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Case Studies

When should you use a case study?

A case study is the use of a practical example to teach or reinforce basic principles. Case studies are common in professional programs, but can be applied to almost any course or subject matter. Although students may not be able to access a practical application of a theory, you can simulate the experience through a case study. These activities also foster decision-making and problem-solving abilities.

Create your case study:

Case studies have the following common elements:

  • A decision-maker who is faced with a problem or challenge
  • A context for the issue, including a time period, or other relevant information
  • Supporting resources, such as data, images, facts, or anything else you think your students will need to give a solution to the problem

Using the above three elements, think of a situation from your experience that could help your students to grasp concepts in your course.

Present your case study to your students:

Case studies can be given to individuals or to groups. It is often helpful to give the students a framework for analysis, such as a series of questions which they need to answer which will lead them to a solution. For example:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is your goal in solving this problem?
  3. Describe the context.
  4. What key facts are you considering?
  5. What are the alternatives available to the decision maker?
  6. Which alternative would you recommend? Why would you recommend it?

Case studies can be done during one class, or can be executed over several. These can be especially effective if paired with reading assignments that the students complete before they are given the case.

Debrief and evaluate the activity:

There are a number of ways to do this. One of the most effective can be a class discussion where students are made to take sides and defend their decisions. Participation can be graded using simple systems. On the other hand, students could use reflection papers to describe what they learned and how it has influenced their understanding.

Tools for Fostering Engagement

  • In-class discussion in small groups
  • Class-wide discussions
  • Presentations
  • Debates

Brief Analytical Assignment (1 page or less)

Updated on April 9th, 2013.