While I was in the Faculty Learning Program, I developed this case study competition activity for a couple of the topics in the Introduction to Human Physiology course (MCB 32). I was not happy with my lecture on the central nervous system, because I was just dryly explaining brain anatomy and not getting students excited about it. As a neuroscientist, this was unacceptable to me and I was just bored teaching this lecture.

Many of the students in MCB 32 are pre-med, so I decided to flip the brain anatomy part of the lecture into case studies. With the help of my graduate student instructors, we divide the class up into 5 large groups (50-80 students each) and assign each group a case study to work on.

Students know that each group will be asked a Clicker question related to their case study, but they do not know what the question will be exactly. When it is their turn, they vote on the right answer for their case study and the group with the highest percentage correct will earn a small amount of extra credit. Therefore, it is beneficial for the students in each large group to work together and explain the case study to each other, so everyone can answer the question correctly.

Example of a case study
This is the first case study called “intractable hiccups”

“A 51-year-old patient developed a bilateral retro-orbital headache (pain on both sides behind the eyes). She took antibiotics and got better, but then developed hiccups that would not go away for 5 days. Her neurological and general exams were normal.  Reviewing her medical history, she described an episode 14 years previously of vertigo and nystagmus (involuntary eye movement). What part of her brain is impaired? How do you know?  Where is this structure located in the brain? Hint: Think about a hiccup.  Which part of the body is affected? Which part of the brain controls that part of the body?”

Video of brain case study activity
As part of the Faculty Learning Program, we videotaped ourselves leading activities in class for peer observation. This video shows me introducing the activity, the students working on it, and then cuts to the question for the first case study.

The students enjoyed the case study activity and learned brain anatomy just as well as in previous years. I’ve developed similar activities for the reproductive system, nephron (kidney) anatomy and the digestive system. You can hear more about this activity and the student response in my 2018 STIR presentation.