Case Based Teaching for Interdisciplinary Environmental Sustainability Education
Research has demonstrated that traditional lecture-based instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics leads to inferior student performance and increased failure rates when compared to active learning techniques. Constructivist-centered courses, where students take efforts to build their own understanding as opposed to passively receiving information, can better engage students and deepen the learning experience. Instructors can achieve this through case-based teaching, in which students learn by actively navigating a complex story, typically based on real world problems. Now widely adopted in business schools, the case method places students in the role of a decision maker facing a challenging business problem with binding constraints, incomplete information, and a suite of imperfect solutions. In 2015, we launched the Michigan Sustainability Cases program which develops multi-media rich, practitioner-engaged teaching cases. In this talk, I will present the results of one teaching case that focuses on the decision of Green Mountain Power (a small electric utility in Vermont) to partner with Tesla and offer their customers access to distributed energy storage via the PowerWall. This case was utilized in a graduate-level course on renewable energy systems, comprised of students studying sustainability, engineering, business, and public policy. Through this case, students assessed the environmental impacts of behind-the-meter energy storage, the power system benefits of this storage (e.g., capacity value and distribution upgrade deferral), and the economic benefits to rate payers and the company. A podcast was used to reinforce these concepts, featuring an executive from the utility, an professional energy analyst, and an academic scholar who studies environmental impacts of energy storage. To evaluate the effectiveness of this and other teaching cases used in this course, I deployed a three-pronged, mixed-methods approach including embedded assessments (e.g., exam questions), full-sample surveys (e.g., soliciting student opinion), and structured interviews with past participants (e.g., alumni interviews focusing on usage of skills and knowledge). While none of these assessments can accurately isolate the attributable change in learning stemming from the use of teaching cases, these efforts elucidate mastery of content and students' perception of the value of this approach. This talk will detail the structure, content, and delivery of this teaching case, as well as describe the broader efforts to develop interdisciplinary teaching cases focused on environmental sustainability. It will also discuss the results on the three assessment efforts and the limitations faced when seeking to perform rigorous assessments on learning outcomes.