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
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In the conducting of any formal educational enterprise, there are details of size of class, length and nature of assignments, intensity of questioning, use of call lists, grading of classroom performance, and so on, to which some attention must be given. Under the case method, the importance attached to these quasi-mechanical factors will vary considerably, depending on the nature of the material, the maturity of the students, and the preference of the instructor for nondirective discussion or for closely controlled analysis and discussion. The following observations set forth views on these matters expressed by various members of the Business School Faculty in the course of a survey conducted shortly after World War II. They are summarized from material prepared by Robert W. Merry for inclusion in a memorandum to the Committee on Educational Policy from the Subcommittee on Instruction Methods, then under the chairmanship of Professor Harry R. Tosdal.


Use of Case Material in the Classroom

ROBERT W. MERRY

With respect to the practical aspects of conducting a class under the case method, we propose to discuss the following topics: size of class, assignments, discussion of cases in the classroom, sustaining interest, call lists, grading, and encouragement of volunteering.


SIZE OF CLASS

There is apparently a widespread impression that the case method works most effectively with small classes. This impression is not, however, confirmed by experience. At the Harvard Business School, over a period of years classes have, in fact, ranged from six or eight students to more than 100; and the consensus seems to be that numbers from forty or fifty to eighty are the most satisfactory. When the class is too large, the group may be somewhat unmanageable. The success of the case method depends to a marked degree, of course, on the development of active discussion. In a very large class, it may well be impossible to give an opportunity to everyone who wishes to speak; and when students are repeatedly denied the chance to contribute, their interest diminishes. Furthermore, when the class is large and more students volunteer than can be heard, nonvolunteers cannot easily be drawn into the discussion. The initially reticent stay reticent. In a very large class also, the instructor has difficulty in getting to know the students, and the students to know one another, with the result that a too formal

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