Case-based teaching

The case teaching method was first implemented in the 1920’es in law and medical faculties in the USA. Today, the case-based method is a common teaching method in higher education around the world. The method combines two elements: the case itself and the discussion of the case. Cases challenge students to work on real-life problems that are complex and messy. The problems force students to use their skills in finding and using evidence, choosing which concepts, theories, and methods are relevant, and ignoring irrelevant information. 

Case teaching can take place in a variety of ways and with many different intentions. In its most fundamental form, case teaching is characterized by the following:  “…a narrative approach that is highly contextualized to provide learners with opportunities for dialogue and debate, deliberately aiding the process of informed and independent decision making (…) Students actively participate in real or hypothetical problem situations, reflecting the kind of experiences naturally encountered in the discipline under study.” (Bennett et al., 2002:74) 

  • A case usually has a ‘call for action’, where an organizational situation is described and a problem, a crisis or a challenge needs a solution. A teaching case usually also has a description where students are confronted with a situation where they must make decisions and/or solve a problem. This ‘call for action’ often has a narrative or dramatic element described from a protagonist’s point of view (CEO or another senior person in the organization), which has a motivating effect on students.
  • The case is experimental in nature and requires students to practice their analytical, logical, and other high-order thinking skills. Teaching cases provide information, but neither analysis nor conclusions, thus providing students with authentic learning opportunities, with specific examples of theory in context.
  • A good teaching case supports multiple answers and learning objectives. The analytical work of explaining the relationships among events in the case, identifying options, evaluating choices, and predicting the effects of actions is the work done by students during a discussion in class or on an online platform. 

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Resources / References

The Case Centre (link)
The Case Centre is a European-based centre promoting the use of the case method in management education. It offers a large collection of management study materials including over 46,000 teaching cases from around the world. 

Harvard Business School Publishing (link)
Harvard Business School Publishing offers a wide range of resources on teaching for both teachers and students. A large part of their website is dedicated to the case method. 

Ivey Publishing (link)
Ivey Publishing provides business case studies with a global perspective and has over 8,000 products in its collection, adding more than 350 classroom-tested case studies each year. Almost all Ivey cases have teaching notes. 

Bennett, S.; B. Harper & J. Hedberg (2002): Designing real life cases to support authentic design activities. Australian Journal of Education Technology, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 1-12.

Branch, J.; Bartholomew, P. & Nygaard, C.(2014): CASE-BASED LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION, Libri Publishing. 

Ellet, W. (2007). The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases. Harvard Business Press.