Academic journal article Business Case Journal

An Examination of Cases in the Classroom: How Faculty Make Effective Use of Case Studies for Teaching

Academic journal article Business Case Journal

An Examination of Cases in the Classroom: How Faculty Make Effective Use of Case Studies for Teaching

Article excerpt

Recipient of the 2017 MBAA International Best Paper Award, Society for Case Research, MBAA Annual Meetings, Chicago, IL. March 2017


Faculty members have been utilizing the case study method in their classrooms for quite some time. Harvard University claims that the Dean of its law school, Christopher Columbus Langdell, invented the case study method in 1870 (Harvard Law School, 2016). However, case studies are not just utilized in law schools; they are also prevalent in other fields, such as business and healthcare.

A case study, as utilized in law, business and health sciences colleges, is defined as, "a series of real events that tell a story about an issue or conflict to be resolved" (Peters, Cellucci, and Ford, 2015, p. 1; Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning, 1994). A case study often contains a set of characters, with which the reader can identify, and presents in-depth information about a possible conflict or issue that needs to be resolved. Furthermore, there are often a variety of possible solutions that can be utilized to solve the conflict or issue at hand.

University faculty know that some students learn more effectively when they are able to examine instances and examples and then draw their own conclusion from the evidence they have gathered and analyzed. Case studies are an example of a pedagogical tool that can facilitate this type of learning. Thus, the writing, publishing, and use of case studies by university faculty has continued to grow as faculty realized the need for good, quality cases.

However, while the use of cases in the classroom has grown, there is very little literature that has examined how professors from various fields (i.e., accounting, management, marketing, healthcare, etc.) are using cases as experimental learning tools across a variety of contexts (i.e., undergraduate versus graduate classes; online versus in-person classes;, etc.). And most of the literature on the subject to date is conceptual in nature in that the articles present suggestions for how professors should be using cases in the classroom, as opposed to asking what professors are actually doing with cases in their classes.

Thus, the purpose of the present study is to examine how professors use cases in their classes. To that end, we will present the literature review, followed by the methodology, results, and discussion.

Theoretical Foundation

There is a dearth of literature that has examined how cases are used in the classroom. Furthermore, most of the publications that do discuss usage of cases in the classroom focused on a limited subset of the issues related to this domain. Vega (2013) was one of the few researchers to present a holistic picture of the issues faculty should consider when using cases in the classroom. Simply put, Vega (2013) utilized an acronym that she calls the "5Ps" to capture the various constructs related to using cases in the classroom. The 5 Ps are purpose, persona, preparation, practice and problems. We will review each of these constructs below, while also highlighting other publications in the literature that relate to (or reinforce) each of the five Ps (i.e., those that examine a subset of the issues identified by Vega, 2013).


The Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning (1994) stated the instructor should first identify the goals that he/she has for wanting to use a case in the classroom. Vega (2013) similarly stated that the professor should identify the purpose (i.e., goals) for using the case in that particular class. Goals for using a case vary around numerous topics, such as helping students apply theory to complex/real world problems; giving students team work experiences; helping students draw connections across disciplines; giving students practice analyzing data and drawing conclusions from the data; providing students with an active learning environment; fostering critical thinking skills among the students; showing students how to look at problems/issues in different ways; and finally, engaging students in discussion and making them actively responsible for their own learning. …

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