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How to Integrate Cases in the Syllabus

It is possible to make effective use of a single case in a course, and if that is your intent then you may not be interested in the content of the page. Experienced case teachers find that the best results come from remaking the course syllabus to incorporate the use of the method. Designing a case method based course involves significant back-and-forth between identifying and creating cases and placing them in the syllabus. Sometimes the case comes first, and then the task is to figure out where it might best be used in the course. Other times the process moves in the other direction, with the identification of appropriate subject matter followed by the search for an appropriate case. Either way, a central part of the process is matching the case with the course content and the timing, and you should expect some tinkering to be part of the process.

You will need to make a series of decisions:

  1. How many cases do you want to use? Although it is possible to teach a course using the case method exclusively, as is done at some business schools, most instructors who use cases employ them as one of a number of pedagogical techniques and continue to lecture as an important way of delivering new material.
    In a survey, Pew economists reported that they use cases from 10 to 50 percent of their class meetings, with a clear mode of about 25 percent. Most cases take a full class period to discuss, but many instructors incorporate "mini-cases" that can be completed in as little as 10 or 15 minutes. Because using cases effectively will require learning about the method on the part of both teachers and students, try to incorporate at least two or three cases in a course in order to allow participants to become comfortable with the method.
  2. How will you use the case? Cases can motivate students to learn new material, introduce theoretical concepts or empirical methods, or apply examples to reinforce the learning of theory and encourage students to transform theory into the construction of applications.
    Cases work best when there is a specific well-defined pedagogical goal, so part of the work that goes into selecting and incorporating cases is the careful definition of what one is trying to teach and how the case is going to enhance that learning. It is useful to be explicit with students about the instructional purpose of the cases you use.
  3. What are you going to leave out? Cases are time-consuming, and including them in the syllabus means leaving something else out.
    Case method courses tend to cover less material in greater depth than do courses consisting entirely of lecture. That sacrifice is a difficult one at first, but becomes easier as instructors become aware of how much more deeply the students understand the material. The trade-off then becomes focused on having students learn more about each topic versus having seen more topics, and most teachers and students quickly come to realize that less is, indeed, more.
  4. How will you make your assessment methods match your teaching methods? Most instructors expect cases to encourage higher-order thinking, develop group skills, and encourage the ability of students to solve problems by applying theoretical concepts to examples.
    It is important that your tests and other assignments effectively evaluate the skills you really want your students to develop. Cases themselves can make excellent foundations for writing assignments and for exam questions.

Finally, remember that your students will need information and reassurance about the case method. Your syllabus should include a description of your goals for the case method component of your course and specific information about how you will be evaluating student participation in case discussion.



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