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Case study Teaching

Case studies are widely used in multiple disciplines such as business or law for teaching (and in a different format, for research). There are multiple benefits of a good case study: they put the learner in the proverbial driver’s seat, showing some of the complexity of the situation, training the learner to deal with abundance of information to make a decision or a plan of action, they are also showing possible role models for our learners!

Lesson goals and objectives

This module will:

  • Give you a starting point for exploring case study teaching.

As suggested by David Garvin, learners gain diagnostic and persuasive skills.

“Cases and case discussions thus serve three distinct roles. First, they help students develop diagnostic skills in a world where markets and technologies are constantly changing. “The purpose of business education,” a business-school professor noted more than 70 years ago, “is not to teach truths…but to teach men [and women] to think in the presence of new situations.” This requires a bifocal perspective: the ability to characterize quickly both the common and the distinctive elements of business problems.

Second, case discussions help students develop persuasive skills. Management is a social art; it requires working with and through others. The ability to tell a compelling story, to marshal evidence, and to craft persuasive arguments is essential to success. It is for this reason that the business school puts such a heavy premium on class participation. Beyond grading, students also receive regular feedback from professors about the quantity, quality, and constructiveness of their comments.

Third, and perhaps most important, a steady diet of cases leads to distinctive ways of thinking—and acting.” (David Garvin, Making the Case, https://harvardmagazine.com/2003/09/making-the-case-html)

Examples

  • The most famous user of case studies for teaching is probably Harvard Business School (HBS). The cases produced by HBS are used in vast majority of their courses (and sold to schools worldwide).
    Students read each case before class in much detail, prepare with a study group and discuss under guidance of the instructor facilitating the class.
    The method is demanding toward students as the discussion is not about the memorization of case facts (understanding the facts is a starting point), but about drawing conclusions from the facts, deciding on a course of action and presenting it in a class of highly motivated individuals.
    The method is demanding also for the instructors as they need to master all the case facts and analyses and be able to facilitate the discussion in the time frame of a session. This is much harder than a lecture or even many other active learning methods.
    It will seem that because of the discussion format less material is being “covered”, but that does not need to be so (as the content gets covered deeper; links are created to previous learning).
    Benefits include students learning to find key pieces of data, choose a framework to apply, defending in front of others, listening to others.
    HBS has the advantage of motivated students with very solid academic track before coming to the graduate program.

Top Tips

  • Can you use the method in your classes? You can find examples of using case studies on other levels of study (also undergraduate and even high school).
  • What will be some of the issues in adopting case studies?

— Cost (buying case studies for each student or even effort in making your own)

— Time investment (both for students and instructors)

— Deployment (there are benefits if multiple courses use the method; using it just for one course could mean higher workload for students compared to other courses)

— Choice of relevant cases (in your language of instruction, for your specific classes but also the background of your students; they are far more involved if they feel the case is relevant to their possible decisions in the future).

Resources

Please note that when you are looking for cases, you will often encounter legal cases or research cases; while there are similarities, these have different purpose.