Category Archives: Case teaching

Cases: How to prepare for and learn from them

My versatile and creative colleague Hanno Roberts and I have made a series of five videos on case learning and preparation, originally for students at the BI/Fudan MBA program. This teaching method is difficult both for teacher and student, but highly rewarding provided you give it proper attention – which means effective preparation. Hanno and I talk about the goal of case teaching, how students can prepare individually, how to prepare as a group, how to go through the case discussion in the classroom, and then we sum up with some strategies for how to retain what you have learned.

Hanno and I did these videos against a green-screen, with little preparation – we basically met, outlined a structure with some keywords, decided broadly on who should say what, and dove right into it. Most of the videos were shot once, and then the very capable Milosz Tuszko edited them, added background, logos and keywords.

The updated videos are a less wooden than the previous version, methinks, and available in high resolution and with better sound. We clarified the differences between my version of case teaching and Hanno’s (both work, by the way). Over the years the original videos have been much watched – hopefully, our students (and others) will watch them carefully, and the result will be better case teaching, more learning, and an even more enjoyable experience teaching.

Details about each video below the fold…

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How to write a teaching case

I am currently – with colleagues Mikael Lönnborg and Gerhard Schjelderup – editing what we hope to be a book of Scandinavian teaching cases. In a meeting in Stockholm recently, I was asked to explain what it takes to write a teaching case. I gave my opinion, we had a very interesting discussion. Here is my (very rough and off the cuff) opinion about what it takes (in reality, how a teaching case differs from a research case).

Why are you writing this case?
Cases are written for a teaching purpose – and to write a teaching case, you need to have a teaching objective in mind. It is not enough to have an interesting company. Even the best company story needs to have a pedagogical point, a theory or dilemma to illustrate. So don’t write a teaching case just because you happen to know someone in a really interesting company – it does need to be a good story, but it also need to have a purpose.

The standard outline
Cases – particularly the standard HBS case – follow an outline that can seem rather trite, but which is very effective. It is something like this:

  • 0.5 page: Intro: The protagonist is introduced, typically pondering a question of some importance. The idea is to tell the students from which perspective the case is written, to set the scene – and that is all there is to it.
  • 1 – 1.5 pages: Description of the company – not the whole history, but the relevant details, explaining what the company is doing, how they make their money. Most companies are to a very large degree formed by their history, so the relevant parts need to be told.
  • 1 page: Industry. Companies exist within a context, and you need to set it. Explain the industry, its evolution, and the company’s position within it. Do it succinctly, but leave more detail in than what is strictly necessary.
  • 1 – 5 pages: Specific issue. This is the meat of the case, the issue at hand, the story to ponder. Make sure you tell it logically and cooly, not leaving anything out, but also conveying the complexity of the situation.
  • 0.5 page: Conclusion, typically with the protagonist wondering what to do, often with some sort of event (board meeting, etc.) where he or she has to present a solution to the problem.

Most cases are just that – one case. You can have a B case and even a C case, but keep them short, since they have to be handed out and read in class. The B case should explain what the company did and perhaps introduce a new problem, the C case, if necessary, should bring some sort of closure, explaining what eventually happened. In my experience, it is very hard to get discussion after a C case – the students become exhausted. As a novice case writer, especially if you are writing about a company with a long history, it can be tempting to create a long string of small cases, but in practice this seldom works well – for one thing, it forces the discussion into a very predictable path.

The no-nos
A good case should be a description of an interesting situation, frequently a decision point – and nothing else. This means that there should be no theory and no discussion of the case in the case itself. Save that for the teaching note, or write a separate academic article about it. Not only does this make the case more realistic, it also means it can be used for more purposes than the one initially envisioned. This can be quite challenging for the traditional academic writer – but ist is actually good practice to only present the facts (though, of course, which facts you choose to present constitute a discussion of sorts).

When teaching students how to analyze a case, I always start by saying that for most business situations, if is useful to begin the analysis with the assumption that people are not stupid and not evil. Consequently, when you write a case, make sure it has no heroes and no villains. If a case has a clear-cut hero or villain, it is a sign that you have not done enough research. Write things so that the students can see the issue from many perspectives.

