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Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide


Harvard Business Publishing (2014).

Additional resources: http://academic.hbsp.harvard.edu/teachingwithcases (from this address you can also purchase the book, but you will not need to if you attend FuNKon14, as it is included in the conference fee).

Authors: Espen Andersen and Bill Schiano, both experienced case teachers at Harvard and other institutions, are sharing their knowledge and their anecdotes in an informal style in this guide.

Who should read the book? According to the authors you would benefit from it if you: are teaching cases for the first time, are new to teaching executives, are an experienced case teacher hoping to refresh and deepen skills and pick up a few pointers, and if you are an administrator or academic leader wanting to understand about case teaching and how to support it. We could add that you could also read it if you are teaching, or interested in teaching because there are tips and tricks and theories of all sorts in the book.

Case teaching sometimes is referred to as Problem Based Learning or Socratic method. Personally, I have trouble coming up with any discipline that could not benefit from using this method at least part time (a practice referred to in the book as “case-snacking”), although the authors warn that this way of teaching and learning takes time and effort getting used to.

The case teaching method is built upon a central framework: 1) Foundations (building accept among students and faculty, creating syllabus and selecting cases, getting to know your students to challenge them in the best way possible and setting assignments). 2) Flow (all the techniques for successfully planning and running the sessions smoothly: seating, board management, time management, body language, how to encourage the meek and harness the over-assertive and techniques for introducing theory). 3) Feedback (how to provide feedback and assessment when you rely mainly on oral activity in a plenum setting).

There are also chapters covering evaluation, managing classroom issues (brick-and-mortar and virtual) and general tips for utilizing and mastering hard- and software.

The big challenge in this way of teaching is getting students to prepare and interact. If they don’t, the method is useless. For case teaching it probably makes sense to follow most of the advices from the authors, but other than that it’s pick and choose.

After having read this book, I’ll go out on a limb and try to explain case teaching in short: The students need to read all material by themselves; theory, background material and the cases. Then what happens in class is: 1) They get to test their understanding and mode of perception. 2) They learn from others (crowdsourcing). 3) They practice the art of analyzing and solving problems.

So is this book a full blooded manual in case teaching? Absolutely. Be not mistaken, this is a manual in teaching business with cases as your only method. The example material online makes it even more so. Still, while reading I found so many tips for teaching everything from primary to further education, classroom to online, case to more traditional. The teacher in me stirred, and so did the student –who used to fall asleep in lectures.

To quote the authors:

We love case teaching because it allows us to deal with one of the most common shortcomings of student         learning –and our most common comments on student papers – that the students “mention theory but don’t apply it”.


By: Kari Olstad