Case studies in professional-oriented education: engaging with sustainability and complexity

Kristen Macaskill*, Catherine Tilley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperpeer-review


Case studies have been used in management teaching for nearly a century, and have deeper roots in the teaching of other professions, including law and medicine. Cases have considerable value as a teaching method but there has been increasing criticism of the limitations of many of the case studies currently
available. There are challenges that are particularly relevant to today’s professional students who are often working at the complex interface between technical and social issues. First, many cases have a clear disciplinary label and do not embrace multi-disciplinarity. Second, most cases are focused on organising
and analysing issues and arrive at a decision, usually placing primacy on the outcomes for a single company, and do not capture the complexity created by social and environmental considerations. This is problematic when it comes to considering how to address issues associated with sustainability and resilience in the built environment. This paper reports on a revised, piloted case study model that addresses the shortcomings of existing typical cases, focusing on exploring problems rather than making specific decisions. The pilot case, on engineering decisions in disaster recovery, was based on insights developed through a research project. Similar to other case teaching, the lecturer becomes a facilitator to help participants through the case, rather than specifically teach material. This proved to be a successful way of exploring a complex problem space where there is no right answer, only lessons that can be drawn from the tensions presented. Drawing on this experience, this paper outlines what this means for the roles of teachers and post-graduate training in advancing professional-oriented education in engineering and the built environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEESD2021: Proceedings of the 10th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2021


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