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

Of special interest to the instructor, and particularly to the instructor embarking on the case method for the first time, is the question of the work which he needs to do on a case prior to the class period. This question relates not only to the analytical procedures which the instructor may need to employ in his preparation for teaching but also to the kinds of notes or other supplementary material with which he may wish to fortify himself as a basis for the conduct of the discussion. The following observations and suggestions are summarized from a memorandum, "Case Instruction for the Beginning Instructor," prepared by Robert W. Merry in his capacity as a member of the committee working on the general survey referred to in connection with the paper "Use of Case Material in the Classroom."


Preparation to Teach a Case

ROBERT W. MERRY

To any case-method instructor the importance of his preparation for class is fully apparent. To the new instructor, however, it may come as something of a surprise that his task in preparing for a case class is more arduous than that of the students and more arduous also than that of a lecturer. If he were lecturing, the instructor would be the one to determine what material he would present and in what order he would present it. In embracing the case method, however, he has surrendered his sovereignty and yet undertaken to maintain control over the discussion. It would be a mistake for the new instructor to assume that he had only to read and reread the case and then go into class and ask one or two leading questions. Rather he must be so thoroughly conversant with the case that he is ready to deal with any angles which the class may introduce, to modify his approach at any time, or suddenly to change his outline in accordance with new ideas which may not previously have occurred to him.

Case teaching is a highly individualistic art, and the methods and approaches of one instructor seldom can successfully be appropriated by another. Every seasoned instructor develops an approach of his own. Each new instructor has to do likewise, and there are no general rules for him to follow. The instructor about to teach a case class for the first time, however, may be slightly at a loss as to what form his preparation should take.

The first step in the instructor's preparation of a case is to master the facts. The instructor needs to go over the printed case again and again, making outlines, marginal notes, and written summaries of essential details. If there are figures in the case, he will make many calculations, not only the ones which he himself believes to be correct but

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