Achieving our objectives.
There is already a veritable smorgasbord of teaching/learning approaches
which have been proven to enhance learning outcomes. These include
problem-based learning, project-based learning, role-play and field
placements. The method discussed here is the use of case studies
as an effective teaching/learning method. The common thread running
through each of these approaches is that they are student-centred,
with students taking, (or being allocated) greater responsibility
for their learning.
What is a case?
A case has been described as “an account of events that seem
to include enough intriguing decision points and provocative undercurrents
to make a discussion group want to think and argue about them”
(Barnes et al., 1994). Cases need not be literal accounts of actual
incidents (though they may be); however, the characters, situations
and dilemmas described must ring true and represent experiences
so as to prompt meaningful discussion. Complex and information-rich,
cases depict incidents that are open to interpretation—raising
questions rather than answering them, encouraging problem solving,
calling forth collective intelligence and varied perspectives (Hutchings,
When is it appropriate to adopt this method?
Does the teacher wish to emphasise authority, expertise, order
and discipline, or to allow learning to take place through discussion-based
and experiential learning arising from an exchange of ideas? If
your field of specialisation can accommodate the latter (and I believe
that there is much scope for this in the Humanities and selectively
in the Sciences), then the case method is certainly a useful teaching/learning
How may a teacher prepare the case?
It is first necessary to identify the topic/area which you wish
to assess your students’ grasp of. Then the material facts,
issues and calculations (if any) must be clearly presented. It may
even be a good idea to throw in some ‘red herrings’.
Next, it is useful to structure some of the questions and anticipate
others and the students should need to use the information provided
to address these questions. It would be preferable if the problem
posed has no ‘correct’ answer. Students may be required
to make assumptions. Last but not least, it is important for the
teacher to be clear as to what direction the discussion should take.
I have found that the newspapers invariably offer an array of ‘cases’
which may be suitable for discussing a legal principle. For example,
I may use just a photograph of a collapsed building, or a falling
object which injures a passer-by, or a crack in the flooring to
discuss the legal principles pertaining to Occupiers’ Liability
or Negligence or Easements when teaching Property-Related torts
and Land Law. Students will then have to glean from the picture
which facts are material to the discussion at hand.
How should students be instructed to prepare for the case-based
For the case method to succeed, it is imperative that students
do their part as well. They should have done the background reading,
and attempted the questions the teacher has structured. For this
purpose, it would be useful to require students to have engaged
in sub-group discussions in preparation for the tutorial/seminar.
When conducting the case-study discussion, the teacher’s
task is not so much to teach the students as to encourage learning;
the teacher must consciously facilitate the process of joint inquiry
by shaping, moulding, questioning, suggesting, highlighting, refuting
So, how’s the discussion going?
Indicators of a successful case discussion are a high level of
student-to-student discussion and involvement, and instructor direction,
not domination. The emphasis is therefore on the process, although
the knowledge acquired must not be undervalued. The learning outcome
is enhanced in that the relationship of knowledge to practice is
clearer. Although said in relation to the medical field, this remark
sums up the usefulness of the case method:
|To study the phenomena of disease without books is to
sail an uncharted sea; while to study books without patients
is not to go to sea at all
—Sir William Osler
Barnes, Louis B.; Christensen, C. Roland; & Hansen,
Abby J. (1994). Teaching and the Case Method: Text,
Cases, and Readings (3rd ed). Boston Massachusetts:
Harvard Business School Press.
Hutchings, Pat. (1993). Using Cases to
Improve College Teaching: A Guide to More Reflective Practice.
Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
Lynn, Laurence E. Jr. (1996). What is the
Case Method?: A Guide and Casebook. Japan: Foundation
for Advanced Studies on International Development (FASID).
Lynn, Laurence E. Jr. (1999). Teaching
and Learning with Cases: A Guidebook. New York: Chatham