Monthly Archives: September 2009

Teaching with Cases

On September 22, 2009, we held the first of a three-part series on teaching with case studies. In the interest of furthering the discussion, I’ve tried to summarize questions that were raised by panelists and audience members. We’d be delighted to hear your comments. Thanks to all who contributed.

  1. If the class discussion is a central part of learning with cases, what percent of a student’s course grade should be participation? How does one assess participation?
  2. The answer to #1 at Harvard Business School (HBS) is 50%, based on quality and frequency of comments. Is such emphasis on class participation fair to all learning styles? How can we encourage involvement? (I like Leah Schanke’s answer posted on this blog in 2008.)
  3. Some students will attempt to dominate case discussions while others will speak without adding value. How should we moderate?
  4. How should students prepare for a case discussion? HBS’s answer is the “4 Ps” (preparation, presence, promptness, participation; see [1] for details). Do other models encourage as deep or deeper reflection?
  5. Most cases are written about a situation faced 5 or 10 years ago. (a) Should we give students closure as to how the situation was actually resolved? (b) Should we (or the students?) report on the health of the company today? (c) Should we seek links between (a) and (b)?
  6. How should one prepare to teach a case? Is preparation time-consuming?
  7. HBS’s answer to #6 is this: read the case and teaching note and develop a set of specific teaching goals and have a clear idea of general topics and diagrams that you will lay out on the white board and prepare questions that encourage greater depth and analysis. (Source: [1], p. 3) This answer implies that the instructor leads the discussion. Are other debriefing models equally effective (e.g., student-led discussions, etc.)?
  8. What is the “right” number of cases in an introductory class? (In [1], see p. 2, especially, “Because other techniques do other jobs well … use case discussions to accomplish what they can do better than other pedagogical methods.”)
  9. Are case-intensive courses appropriate for full-time and part-time (evening) programs alike? Similarly, since our executive classes often meet in 3-hour blocks, are two case discussions per class effective?
  10. Some colleges have set up case publishing divisions and teach all classes using the case method. For example, the Richard Ivey School of Business at the Univ. of Western Ontario is one such publisher; my colleagues at Ivey tell me that even their introductory undergraduate classes consist of about 30 case studies in 30 meetings. What’s more, Ivey promises its undergraduates the following compelling advantage: “Experiencing over 400 real world business cases in the HBA Program will give you the knowledge, skills and judgment to perform at an entirely different level when you enter the workforce. It’s a true simulation of the realities of business.” (source) Sounds great! But is this approach supported by pedagogical research, a desire to write and sell case studies, or both?
  11. Are cases more effective than other innovative methods for creating “deep learning” such as games and simulations? (Panelist David Birdsell’s definition of case study includes games and simulations; however, since management simulations are often not based on real companies nor real data, I consider this a different instructional category.)
  12. May we reuse a case next semester? Alternatively, should we rotate through a number of similar cases on a given topic so that any particular case is used once every 3-4 semesters? Regardless of frequency, is it OK to distribute your analysis of a case? (My opinion? See this post.) Finally, the analyses for many popular business case studies are now available “for hire” on the web (for example, see the disturbing hits on this Google search for one of my favorite cases). How do we contend with this?

Please ignore the above emphasis on business cases; that’s just what I know. Furthermore, I am in no way endorsing anything by HBS nor Ivey. I’m sure some of these will receive further reflection at the Oct 20th and Nov 17th sessions.


[1] Shapiro, B.P. 1985. “Hints for Case Teaching.” Harvard Business School Publishing, case 9-585-012 (free to faculty; downloadable at

[2] Barnes, L.B., C.R. Christensen, A.J. Hansen. 1994. Teaching and the Case Method, Harvard Business Publishing, p. 41.

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The Schwartz Communication Institute’s Luke Waltzer just posted to cac.ophony an interesting discussion of one of our most ambitious projects to date, the introduction of student blogging into every section of Freshman Seminar. In Luke’s words, “every Freshman Seminar at Baruch currently is blogging. That’s roughly 60 sections, populated by over 1200 students. Yowser.”

The idea of the FRO blogging project, a collaboration with our colleagues at Advisement and Orientation, is to provide first-year students with an online, public space for reflecting on a number of required projects and activities as well as their experiences of acclimating to college life — to give our incoming students yet more curricular opportunities to write and, in the process, to increase engagement and deepen their thinking about what they are learning and experiencing in their first year at Baruch.

Luke’s post details some of the nitty gritty of the project, which is one big experiment (a full-scale pilot, if you will) that we hope will teach us quite a bit more about the pedagogical potential of online personal publishing in introductory programs and courses. We hope, for example, to look closely at the tremendous variety of writing we have seen in the FRO blogs so far (from well articulated, impressively developed posts resembling mini-essays to brief, informal missives written in like SMS text messages) and explore ways in which to better teach students the conventions of college-level written discourse. For now, we’re focused fairly heavily on logistics and mechanics and look forward to building on and refining the programmatic and pedagogical aspects in coming semesters.

