This guide explores what case studies are, the value of using case studies as teaching tools, and how to implement them in your teaching.
What are case studies?
Case studies are stories that are used as a teaching tool to show the application of a theory or concept to real situations. Dependent on the goal they are meant to fulfill, cases can be fact-driven and deductive where there is a correct answer, or they can be context driven where multiple solutions are possible. Various disciplines have employed case studies, including humanities, social sciences, sciences, engineering, law, business, and medicine. Good cases generally have the following features: they tell a good story, are recent, include dialogue, create empathy with the main characters, are relevant to the reader, serve a teaching function, require a dilemma to be solved, and have generality.
How to use cases for teaching and learning
Instructors can create their own cases or can find cases that already exist. The following are some things to keep in mind when creating a case:
- What do you want students to learn from the discussion of the case?
- What do they already know that applies to the case?
- What are the issues that may be raised in discussion?
- How will the case and discussion be introduced?
- What preparation is expected of students? (Do they need to read the case ahead of time? Do research? Write anything?)
- What directions do you need to provide students regarding what they are supposed to do and accomplish?
- Do you need to divide students into groups or will they discuss as the whole class?
- Are you going to use role-playing or facilitators or record keepers? If so, how?
- What are the opening questions?
- How much time is needed for students to discuss the case?
- What concepts are to be applied/extracted during the discussion?
- How will you evaluate students?
To find other cases that already exist, try the following websites (if you know of other examples, please let us know and we will add them to this resource):
- The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University of Buffalo. SUNY-Buffalo maintains this set of links to other case studies on the web in disciplines ranging from engineering and ethics to sociology and business
- A Journal of Teaching Cases in Public Administration and Public Policy, University of Washington
- The American Anthropological Association’s Handbook on Ethical Issues in Anthropology, Chapter 3: Cases & Solutions provides cases in a format that asks the reader to solve each dilemma and includes the solutions used by the actual anthropologists. Comments by anthropologists who disagreed with the “solution” are also provided.
- Teaching with Cases, Harvard Kennedy School
- World Association for Case Method Research and Application
- Case-Based Teaching & Problem-Based Learning, UMich
- What is Case-Based Learning, Queens University