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 hbsp.harvard.edu).

[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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5 Responses to Teaching with Cases

  1. Leah Schanke says:


    This is a great post! Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the event. Posts like this were a large part of what we had in mind when we created the Teaching Blog. Faculty asked for a way to connect between faculty development events. Thank you for a thoughtful summary of the questions from the session.

  2. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    Will, do you have experience with students researching cases on their own and creating presentation/teaching units based on their findings?

  3. WMillhiser says:

    Elisabeth: Personally, no, but I know some who have at the grad level. Professor Alan Eisner at Pace Univ.’s Lubin School of Business has successfully converted MBA student projects into case studies with such frequency that he was able to significantly expand the case material in the Dess, Lumpkin & Eisner 2007 Strategic Management textbook. Another colleague, Baruch’s Professor Moshe Banai (one of the Nov 17 case workshop panelists) may give further thoughts — he teaches an MBA class on consulting where student projects could easily fuel a case textbook.

  4. John Casey says:


    I am sitting here grading an assignment for my public management class in which students had to analyse any one case from among those we have used in class or are in the textbook … OR they could write their own case based on their own work experiences. So far I have three great new cases written by students; one on an intern mistreated by a company; one on whether a public hospital manager should have the same flu shot she is ordering her nurses to have; and one on the reorganization of the subway system’s management. All three are very well written and I have asked students for permission to use them with future classes.

    John Casey, SPA

  5. Leah Schanke says:


    It is great that you allow your students an opportunity to write their own cases. In the second meeting of the three-part series, Prof. Susan Locke wonderfully showed us that there many sources of cases including song lyrics. President Stan Altman suggested we create a “repository of cases.” Are there practices in place within academic departments or disciplines for creating/sharing cases?

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