Student blogging seems to be a natural fit for typical Freshman Seminars, so I would expect that other schools have tried something like this though it does appear as though we at Baruch are blazing new trails. If you know of other schools doing something similar, please let us know.

Posted in Communication Skills, Instructional Technology, Student Participation | 9 Comments

The Study Guide

When I left industry to be a teacher in the mid 1990s, I took a class on “mathematics teaching methods” at a local college. The instructor, now the Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Richard Evans to whom I owe much gratitude, taught that prior to an exam, one should give students a “study guide” or “review sheet.”

As most know, a study guide is a simple document that articulates what content you feel is important, describes what you will be assessing on the exam, and helps students focus their studying/review in the form of a checklist. When done right, the study guide is not “spoon feeding” nor teaching to a test, rather, a way of helping students define and prioritize what could be a seemingly boundless cloud of new material from the book, lectures notes, homework and other sources. It eliminates one of the causes of variance in exams scores—the students not knowing what’s covered.

Before every exam, I write about a page, usually in bullet form, which is posted on Blackboard. The last 10 minutes of the class prior to the exam is dedicated to discussing this guide.

I see the study guide as a contract that states the material to which I am committing on the exam, and from which I am not allowed to deviate too broadly when writing questions. For example, occasionally I write what I consider to be a “good” exam question that later must be vetoed upon consulting my study guide (“that just wouldn’t be fair”). From the students’ point of view, the study guide gives an opportunity to spend time preparing the “right stuff” and a chance to succeed on the exam. (Who doesn’t like to work hard and achieve something?)

With the students dialed in to what I want to assess on the exam, this permits me to write challenging (and often open-ended) questions that allow me to drill down to understand exactly what students do and do not know. But open-ended questions in assessment will be a topic for a future post.

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Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger

Those of you familiar with cac.ophony, the Schwartz Communication Institute’s blog, know that our Fellows consistently offer intelligent, insightful commentary on a host of topics including, teaching, technology, communication, culture and media. Below is a recent post on teaching with blogs by Hillary Miller, which has gotten a fair share of attention, including a couple of plugs on Prof. Hacker, a new, high-volume, high-profile blog on teaching and technology. Hillary’s instructive and provocative post, entitled “Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger,” is reproduced below.

. . .

I’m finally looking back to Spring ’09, when I had my first experience using Blogs@Baruch in two sections of COM1010, Intro to Speech Communications. I used the blog for the midterm, in which students write critiques of speeches they’ve found online. In past semesters, students have been inventive in their speech choices and committed in their critiques. But the question of how to best enable their classmates to see these videos still lingered. Curious about Blogs@Baruch, I decided to migrate this assignment onto a blog, allowing students to watch (and comment upon) each other’s videos and share their critiques of the speeches. Having learned from the adventure, here are a few words of advice to potential Blogs@Baruch-ers.

1. It’s not difficult. Considering the gong show of Blackboard’s tech problems this semester, it was almost comical how smoothly the blog functioned. A handful of students ran into some problems accessing it at certain computers, but often I found that problems encountered by students were frequently due more to lack of time and preparation on their part than any issue with the blog itself.

2. Don’t be conservative! I was. As one of my students told me at the end of the semester, “the blog was just there.” It wasn’t as dynamic as it could have been, in part because I didn’t use it to capture anything in progress. Students cut and pasted their work onto the blog, and then made the requisite comment on a post, creating a static space outside of the classroom, not a particularly engaging one. While it was satisfying to see this vast collection of interesting video clips assembled in one place—along with frequently cogent, in-depth analyses of them—I see now that I used the blog to solve a problem (that of my midterm assignment) rather than tailoring it for uses that would really suit the nature of the blog. Recent conversations with my students and others have highlighted a range of ways that it could be used in an Introductory Speech course– sharing audio files or outlines of student speech drafts that could be revised as the “audience” comments. On a related note, the public forum really does elicit strong work. When students feel the watchful eyes of their peers, the bar is set somewhere different. This makes my mouth water for the possibilities of the course blog—like facilitating peer review, for example—that I didn’t explore.

3. Be forewarned: out of sight, out of mind. In part due to #2 above, the blog can feel like that side dish you ordered but weren’t quite hungry for. It’s easy to lose track of the blog, and its implementation should be planned with an eye towards avoiding this. Usually, the material nature of grading compels you to eventually plop down on a long train ride and hit it out of the park. With the blog, not so easy. I had good intentions—I wanted to comment on posts frequently, but commenting is time-consuming, especially if students are posting 40-minute inauguration speeches. This in turn leaves less time to evaluate the work for grading purposes. From the student side, they were assigned a date for one post; once students posted, they didn’t have a strong incentive to return, which would leave me begging them to “visit the blog!” when I myself was embarrassingly behind on reading their old posts.