Dramatic structure
A really well written case has dramatic structure – there is a beginning, a middle that builds up the story, and a really compelling issue at the end. The best cases are almost like a detective story, where you have to dig deep into the analysis to find surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive conclusions. One example of a “detective story” case is Fabritek 1992*, a very old (first published 1969, rewritten by Jan Hammond) case about a quality control issue in a small mechanical workshop. (Hat tip to Robert D. Austin, eminent case teacher, for making me aware of this case and showing me how to teach it.) The case is excellent because it starts with the company (strategic level), proceeds to describe a new situation and a new process (organizational or business logic level) and then introduces the problem (operational level.) Analyzing the operational details leads to one conclusions, which can then be discussed in terms the organization and its business logic, which can then be placed into a strategic context. The case is excellent because it allows links between these levels – and also teaches the students that the devil indeed resides in the details, and that you as a manager better be very close to how the business you are leading works and makes money.

iPremier-front-pageA second case which shows quality and innovation is iPremier, written by Robert D. Austin and Jeremy C. Short, the first and only graphic novel (cartoon) case I am aware of. The story is about a small online gift company being attacked by hackers, exposing glaring gaps in their security procedures and forcing managers at various levels to make some really hard decisions. The graphic format is excellent in making the various characters real (though they, on average, tend to be way too good-looking for a normal business situation), illustrates technical issues in a way that is very understandable even by non-technology students, and has a cracking good storyline with a B and a C case. I like to introduce a few technical cases in my courses because, well, I don’t think there is enough technology in business schools, and this cases answers very well because it illustrates that certain technical decisions very much require top management attention – ignore (or mindlessly delegate) technology understanding and responsibility at your peril. The graphic format also provides a welcome break from the standard case verbiage, which can be a trifle dour on occasion.

Details, details, details!
Research cases – the kind that is published in refereed journals – tend to be written from a very specific viewpoint, and only facts pertaining to that perspective is included, often in a very abstract format. A teaching case is the direct opposite: It needs lots of details, frequently made available as exhibits (graphs, pictures, documents, tables, etc.) placed at the end, after the main text. A teaching case writer, when visiting a company to write about it, needs to notice the small details, much like a really good journalist does. I tell my students that they should prepare each case so well that they feel like they have worked in the case company – and to allow them to do that, you need to provide the operational details necessary. (Incidentally, having more details than strictly necessary has the added benefit of making the case realistic – in the real world, you have to decide what is important and what is not.)

Doing it – and reading about it.
grandongillI am not aware of many books about how to write a good teaching case, with one exception: Grandon Gill (pictured), professor at University of South Florida and an excellent case teacher, has written a book called Informing with the case method, which is available for free download in PDF, MOBI and EPUB format from his web site. It has lots of details, tips and tricks, not just about case writing, but also about case teaching and course planning. (For the latter, of course, I am duty bound to recommend Bill Schiano’s and my book Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide.)

Last but definitely not least: Don’t underestimate how much work writing a proper business case is. Getting the details right, describing the dramatis personae, and making the storyline compelling is quite a challenge, in many dimensions different from the traditional academic article. On the other hand, should you get it right, you will have a very effective teaching tool for many years to come.

Good luck!

Teaching with Cases: Detailed table of contents

bookcover2The Table of Contents in the paper and PDF version of Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide is only at the chapter level. For readers wanting a more detailed overview of the book or to find something specific, here is the detailed table of contents:

Preface  vii
Acknowledgements     ix

Chapter 1: Introduction: Why you should read this book 1
Why case teaching?     2
How case classes and students vary     4
Class size     5
Core versus elective     5
Part-time versus full-time     5
Gender     5
Weekly versus  modular courses     6
Domestic versus international     6
Single versus multi-section     6
Executive versus graduate versus undergraduate     7
One of many case classes for students vs. only or one of few 7
In school versus other location     7
Practical Guidance for all Case-Teaching Faculty     7
The central framework: Foundation, flow, and feedback     8

