Teach Analytical Skills
Students taking courses in international development not only face the normal academic challenge of learning new methods of analysis; they must also learn to apply these methods to situations that are truly foreign to their experiences. Few of my students bring any knowledge of theories of international development to the classroom, and even fewer bring the concrete knowledge of Brazil or Zambia that would provide a context for their learning. Furthermore, in the courses that I teach, an important objective is that the student's application of theory to practice involve the use of quantitative data.
I have found that teaching cases are powerful vehicles for helping students to meet these challenges. As Lee Shulman has written, “what is so alluring about a case is that it resides in that never-never land between theory and practice, between ideas and experience, between the normative ideal and the achievable real.”1 Cases bring reality to the classroom, providing context for theory. For courses in international development, cases allow students who have little experience with other countries to work with information that, although complex, is contained by the boundaries of the narratives. At the same time, students with experience in other countries, whose “expert” comments might otherwise stifle participation by less knowledgeable students, are restrained by the use of a common text. Cases also allow students to work with data: to make judgments about which data to use, to undertake calculations in a messy but real context, and to present their results in tables or charts.
Teaching with cases in the classroom involves three elements: