The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview

When cases and case discussions rather than textbooks and lectures constitute the major vehicle of teaching, what is the part which the instructor should play in the classroom? On this question there are perhaps almost as many opinions as there are case instructors. In the following paper, Kenneth R. Andrews offers one concept of the instructor's role.


The Role of the Instructor in the Case Method

KENNETH R. ANDREWS


I

Everything said in any symposium dedicated to the "case method" of teaching administration raises questions about the role of the instructor. What is his job?

At first glance his duties seem less onerous than those of a lecturer in the main stream of educational tradition. Students seem to do all the thinking, most of the talking, and make for themselves the relevant discoveries. If they originate the ideas, organize the discussion, and establish their own rate of progress, their instructor need not prepare lectures, prescribe texts, serve up precepts in palatable form, or test for regurgitation of fact and principle. If the end is not knowledge, the instructor need not know all.

In actuality, however, the direction of free discussion toward specific goals increases the demands made upon the instructor. Active student participation in the learning process serves no purpose unless class discussions are emotionally satisfying, intellectually productive, and occasionally profound enough to provide prejudice-shattering encounters with the facts of life. The instructor is responsible, therefore, for the value of the talk he presides over. He hopes the talk will broaden judgment and affect behavior.

Case teaching, in short, like case learning, calls for more skill than knowledge. The instructor provides the impromptu services which any group discussion requires. He keeps the proceedings orderly. He should be able to ask questions which invite advance in group thinking and at the same time reveal the relevance of the talk that has gone before. He needs the ability to weave together the threads of individual contributions into a pattern which not only he but his class can perceive. He needs the sense of timing which tells him that a discussion is not moving fast enough to make good use of available time or is racing away from the comprehension of half the class. He knows what to

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