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Case Study Method Training West

Using Case Studies to Teach

Why Use Cases?

Many students are more inductive than deductive reasoners, which means that they learn better from examples than from logical development starting with basic principles. The use of case studies can therefore be a very effective classroom technique.

Case studies are have long been used in business schools, law schools, medical schools and the social sciences, but they can be used in any discipline when instructors want students to explore how what they have learned applies to real world situations. Cases come in many formats, from a simple “What would you do in this situation?” question to a detailed description of a situation with accompanying data to analyze. Whether to use a simple scenario-type case or a complex detailed one depends on your course objectives.

Most case assignments require students to answer an open-ended question or develop a solution to an open-ended problem with multiple potential solutions. Requirements can range from a one-paragraph answer to a fully developed group action plan, proposal or decision.

Common Case Elements

Most “full-blown” cases have these common elements:

  • A decision-maker who is grappling with some question or problem that needs to be solved.
  • A description of the problem’s context (a law, an industry, a family).
  • Supporting data, which can range from data tables to links to URLs, quoted statements or testimony, supporting documents, images, video, or audio.

Case assignments can be done individually or in teams so that the students can brainstorm solutions and share the work load.

The following discussion of this topic incorporates material presented by Robb Dixon of the School of Management and Rob Schadt of the School of Public Health at CEIT workshops. Professor Dixon also provided some written comments that the discussion incorporates.

Advantages to the use of case studies in class

A major advantage of teaching with case studies is that the students are actively engaged in figuring out the principles by abstracting from the examples. This develops their skills in:

  1. Problem solving
  2. Analytical tools, quantitative and/or qualitative, depending on the case
  3. Decision making in complex situations
  4. Coping with ambiguities

Guidelines for using case studies in class

In the most straightforward application, the presentation of the case study establishes a framework for analysis. It is helpful if the statement of the case provides enough information for the students to figure out solutions and then to identify how to apply those solutions in other similar situations. Instructors may choose to use several cases so that students can identify both the similarities and differences among the cases.

Depending on the course objectives, the instructor may encourage students to follow a systematic approach to their analysis.  For example:

  • What is the issue?
  • What is the goal of the analysis?
  • What is the context of the problem?
  • What key facts should be considered?
  • What alternatives are available to the decision-maker?
  • What would you recommend — and why?

An innovative approach to case analysis might be to have students  role-play the part of the people involved in the case. This not only actively engages students, but forces them to really understand the perspectives of the case characters. Videos or even field trips showing the venue in which the case is situated can help students to visualize the situation that they need to analyze.

Accompanying Readings

Case studies can be especially effective if they are paired with a reading assignment that introduces or explains a concept or analytical method that applies to the case. The amount of emphasis placed on the use of the reading during the case discussion depends on the complexity of the concept or method. If it is straightforward, the focus of the discussion can be placed on the use of the analytical results. If the method is more complex, the instructor may need to walk students through its application and the interpretation of the results.

Leading the Case Discussion and Evaluating Performance

Decision cases are more interesting than descriptive ones. In order to start the discussion in class, the instructor can start with an easy, noncontroversial question that all the students should be able to answer readily. However, some of the best case discussions start by forcing the students to take a stand. Some instructors will ask a student to do a formal “open” of the case, outlining his or her entire analysis.  Others may choose to guide discussion with questions that move students from problem identification to solutions.  A skilled instructor steers questions and discussion to keep the class on track and moving at a reasonable pace.

In order to motivate the students to complete the assignment before class as well as to stimulate attentiveness during the class, the instructor should grade the participation—quantity and especially quality—during the discussion of the case. This might be a simple check, check-plus, check-minus or zero. The instructor should involve as many students as possible. In order to engage all the students, the instructor can divide them into groups, give each group several minutes to discuss how to answer a question related to the case, and then ask a randomly selected person in each group to present the group’s answer and reasoning. Random selection can be accomplished through rolling of dice, shuffled index cards, each with one student’s name, a spinning wheel, etc.

Resources

Tips on the Penn State U. website: http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/cases/

If you are interested in using this technique in a science course, there is a good website on use of case studies in the sciences at the University of Buffalo.

Dunne, D. and Brooks, K. (2004) Teaching with Cases (Halifax, NS: Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education), ISBN 0-7703-8924-4 (Can be ordered at http://www.bookstore.uwo.ca/ at a cost of $15.00)

Case studies can transform training programmes and the learning experience of participants and provide a refreshing contrast to traditional teaching methods. We provide a range of case method training workshops to help teachers, writers and students. Our tutors include some of the world's most experienced teachers of the case method, several of whom have written books on the subject. All are experienced case authors.

Customised programmes

We offer case training and workshops tailored to the needs of corporate, public and non-profit organisations. Where cases are already being used in an organisation, we can help trainers maximise the effectiveness of their case teaching. For those that have yet to begin using cases in corporate training programmes, we offer workshops covering every stage from choosing - or even writing - the best case, to teaching employees with cases to maximum effect.

Open workshops

Our open workshop portfolio covers both general aspects of case writing and teaching and programmes for specialised situations, such as executive education or undergraduate. Workshops are held regularly at international locations and range in length from one-day introductory workshops to comprehensive three-day events. We also run workshops for teachers in sectors such as entrepreneurship and finance, which address the particular challenges of learning in specific areas. View current open workshops

Student sessions

Learning with cases is a new and challenging experience for many students. We offer special tailored sessions to help students use case studies.

Find out more about case method training

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