How to Prepare Students to Learn with Cases
Student participation is central to the case method, and the effectiveness of the method is tied directly to the proficiency with which students participate in case discussion. Part of the learning process in the course is tied to developing students' skills in doing the kind of analysis and discussion that the method entails, which means getting clear guidance about how to prepare from you. Student preparation has two components: preparing the material and learning how to discuss.
Mastering the material in the case
Effective discussion requires that students be extremely familiar with the content of the case. This familiarity is best achieved by multiple readings of the case during which they take notes and organize those notes around questions and themes. Their reading can be guided by some preparation questions from you.
This kind of reading is new to students, and many instructors have developed handouts giving students guidelines on how to read and prepare a case. Two examples of such handouts are attached:
Velenchik Case Preparation Guidelines for Students (Acrobat (PDF) 66kB Mar4 09)
Schodt Learning with Cases (Microsoft Word 30kB May29 09)
Participating Effectively in Case Discussion
Even the most verbally sophisticated student will need training in how to be an effective case method participant. Most students have experience with answering and asking questions from the instructor, but little experience in classroom discussions with other students. Good case discussion requires students to be engaged in a conversation with their classmates and to be ready to respond to each other's interventions, to use evidence from the case to support their claims, to role play and to work in small groups and to take a stand and defend it. This is a big task for students, and helping them learn to do it can be seen as having three parts.
Provide your students with a clear explanation of your pedagogical goals, your reasons for choosing the case method, and your expectations for their performance. Establish some ground rules. Will you, for example, only call on volunteers, or will you be "cold calling?" Do you have expectations for how frequently any individual student will be allowed to speak? How will you handle follow up questions or debates? How will you use the blackboard or other means of tracking the discussion. The more they know about the procedures and your expectations, the more effectively they can participate.
By listening carefully, asking questions that open the discussion rather than leading it down a narrow prescribed path, and avoiding the professorial urge to respond to every student statement yourself, you can show students what you expect from them.
Take time after each case to talk with students about the discussion, reflecting not only on the substantive outcome but on the process. How did the conversation unfold? What kinds of interventions moved the discussion forward? Where were their bottlenecks? How did you perform as guide? What did they learn that they might bring to the next discussion?
Learning to be a good case student happens in the doing, so more practice will produce better discussions and more satisfied students, but you can get that process underway by setting clear expectations, being careful in your own guidance of the discussion, and asking students to help you think about how to make the next discussion even better.