Chapter 2: Foundations: Preparing for the course     11
Taking Ownership    12
Making a Contract     14
Developing Content     16
Structuring the syllabus     26
Selecting cases     18
Selecting readings and textbooks     24
Using guest speakers     26
Using assignments     28
Working with Students     29
Motivating Students     32
Enthusiasm and Engagement     33
Relevance     33
Opportunities to build valuable skills     33
Safe participation     34
Fun     34
Finding Information about Students’ Backgrounds     35
Helping the students prepare for case discussions    36
Classroom participation requirement     36
Establishing Infrastructure     38
Establishing seating arrangements     39
Using Name cards and seating charts     42
Setting length and frequency of class sessions     44
Session Length  45
Session Frequency  45
Wrapping up     46

Chapter 3: Flow During the Class Session    49
Preparing Yourself    51
Crafting a teaching plan     52
Demeanor in class     54
Dressing for class and impression management     55
Managing your anxiety     57
Preparation     57
Exercises     58
Rituals     59
Starting to Teach     59
The first class     59
Opening classes     62
Building trust in the class     64
Managing the Discussion     66
The Emcee: Calling on students and managing airtime     67
The Scribe: Using the board     70
Board plan     71
Writing on the board     74
The Conductor: Using body language, silence, and movement 76
Using the physical space   79
The TV Host: Asking questions   82
Giving up control     84
Time management     85
How long to let a discussion go     86
If you are running out of time     86
Breaks and other interruptions    87
Teaching long class days     88
Beyond Discussion     89
Using theory and other non-case material     89
Inductive versus deductive case use 90
Communicating Theory  91
Role-Playing     93
Multipart cases     94
Group work     95
Group Presentations     96
Group Discussions    98
Team teaching in the classroom    99
Are you getting the most from each student?     101
Humor in the classroom     102
Energy    103
Raising the energy level     104
Relationships among and with students     106
Concluding a Discussion     107

Chapter 4: Feedback: Assignments, Grading and Guidance 111
The Evaluative Mindset  112
Designing Evaluation   113
Designing assignments 115
Individual Oral Assignments   115
Individual Written Assignments 116
Group Oral Assignments  117
Group Written Assignments  118
Designing Exams     118
Selecting Cases for Exams   118
Writing Exam Questions  119
Take-Home Exams   121
Designing Term Papers  122
Term Papers as Research Method  124
Grading    125
A matter of scaling     125
How to structure feedback     127
Group Work  130
Final Exams  130
Class participation     131
Capturing Participation  133
Setting Expectations  134
Setting Expectations by Self-Evaluation  135
Exams  136
The dreaded extra-credit requests    139
Handling academic dishonesty     140
Conclusion     143

Chapter 5: Managing Classroom Issues     145
Issues with Individual Student    145
How do I manage students who hog airtime?     146
How do I manage combative students?     147
What can I do about students’ computer use in class?    148
What do I do if a student does not pay attention in class?   149
What do I do if a student complains?     150
How do I accommodate students with disabilities?     151
Issues with groups of students     152
What Do I Do When Students Are Not Well Prepared? 152
How do I get students to prepare better?     153
Reward Good Preparation 153
Help Them Along  154
Draw Out Prepared But Reticent Students 154
Require Case Write-ups or Give Pop Quizzes  154
Give a Stern Lecture  154
Make An Example of a Student or Two  154
How do I stop side conversations?     155
How Do I Manage Dysfunctional Class Behavior?  156
Hissing  156
Genuflection   156
Sharking  157
What if the class turns against me?     157
How is Teaching Executives Different?  159
How should I deal with student pranks?     161
How Do I Deal with Student Representatives?    163
How Do I Deal with Dysfunctional Groups? 164
Free-Riders  164
Personality Conflicts   165
Poor Project Management   165
Poor Performance   165
Issues Beyond Students     166
What if I can’t find enough cases that fit?     166
What do I do if I have lost track of the discussion?     167
What if I run out of questions?     168
How do I deal with problems in an intensive-format course? 137
Prepare Differently  169
Manage Expectations  169
Manage Process Closely  169
What can I do if I am low on energy?     170
What If the Administration Gets Involved?

