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

Those who are in the best position to testify as to the immediate impact of the case method are the students who have taken courses under this program. With a view to eliciting testimony of this kind the planners of this volume at the time when the project was first conceived invited young research assistants and instructors in the School, all of them recent graduates, to submit papers on the case method in a competition for two prizes, one offered at the research assistant level, the other at the instructor level. Substantial excerpts from four of these papers, reflecting particularly the reactions of the authors as students under the case system, are presented in the following pages. The first of these papers is by Donald R. Schoen and Philip A. Sprague, the second by W. Waller Carson, Jr., the third by Powell Niland, and the fourth by Albert H. Dunn, III.


The Case Method as Seen by Recent Graduates

I. What Is the Case Method?

DONALD R. SCHOEN AND PHILIP A. SPRAGUE

A research assistant at the Harvard Business School often finds himself speculating about the significance of his activities in collecting and writing the cases which form the working tools of the School's educational process. This speculation is characterized by his posing to himself such questions as the following: "Precisely what is the case method?""What is the nature of the learning process under the case method?"

This paper is an attempt by two research assistants to answer these questions. Throughout we are trying, on the basis of our recent experience as students and our current status as apprentice members of the Faculty, to place the emphasis on the question which can be simply stated but not so simply answered, "What's really going on at the Harvard Business School?"


THE CASE METHOD--IS THERE ONE?

Just what is it that we so knowingly refer to as "the case method"? In a broad sense we can define it by contrast with the so-called lecture method. Instead of textbooks, the case method uses descriptions of specific business situations. Instead of giving lectures, the teacher under the case method leads a discussion of these business situations.

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