforms.

The conversation went something like this: 

Skater: Hey (refs) would some of these be direction of gameplay penalties now?

Summary of ref response:

  • There's quite a few that would be direction of gameplay
  • There's also a cut on the white jammer
  • There's a direction of gameplay at 0:14
  • Disclaimer - we weren't there, so if you can't see the exact angle that the refs there were looking from , you can't be completely sure.
  • We're all human. There's a lot of stuff happening and mistakes will be made. 
  • "The key is to keep learning and adapting so you do better next time, and own up to any mistakes you made"

Not only did we learn about what's happening in the video, but we learned the referee point of view (all from a very short time of  11:23 to 11:40).

I can't help but think these mini-cases and discussions are a great learning tool if you're not ready to do a full-blown case study. Again, the similarities between the case in the class and this discussion on Facebook were that the participants needed background information (here, the ruleset), discussed in teams,  and presented the decision (the skater in this case; in the class it's a CEO).

 I've been involved in similar discussions as the one presented above. For example, after a bout (what we call a game in roller derby),  teams can watch the footage and send the refs any questions or feedback after the fact. The refs will then respond, and everyone involved ends up learning from the experience. Skaters end up with knowledge that can help them play cleaner (if they choose to apply it), or get apologies for blown calls (oops!), and refs can learn about what types of calls they are missing (or making correctly) consistently.

It's very interesting when this type of learning happens organically and outside of the classroom. All it took was a few people that were passionate or eager to take the time learn to get better at something they like (or love) doing. Discussing cases or scenarios, especially in upper-level undergraduate classes and at the graduate level,  may have a similar feel and level of interest from the participants. I'd like to particularly explore using short videos with a specific problem, along with accompanying information (like the ruleset) as a framework for mini-cases.

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