Teaching the Intangibles: Teaching Case Studies with Mixed-Cohort Teams
To be successful pharmacists, students in the Doctor of Pharmacy program will have to understand chemistry and biology, physiology and pharmacology. But professors Mike Millard and Steve Arendt know that understanding the science isn’t enough. To be truly successful in their future roles, students will also have to understand all kinds of other things to be good pharmacists, things the students have not yet imagined. Mike and Steve are experienced practitioners, and they know that a pharmacist might have to deal with everything from potential medical complications to how to settle a squabble about who ate someone else’s lunch. The skills required to handle these situations are what Mike and Steve call “intangibles”, things like leadership, innovation, operational problem solving, and cultural competency. They’ve found that the best way to help students develop these skills is to put them on teams with strangers and ask them to solve real-life problems based on case studies.
Case Study Teaching–asking students to work collaboratively to decide how to solve real-world dilemmas–has been common in business education for a long time. In recent years, these methods have been employed in classrooms ranging from English language learning to undergraduate biology. The research points to a host of learning benefits including higher-level critical thinking, transfer and application of knowledge, and increased student motivation.
Mike and Steve take things one step further to combine the power of case-based teaching with the benefit of mixed-level peer learning. In their classes, learning teams are made up of students from both First and Second Year cohorts, resulting in a dynamic mix of experiences and perspectives. First-years are deep in theories and models, protocols and ethical standards. What they most need is an opportunity to imagine all that theory in practice. Second-years have been in the field gaining inimitable boots-on-the-ground experience; what’s valuable for them is to bring that practice back to the theory they learned as First-years and to reckon with what it looks like in the real world. These students work together on their teams to consider the case they’ve been assigned, and to use all of the knowledge and experience they have gained to imagine a solution. The ultimate result is practitioners with better skills and at least a little preparation for dealing with all the intangible things actual practice will bring.