4. Students might be less excited about instructional technology than you are. (…How to get them more excited is part of the task.) Take ‘tagging,’ for example—it was harder than I might have imagined getting the ‘tagging’ to happen. Some assume that the ‘Sidekick generation’ will tag as if it were natural as breathing. Not so– every nineteen-year-old might know how to search YouTube, but they’re not all writing Facebook applications or even their own blogs. Making some class time available to teach students the rhyme and reason behind some aspects of the blog is arguably essential, and yet somehow easy to overlook.

The Com1010 Public Speaking Award Goes To...

The Com1010 Public Speaking Award Goes To...

5. Students love Pacino. As in past semesters, his speeches were cited with a remarkable frequency, rivaled only by Randy Pausch. This is perhaps not a surprise, since the first hit from googling “inspirational speech” is Pacino’s “peace by inches” monologue from Any Given Sunday, but still. City Hall has a less predictable—and arguably far better—dramatic monologue that I’m glad one of my students spread around.

I’ll end here with a question. As Luke articulated so well in his WordCampEd post, these open source technologies are blessedly DIY. But I can’t help feeling a little protective of the adjunct in this discussion– don’t adjuncts “do it themselves” enough? Can the full potential of Instructional Technology really be unleashed with the real limitations of the adjunct labor force operating in higher education? I’m in a distinctly lucky position as a dual-hatted Communications Fellow and adjunct; working with people jazzed and knowledgeable about these technologies has taught me tremendous amounts about how to use it and why. But how will Jane Q. Adjunct learn about the potential of a course blog, after tearing her hair out over Blackboard for months and missing the departmental meeting that announced a later workshop about blogs, all time she’s not paid for? How will Jane Q. Adjunct get excited about the potential of these tools, and why will she motivate to prioritize the time required to integrate them thoughtfully and productively in her course?

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Guest Post: Why Not Tap into Our Greatest Asset?

The following is a guest post from Arthur Lewin, Associate Professor, Department of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College. He can be reached at

Why not tap into our great strength and distinction, our diversity? From 2001 to 2009 Baruch College has been ranked number one in the nation, in terms of student body diversity, by U.S. News and World Report. Early in each semester why not schedule a Cultural Exchange Day? I have, and it has proved quite a learning tool. . .

For Cultural Exchange Day each student is asked to bring in at least one item, of any kind, that represents their nation of origin, religion, ethnic group or any other aspect of what they consider to be their culture. During the session each student is required to talk with at least a dozen of their fellow students carefully making note of each other’s (1) name (2) culture (3) item that they brought to class and (4) its significance. (Stack up some of the chairs, and rearrange the others, to provide room to walk around.)

I have found that oftentimes students, who normally do not talk at all, become the center of attention as they briskly discuss, display and explain a wide array of fascinating artifacts from dozens of countries around the world. Some even come dressed in their traditional garb. Knots will periodically form and disperse around elaborate, or particularly intriguing, items and their presenters. This exercise is not just an ice breaker, but also an eye opener to the richly varied ways humanity has adapted, survived and thrived in every corner of the globe.

Cultural Exchange Day can be held in any course. If you like a focused approach, require that the items brought in be relevant to the subject matter of the course be it music, history, religion, business, or whatever. With this approach, in particular, observations made during Cultural Exchange Day tend to resonate later in the term. Since cultural diversity is our great strength and truly unique distinction, why not tap into it in this and in other ways?

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The Sound of Silence

Last night my executive MBA class discussed the case study “Deaconess-Glover Hospital” about a Massachusetts healthcare system that made significant improvements using the Toyota Production System. But before this column digresses into a “how do we improve healthcare?” debate, I’d like to share seven sentences Dr. Steven J. Spear wrote in the teaching note that accompanies the case.

Like most case study teaching notes, there is a recommended teaching plan. Immediately after suggesting that instructors ask, “Given what you know from the case, what would you recommend…?” Spear says, “Wait! Give students a chance to offer responses. Instructor silence is a powerful tool!”

If you read my 26-Nov-2008 post “Understanding ‘The Pause’,” hopefully Spear’s remark puts a smile on your face.

Spear offers other advice uncommon in most teaching notes. For example, he later suggests, “A key objective is to teach them [the students], through experience, to be specific both in terms of what they have observed and also in terms of what they would recommend. Therefore it is the responsibility of the instructor to challenge students.” And a little later in the lesson plan he advises, “Don’t let students off the hook. Whatever their response, ask…”

I appreciate these comments because case studies are hard work. They require significant student reading and digesting time as well as prep time on the part of the professor. However, when they work well, even exhausted executives have lively discussions at 8 pm at night. A little silence and challenge do go a long way.

(For those interested in learning more about the art of case teaching, please allow me to plug Baruch’s fall 2009 workshops.)

Posted in Classroom Management, Student Participation, Students' Thinking | 2 Comments