Chapter 6 Quantitative and technical material     174
Flipping the Qualitative and Quantitative    175
Being Qualitative about the Quantitative  175
Being Quantitative about the Qualitative  176
Explicitly Teach Estimation   177
Quantify Anything   177
Know the Industry Data   177
Change Assumptions or Problems on the Fly  179
Teaching Quantitative Material   179
Making a Teaching Plan for a Quantitative Case   179
Pacing the Discussion  180
Asking for a Number at the Beginning   181
Managing Math Phobia and Aversion to Numbers   183
Making the value clear   182
Acknowledging the Phobic  182
Filling in the Holes  182
Fostering a Sense of Self-Efficacy  183
Using the Board  183
Making the best use of students     185
When Students Go Wrong  185
When No One Has the Correct Analysis  186
Discussing a Quantitative Case with Subjective Numbers or Estimates   187
Using Groups  188
Teaching Technical Material   189
Motivating the Study of Technology   189
Structuring the Teaching of Technology  190
Conclusion 192

Chapter 7 Adjusting for language and culture     195
The Foreign Student  197
Making Adjustments for Foreign Students   200
The Foreign Teacher   202
The Teacher Abroad  204
Expectations for teaching   205
Teacher power     206
Student behavior     207
Using Interpreters   208
Trust the locals     211

Chapter 8: Preparing for the next time     213
Debriefing a course     213
Interpreting and using student feedback     215
How to Read Student Feedback   215
Striving for High Evaluations   217
Reviewing Case Selection   217
Debriefing with a Teaching Group 218
Archiving Material   218
Evaluating case teachers, including yourself     219
Before Class  219
During Class  219
After Class  220
Managing relationships with alumni     220

Chapter 9: Fostering Case Teaching at the School Level  223
The Commoditized Business School  223
Relevance is Relevant   224
Integration is Integral   225
Institutionalizing Case Teaching   228
Recruiting, Incentives and Promotion   228
Teaching-Related Procedures   230
Getting Infrastructure Right   230
Classroom Design  231
Good, Abundant Board Space   231
Blackboards Rather Than Whiteboards   231
Seating   232
Making Cases Easy to Use and Produce   233
Case Production   234

Chapter 10 Technologies for Case Teaching  238
Take Control of the Technology  238
Technology for Teacher Productivity  239
Teacher’s Computer Use in Class   241
Presentation Software   243
Tools for Student-Teacher Interaction   246
Learning Management Systems     246
Build a Sandbox   246
Explore the System   247
Maintain Communication Norms   247
Create a FAQ Repository  247
Structure for Reuse  247
Facilitate Searching   247
Consider the User’s Experience   248
Maintain Structure   248
Automate Availability   248
Explore the Analytics   248
Seek and Accept Help  249
Other Technologies to Support Student Interaction  249
Social Media   249
In-Class Polling and Voting Tools   249
Questionnaires   250
Shared Documents   250
Analysis Tools   250
Online Simulations  251
Online Teaching   251
Teleconference Teaching   251
Get the Basic Technology Right 252
Communicate in a Way Suited to the Medium   252
Communicate via Side Channel and Back Channel  253
Get to Know the Students  254
Videoconferencing  254
Lighting and Background   255
Sound   256
The Video Camera   256
Concurrently Teaching Face-to-Face and Remotely   259
Teaching Asynchronously with Discussion Forums   260
Foundations: Designing the Course and Forming the Contract   262
Flow: Running the Discussion   265
Guidelines for Students   267
Feedback: Evaluating and Closing the Loop 269
Managing the inevitable technical failures   271
Conclusion   273

Index   275
About the Authors  293

Case teaching when you are not at Harvard

Our book is out!
bookcover2Bill Schiano and I have written a book, Teaching with Cases: A Practical Guide, officially launched today at Harvard Business Publishing, available as paperback or PDF (304 pages).

