How Can Case Studies Help Students Learn About the Circular Economy?

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Lisa Papania, Beedie School of Business, Business Administration

Project team: Maia Rowan, research assistant

Timeframe: May to September 2015

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: BUS 443 – New Product Development and Design

Final Report:
View Lisa Papania's final report (PDF)
View Lisa Papania's final report Appendix A: Teaching notes (PDF)

Description: In Fall 2014, BUS 443 developed a series of case studies that describe the circular economy practices of eleven organizations from the lower mainland.  These cases along with a diagrammatic synthesis are now hosted on the National Zero Waste Council and Vancouver Economic Commission website.  The research has been made accessible, however we have not been able to evaluate how these cases, as an academic resource, can inform students understanding of circular economy practices.

For this research we will test the effectiveness of the cases, and discover whether students understand circular economy practices after working with the cases as secondary resources prior to product development.  Following the testing of these cases in the summer course, we will develop teaching notes to allow other circular economy researchers and academics at SFU, and other institutions, to use the cases to teach circular economy principles.  The teaching notes developed from this study will include teaching notes for each case study, as well as teaching notes that bring together the eleven cases as a unit to be used to teach circular economy practices.

The evaluation of learning through the case studies will be three-fold.  First our study will include an evaluation by the research team of the existing case studies, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each, and provide recommendations for additional materials that would be required in order to fully communicate circular economy principles.  Secondly we will be evaluating what students are able to learn about circular economy principles from the analysis of the case studies.  And third we will be investigating how these cases help to inform students of opportunities in the circular economy, and how they apply this knowledge to product development.  This all culminates in the research question: How can case studies help students learn about the constraints and opportunities presented by the circular economy?

Questions addressed:

  • How do research team members evaluate the case studies in terms of strengths and weaknesses in relationship to teaching about the circular economy?
  • Are the students able to identify gaps in the circular economy by examining the practices demonstrated in the cases?
  • Are the students able to deduce what contributions need to be made to further circular economy practices, and how they could make a contribution through their project to fill gaps in the circular economy?
  • Are students able to gain deep enough understanding through the use of existing case studies, to begin their product development phase with confidence?
  • What additional information is needed to provide students a comprehensive understanding of the circular economy?

Knowledge sharing: This will also facilitate access by other circular economy researchers, academics and industry.  We are also in a position to write a teaching article on how to use the case studies to teach circular economy principles and describe how case studies provide insight into the constraints and opportunities for the circular economy.  SFU is an academic partner of the National Zero Waste Council (NZWC) and CityStudio (CS). The cases, teaching notes, and products developed after students have studied the circular economy will be presented at and disseminated to other students and institutions through the NZWC’s and CS’s events, websites and publications.