Samantha StrifeBy Dr. Samantha Strife

A psychology instructor modifies a case study assignment for an Abnormal Psychology undergraduate course to enhance use of data and identification of multiple sides of an issue.


Abnormal Psychology (PSYC 3303) is divided into three major content sections: 1) symptom presentations of mental health disorders 2) models of development/assessment/treatment of disorders 3) pros and cons of our current diagnostic system and ethical issues. To increase critical thinking (e.g., use of data and identification of multiple sides of an issue), I modified a case study assignment, which required students to read a vignette about a pretend individual struggling with various mental health symptoms and respond to questions ranging from diagnosis to treatment options.


When I first taught Abnormal Psychology, I had students turn in three case studies as homework assignments. Student responses seemed incomplete and I was unable to provide extensive feedback given the short time between when assignments were due. In the Fall of 2015 I reduced the number to two case studies and added questions about differential diagnosis, assessment techniques, perspectives of etiology, and treatment options to better reflect the course learning objectives. I gave these revised case study assignments in 2015 toward the end of the semester without much opportunity for in-class practice and found that many of the student responses still included inaccurate information or emotional reasoning. Consequently, for Fall 2016 I assigned just one case study and attempted to scaffold the case study by creating several in-class group activities emphasizing each component of the assignment. This scaffolding approach was intended to provide more intentional structure for practice and feedback. After these in-class activities, students then completed a full practice/low-stakes case study assignment. They peeredited their responses in class after collaboratively revising the rubric to increase student agency and transparency for the final assignment.

Student Work

Selected student work was compared between the second case study assigned in Fall 2015 and the case study in Fall 2016. This comparison was made because the questions were very similar for both assignments, while also highlighting the potential impact of the revised 2016 scaffolding in-class practice, peer-editing the mock assignment, and collaborating to redesign the rubric. Despite limitations in this comparison, there are some indications that the revisions made in 2016 improved students’ use of data and identification of multiple sides of an issue for the case study assignment (e.g., use of appropriate research articles, application of data to case study, and more complexity/depth in demonstrating understanding of differential diagnosis).


I am pleased that the selected responses shown in the student work section of this portfolio exemplify more consistent use of data and identification of multiple sides of an issue. However, there are several ways I would like to further refine this assignment and my approach to assessment of student learning. In the future, I hope to use Learning Assistants in this class, in part with the intention of providing students more opportunity for feedback during in-class assignments and additional help outside of class. I also think that more formal ways of assessing student engagement throughout the semester and the inclusion of a baseline assessment could provide meaningful data. Clearly this case study assignment will continue to evolve and I look forward to making the improvements more effective and generalizable to all my students. 

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