Casing the Web (and Databases) for Case Studies

By Ojala, Marydee | Online, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Casing the Web (and Databases) for Case Studies


Ojala, Marydee, Online


A cornerstone of many Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs, worldwide, is the case study. Students are presented with a scenario related to the topic of their course. They must analyze the situation and devise viable solutions based on what they've learned and read. The idea is that this case-based learning will help students when they confront real-world problems on the job; that it will be more effective in training business leaders than merely reading about the theory of management. It's assumed that the cases will be written so that the situation is applicable in actual business situations. Case studies need to be practical rather than theoretical. In today's educational environment, they also need to be useful as pedagogical tools for distance, online, asynchronous courses.

Harvard Business School (HBS; www.hbs.edu) is widely reputed to be the originator of the case study method, which dates from the 1920s, for graduate business information. Students currently study and prepare some 500 cases during their HBS years (www.hbs.edu/mba/academics/howthecasemethodworks.html). Many other schools rely on case studies in their MBA programs. The University of Virginia Darden School of Business' website states (www.darden.virginia .edu/web/MBA/Academics/Case-Method/Home), "A distinctive element of the Darden academic experience is the case method of instruction. In contrast to a lecture-based approach to education, Darden class time is spent discussing cases about actual business problems and potential solutions." In France, INSEAD (www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/insead_cases.cfm) "believes that the case method offers the most effective way to provide lessons in leadership."

At least one professional association, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), publishes free case studies aimed at both graduate and undergraduate human resources courses (www.shrm.org/Education/hreducation/pages/cases.aspx). Keep in mind that interest in the case method isn't restricted to academia: Corporations also buy case studies to use for training purposes.

WE'RE ON THE CASE

Before delving into finding case studies online, consider these two points: One, case studies may be about actual companies in actual situations, or they may be fictional, created to make a point. Two, you might be looking for a case study in support of a particular course topic that can immediately be adapted to that course, but you could equally be looking for background data from which someone could write a new case study.

In line with the latter, information about how to create a case study could also be required. Students may need guidance about how to approach a scenario using the case method. Several books, which you may already have in your library's collection, exist that help students with their case analysis, reporting, and discussions. A quick search on Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) for case method should suggest some good titles, in case you don't have them in your collection.

Even in instances where the case concerns an actual company, you shouldn't assume that all the facts are there or that the facts, as given in the case, correspond with real life. These are for teaching purposes--they're not intended to be used for researching a company.

SEARCHING FOR CASE STUDIES

Regardless of your reasons for searching for case studies, there are some constants. Taking the path of least resistance (Google, or maybe Bing), you simply type your topic or company name with "case study" following it into the search box. If you've been told a particular school published the case, you can add that name in as well or limit your search to the school's site. This is not foolproof, however, and can easily pull up a list of less than totally relevant items.

With the name of the university responsible for the case study, you have another avenue to follow. Harvard and INSEAD, among others, not only use the case method for teaching, but they also sell the case studies.

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