Case-based teaching: Approaches

Case-based teaching uses cases as a “vehicle for classroom discussions”. The narrative in the cases is realistic or true and provides opportunities for students to integrate multiple sources of information in an authentic context. The role of the educator is more of a coach or a mentor providing motivation and necessary resources and providing space for collaboration and discussion for the students. The role of the learner is to take ownership (self-management) over their own learning and be engaged with the case through collaboration and creative problem-solving

The analytical work of a case typically evolves around four student tasks: 

  • Recognize and explain the issue(s)
  • Identify and evaluate options
  • Propose and argue for possible solutions
  • Predict the effects of the actions

As the key to case-based teaching is dialogic and collaborative learning the role of the teacher is to create a learning environment for this. This can be done by setting expectations, providing instructions, and assigning students roles in the discussions. Student roles in a case discussion can include:  

Discussion starters: Start the conversations by posing questions they themselves or their peers came up with. 

Facilitators: Make the conversations going by validating the contributions of peers, asking follow-up questions, draw connections.

Recorders: Taking notes from discussion and making sure the main points are written or uploaded in the right places.

Discussion wrappers: Make sure the main points of discussions are summarized. 

ApproachUseful for…Instructor roleStudent roleOutput
Role-playDeveloping empathy by taking on diverse perspectives, creative thinkingFacilitate, structure the role-playing sessionPlay the role of different protagonists in the case, understanding their point of viewStudents can understand and describe the protagonist’s perspective in the case and reflect upon it
DebateDevelop critical thinking and communication skills Structure and facilitate a debate between opposing sides in a caseWorking in teams to develop and present argumentsStudents get a better understanding of the complexity of the case by arguing between conflicting sides
Discussion/JigsawPromote peer-to-peer learningForm groups and assign different pieces or opposing sides from the case to the groups, forming new groups with an “expert” from each previous groupsActive learning and collaboration through first studying their “own” part of the jigsaw (case), then sharing and discussing the whole case with students who have other parts of the case.  
Developing “expertise” of their part of the problem. 
Active learning and collaboration. Facilitate and present complex problems to their peers

A case class could also involve interactive elements like role-plays, debates, or jigsaw. Inspire yourself with more teaching activities here. Regardless of the approach selected, case-based teaching challenges students to work on real-life problems. Motivating the students to use and develop their high-thinking skills and using evidence, theories and concepts when coming up with a solution for the case. It is a great way to engage students in class and stimulate experience-based learning.