Bill and I are both passionate about case teaching and use it whenever possible. We have aimed the book at the kind of people we were 18 years ago: Teachers wanting to use case teaching, but finding ourselves in institutions where case teaching is not the dominant teaching method. (We actually wanted to name the book Case teaching when you are not at Harvard, but saner minds intervened.)

There are a few books on how to do case teaching available, but common to them is that they are a) rather philosophical and abstract in their advice, and b) take the institutional environment for granted – i.e., they assume that you are at a school, such as Harvard Business School, Wharton, INSEAD or University of Western Ontario, where case teaching is the norm, the students are brilliant and fiercely competitive, classrooms are made for case teaching and excellent teaching is valued by the administration (and the promotion committees.)

We wanted the book to be relentlessly practical – what to wear to class, how to deal with disruptive students, how to get students to prepare, how to grade participation. We also wanted the book to address how to create the necessary infrastructure for case teaching with little or no administrative support, down to how you create name cards (let the students do it or use a spreadsheet/mail-merge function) and class chart (take a photo of the students holding their name cards, print it in weak grayscale for after-class note-taking.)

The book is built around three concepts: Foundations (how to set up the course, contract with the students, and set up infrastructure); Flow (how to conduct the discussion in the classroom, manage time and boards, ask questions, and conclude discussions); and Feedback (how to design grading and feedback, especially participation grading.) We have extra chapters on dealing with difficult issues (much of it based on questions from participants in HBS’ case teaching seminars); how to teach quantitative and technical material; how to deal with differences in language and culture (foreign students and foreign teachers); how to prepare for the next course; how to foster case teaching at the school level (many business schools are now looking to better teaching, including case teaching, as a differentiator); and lastly, a long and detailed chapter on technologies for case teaching, including our views on how to teach cases online.

The book also includes a collection of online resources (sample syllabi, sample teaching plans, etc.) for teachers, available at teachingwithcases.hbsp.harvard.edu. We hope to grow this collection as we hear from readers and build more material ourselves.

That’s it for now – I’ll be back with excerpts, a full table of contents, and various other nuggets eventually. But given that this book has been on my mind for a couple of years now, it is a rather good day…

Scandinavian cases: Call for abstracts

With two colleagues, Gerhard Schjelderup and Mikael Lönnborg, I am trying to create a case collection, to be published as a book. We start with a call for abstracts, with a deadline of June 9. You will find the details in this PDF document.

The main idea is simply to do something about the lack of available teaching cases on Scandinavian (or, for that matter, Nordic) companies. We want cases that are like HBS cases – no theory in the case, a thorough description of an interesting company with an interesting problem. Seems simple enough, no?

See you for the workshop on October 10!

Cases: How to prepare for and learn from them

These videos have been updated: You find the new ones here.

My versatile and creative colleague Hanno Roberts and I have made a series of five videos on case learning and preparation, originally for students at the BI/Fudan MBA program. This teaching method is difficult both for teacher and student, but highly rewarding provided you give it proper attention – which means effective preparation. Hanno and I talk about the goal of case teaching, how students can prepare individually, how to prepare as a group, how to go through the case discussion in the classroom, and then we sum up with some strategies for how to retain what you have learned. Hanno and I did these videos against a green-screen, with little preparation – we basically met, outlined a structure with some keywords (displayed on the little computer on the table in front of us, decided broadly on who should say what, and dove right into it. Most of the videos were shot twice, and then the very capable Lars Holand picked the least bad clips, added the background and logos, and generated the files in .mp4 and .flv. The lack of scripting was intentional – we did not want the videos to be too formal and stultifying, though the format itself might be. We also wanted to be a bit formal, to make sure we got our main points across. The results is a bit stiff, there are a few repetitions (we intro each clip, to make them more embeddable), but given that these were created also to be understandable for students whose first language isn’t English, I think it kind of works. And it was fun to do, and not too much work. Anyway, the videos are there, free for all to use – and hopefully, our students will watch them carefully, and the result will be better case teaching, more learning, and an even more enjoyable experience teaching. Continue reading