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Education Standards

6 Case Studies

How to Use Case Studies

General Case Study Best Practice

"The overarching goal of case-based teaching is developing learners’ higher order thinking dispositions such  as  conceptualizing  the  significance  of  the  data,  interpreting  the  information, and creating ideas. Through discussion, learners are prompted to find solutions and determine the best  means  of  implementing  the  solutions.  While  learners  voice  their  thinking,  teachers  can assess  learners’  thinking  processes  (Facione,  Facione,  &  Giancarlo,  1997).”
-Kantar 2013

INSTRUCTOR PREP: Scouting ALL the Rabbit Holes

  •  “Know all the issues involved in the case, prepare questions and prompts in advance, and anticipate where students might run into problems” (Carnegie Mellon).
  • Within the case “where is the debate? You need to frame the fighting issues, because that’s where the action is” (Garvin, 2004).  
  • Get some sense of the timing. A big danger is over packing classes and then shortchanging the material. Break the material into segments, get a sense of how long each debate is likely to last, and determine which issues can be removed or made optional. “You have to be able to flatten or shorten the accordion on segments of class” as needed. Set two or three targets marking when you should be at a certain point in the discussion so you know when to compress and when to fill in the material (Garvin, 2004)."
    -Ryerson Learning & Teaching Office


[Compiled & Adapted from: Standford CTL , Boston U CTL -   & Carnegie MellonEberly Ctr ]

Students will need clear instructions on what their responsibilities are in preparing to discuss a case in class.

  • Do you not expect students to do any other research as it Is self-contained?
    If students can depend entirely on the information present in the case to develop solutions (and do not need to do extra research), let them know.
  • OR do you expect students to do extra research? If So, Where?
    If supplementary research is required, emphasize this and give directions on what might be appropriate sources of information.
  • What are the key questions/ points you want students to focus on in the case?
    Some instructors prepare a set of questions ahead of time, and pass these out in order to give students a general sense of the major issues to be discussed:
       What is the issue?
       What is the goal of the analysis?
       What is the context of the problem?
       What key facts should be considered?
       What alternatives are available to the decision-maker?
       What would you recommend — and why?
  • Any specific parts/ elements you want students to IGNORE as not germane to the content or possible distractions or not able to address in available time frame??
  • What do students need to turn in ahead of class or bring to class?
    students are often asked to prepare a brief statement outlining their sense of the central problem and their plans for resolving it.
  • What steps do you want students to use in analyzing the case?
    (e.g., “First, identify the constraints each character in the case was operating under and the opportunities s/he had. Second, evaluate the decisions each character made and their implications. Finally, explain what you would have done differently and why.”).
  • Will you be using Groups for the discussion? If so, do they need to get together before or in class? How will group members be accountable for contributions?
    Some instructors have found it useful to have students form study groups to analyze and prepare comments before the class discussion takes place. Introduce students to resources for team dynamics. Allow sufficient class time for students to meet with their teams

Facilitating the Case Discussion

  • State what your role as instructor will be in the discussion.
  • Promote a collegiate environment of Inquiry For the Discussion
    A positive atmosphere can be created by setting out ground rules for participation. “Emphasize that … no one will be criticized for raising naïve questions or uncertainties... Without a clear sense that they are free to experiment with hypotheses, students will tend to remain silent until they feel that the ‘right’  answer has been identified” (Stanford University) [Ryerson]
  • “Students are often content to allow the instructor to be the expert. To avoid being forced into the expert role, the instructor should resort to  comments like ‘have you thought about… or do we need this information to resolve the issues in the case.’”
    -Brunner, Gip, Nunnally & Pettit 1997
  • Ask questions for clarification and to move discussion to another level. 
    One of the challenges for a case-based discussion leader is to guide the discussion and probe for deeper analysis without over-directing. As the discussion unfolds, ask questions that call for students to examine their own assumptions, substantiate their claims, provide illustrations, etc.”
    -Carnegie Mellon Eberly Ctr
  • The instructor should involve as many students as possible. In order to engage all the students, the instructor can:
    1-Divide them into groups,
    2- Give each group several minutes to discuss how to answer a (specific) question related to the case,
    3-Ask a randomly selected person in each group to present the group’s answer and reasoning. [Random selection can be accomplished through rolling of dice, shuffled index cards, each with one student’s name, a spinning wheel, etc.]”
    -Boston University CTL
  • “Take public notes on the whiteboard of KEY student comments that move the discussion forward somehow - key hinge/ salient point/ analysis etc. --
    This will show you are paying attention, their comments are valuable and a tacit way to communicate high expectations by omitting comments that simply regurgitate or restate obvious facts of the case.
  • Toward the end of discussion, prompt students to reflect on how they would revise/ polish/ refine their analysis of the case - based on the criticisms, suggestions and analysis of others… this models the learning mindset of professionals.”
    -Brunner, Gip, Nunnally & Pettit 1997

Take AWAY/Assessment

  • Have students record individual reflection at the conclusion or soon after the case discussion
    Make sure you give students an opportunity to provide their reactions and feedback (Pyatt, 2006) [Ryerson]
  • Restrain your Instructional Interventions to the End if Possible
    Offer some summary comments that highlight or address content understanding/ information gaps that come out in the discussion.

Case Studies


Illinois Institute of Technology – Case Studies Collection


Santa Clara University – Applied Ethics Case Studies


University of Montana - Health Care Ethics Case Studies


Indiana University Bloomington – Ethics Case Studies in Media


Society of Professional Journalists – Journalism Case Studies


Public Relations Society of America – Public Relations Case Studies


McCombs School of Business – Business Ethics Case Studies


Yale School of Management – Leadership Case Studies


Center for Practical Bioethics – Bioethics Case Studies