Indiana University Teaching Handbook
Teaching with the Case Method
- Formats for Cases
- Managing a Case Assignment
- Designing Case Study Questions
- Managing Discussion and Debate Effectively
Cases are narratives, situations, select data samplings, or statements that present unresolved and provocative issues, situations, or questions. As a teaching/learning tool, cases challenge participants to analyze, critique, make judgments, speculate and express reasoned opinions. Above all, although information can be real or invented, a case must be realistic and believable. The information included must be rich enough to make the situation credible, but not so complete as to close off discussion or exploration. Cases can be short for brief classroom discussions, or long and elaborate for semester-long projects. Cases are important for bringing real world problems into a classroom or a workshopthey ensure active participation and may lead to innovative solutions to problems.
Formats for Cases
- Finished cases based on factsfor analysis only, since the solution is indicated or alternate solutions are suggested.
- Unfinished open-ended cases, where the results are not yet clear (either because the case has not come to a factual conclusion in real life, or because the instructor has eliminated the final facts.) Students must predict, make choices and offer suggestions that will affect the outcome.
- Fictional cases entirely written by the instructorcan be open-ended or finished. Cautionary note: the case must be both complex enough to mimic reality, yet not have so many red herrings as to obscure the goal of the exercise.
- Original documentsnews articles, reports with data and statistics, summaries, excerpts from historical writings, artifacts, literary passages, video and audio recordings, ethnographies, etc. With the right questions, these can become problem-solving opportunities. Comparison between two original documents related to the same topic or theme is a strong strategy for encouraging both analysis and synthesis. This gives the opportunity for presenting more than one side of an argument, making the conflicts more complex.
Managing a Case Assignment
- Design discussions for small groups: 3-6 students is an ideal group size for setting up a discussion on a case.
- Design the narrative or situation such that it requires participants to reach a judgment, decision, recommendation, prediction or other concrete outcome. If possible, require each group to reach a consensus on the decision requested.
- Structure the discussion. The instructor should provide a series of written questions to guide small group discussion. Pay careful attention to the sequencing of the questions. Early questions might ask participants to make observations about the facts of the case. Later questions could ask for comparisons, contrasts, and analyses of competing observations or hypotheses. Final questions might ask students to take a position on the matter. The purpose of these questions is to stimulate, guide or prod (but not dictate) participants observations and analyses. The questions should be impossible to answer with a simple yes or no.
- Debrief the discussion to compare group responses. Help the whole class interpret and understand the implications of their solutions.
- Allow groups to work without instructor interference. The instructor must be comfortable with ambiguity and with adopting the non-traditional roles of witness and resource, rather than authority.
Designing Case Study Questions
Cases can be more or less directed by the kinds of questions askedthese kinds of questions can be appended to any case, or could be a handout for participants unfamiliar with case studies on how to approach one.
- What is the situationwhat do you actually know about it from reading the case? (Distinguishes between fact and assumptions—critical understanding)
- What issues are at stake? (Opportunity for linking to theoretical readings)
- What questions do you havewhat information do you still need? Where/how could you find it?
- What problem(s) need to be solved? (Opportunity to discuss communication versus conflict, gaps between assumptions, sides of the argument)
- What are all the possible options? What are the pros/cons of each option?
- What are the underlying assumptions for [person X] in the casewhere do you see them?
- What criteria should you use when choosing an option? What does that mean about your assumptions?
Managing Discussion and Debate Effectively
- Delay the problem-solving part until the rest of the discussion has had time to develop. Start with expository questions to clarify the facts, then move to analysis, and finally to evaluation, judgment, and recommendations.
- Shift points of view: Now that weve seen it from [Ws] standpoint, whats happening here from [Ys] standpoint? What evidence would support Ys position? What are the dynamics between the two positions?
- Shift levels of abstraction: if the answer to the question above is Its just a bad situation for her, quotations help: When [Y] says _____, what are her assumptions? Or seek more concrete explanations: Why does she hold this point of view?
- Ask for benefits/disadvantages of a position; for all sides.
- Shift time framenot just to Whats next? but also to How could this situation have been different? What could have been done earlier to head off this conflict and turn it into a productive conversation? Is it too late to fix this? What are possible leverage points for a more productive discussion? What good can come of the existing situation?
- Shift to another context: We see how a person who thinks X would see the situation. How would a person who thinks Y see it? We see what happened in the Johannesburg news, how could this be handled in [your town/province]? How might [insert person, organization] address this problem?
- Follow-up questions: What do you mean by ___? Or, Could you clarify what you said about ___? (even if it was a pretty clear statementthis gives students time for thinking, developing different views, and exploration in more depth). Or How would you square that observation with what [name of person] pointed out?
- Point out and acknowledge differences in discussionthats an interesting difference from what Sam just said, Sarah. Lets look at where the differences lie. (let sides clarify their points before moving on).