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Case Method Instruction Versus Lecture-Based Instruction

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
450

Case -based teaching and learning also allows participants to consider multiple assessments of a single administrative problem or dilemma, builds students' confidence in the diagnosis of complex administrative problems, promotes a tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, forces students to generate nonobvious, alternative responses to difficult administrative problems, and challenges students to adopt "action perspective" (Boehrer, undated).

Folks:

The posting below looks at many of the advantages of using the case study method in certain college and university courses. It is from Chapter 1, Overview, in Using Cases in Higher Education, A Guide for Faculty and Administrators by James P. Honan and Cheryl Sternman Rule. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741( www. Josseybass.com). Copyright ? 2002 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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CASE METHOD INSTRUCTION VERSUS LECTURE-BASED INSTRUCTION

 

Faculty and discussion leaders who incorporate the case study method into their teaching offer various reasons for their enthusiasm for this type of pedagogy over more traditional, such as lecture-based, instructional methods and routes to learning. At their best, case studies can serve as the basis and focal point for productive, learning-oriented conversations of the many sometimes difficult and contentious administrative and managerial problems and issues confronting higher education leaders.

Barnes, Christensen, and Hansen (1994) observe that case teaching "puts the students in an active learning mode, challenges them to accept substantial responsibility for their own education, and gives them first-hand appreciation of, and experience with, the application of knowledge to practice" (pp. 3-4). Case -based teaching and learning also allows participants to consider multiple assessments of a single administrative problem or dilemma, builds students' confidence in the diagnosis of complex administrative problems, promotes a tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, forces students to generate nonobvious, alternative responses to difficult administrative problems, and challenges students to adopt "action perspective" (Boehrer, undated). As noted previously, cases also enable instructors to bring to bear, and benefit from, other professionals' expertise, experience, and observations during the course of a case discussion. Finally, in contrast to lecture-based teaching and learning where students tend to examine text, students working with cases can actually "engage in the text," making their learning experience more interactive (Boehrer and Linsky, 1990) and imagining themselves taking part in a real-life scenario. The reader is no longer a passive observer but is transformed into an active participant. As a student in a case-based graduate school class in higher education administration observed, "Case studies really bring the readings to life and help us to synthesize concepts by placing them in a real world context."

Wassermann (1994) notes that the route to learning represents another essential contrast between traditional learning and the learning inspired by the case method. She observes that traditional. Lecture-based teaching and learning follow "a linear progression, with a beginning, middle, and end [and] the purpose of the journey along the linear pathway seems concerned with the destination-that is, students' acquisition of specific knowledge" (p. 84). By contrast, the case learning pathway, according to Wassermann: is far from linear. It folds over upon itself, backs up, returns to retrace steps, in a series of many investigatory stops along the pathway?Along this more zig-zag learning pathway are a series of interrelated experiences that allow for the reframing of personal meanings, so that students are continually challenged to add each new life experience to their developing cognitive frameworks and deepening understandings [p.84].

Because students are such active participants in a case study discussion, it is essential that they be well prepared for their multiple role as listeners, advocates, skeptics, and naysayers. This preparation takes many forms and can be, to say the least, time consuming. Instructors and discussion leaders using case studies should highlight this issue for all participants-the "you get out of it what you put into it" adage certainly holds true. In fact, an instructor would be well advised to give participants a brief overview at the outset of the course or institute and to inform them up front of what will be expected of them in terms of preparation time and the extent to which case studies play a role in the course.

In the syllabus to Organizational Change in Higher Education, Professor Richard Chait of the Harvard Graduate School of Education informs his students about the role of case studies in his course. "Relaying largely on case studies, the course applies different frameworks and theories to examine the change process, to analyze organizational problems, and to develop constructive strategies for change. The course rests on the assumption that effective administrators must be able to analyze complex problems, constructively change organizations, communicate effectively, work collaboratively, and make sense of ambiguity and uncertainty through an understanding of organizational theory." Later in the syllabus, Chait notes: "Classroom discussions will center on nonfictional case studies and supplemental readings." He also underscores that the course relies "heavily on classroom participation and collaboration" and that "contributions in class should reveal a substantial familiarity with assigned readings, a capacity to analyze the issues and problems under discussion, and an ability to listen to, incorporate, synthesize, and constructively criticize the comments and work of classmates."

At a minimum, students or participants should be asked to read the case study at least once (preferably more than once) before the discussion. Typically, and instructor will also assign supplementary readings to accompany the case study. Such readings might highlight research findings or theoretical frameworks pertinent to the topic or dilemma upon which the case study focuses. Needless to say, a participant who has not done any advance preparation for the case study discussion is unlikely to find the experience to be productive.

Despite emphasizing the need for reading and reflection in advance of case discussion, there are instances where the instructor may occasionally have to orchestrate a discussion among students or institute participants who did not actually prepare. If the instructor senses that there has been minimal (or no) advance preparation for the discussion, he or she may have to make fairly rapid adjustments, such as having participants take a few minutes to read (or reread) the case, discussing the case in small groups of two to six, or revising the teaching plan so that the case plays a less prominent role in the session and the role of relevant theory or supporting readings is emphasized instead. In situations such as this, the instructor should remind participants of the crucial role that advance preparation plays in the effective case discussion.