Chris Christensen described case method teaching as "the art of managing uncertainty"—a process in which the instructor serves as "planner, host, moderator, devil's advocate, fellow-student, and judge," all in search of solutions to real-world problems and challenges.
Unlike lectures, case method classes unfold without a detailed script. Successful instructors simultaneously manage content and process, and they must prepare rigorously for both. Case method teachers learn to balance planning and spontaneity. In practice, they pursue opportunities and "teachable moments" that emerge throughout the discussion, and deftly guide students toward discovery and learning on multiple levels. The principles and techniques are developed, Christensen says, "through collaboration and cooperation with friends and colleagues, and through self-observation and reflection."
This section of the Christensen Center website explores the Case Method in Practice along the following dimensions:
Each subsection provides perspectives and guidance through a written overview, supplemented by video commentary from experienced case method instructors. Where relevant, links are included to downloadable documents produced by the Christensen Center or Harvard Business School Publishing. References for further reading are provided as well.
An additional subsection, entitled Resources, appears at the end. It combines references from throughout the Case Method in Practice section with additional information on published materials and websites that may be of interest to prospective, new, and experienced case method instructors.
Note: We would like to thank Harvard Business School Publishing for permission to incorporate the video clips that appear in the Case Method in Practice section of our website. The clips are drawn from video excerpts included in Participant-Centered Learning and the Case Method: A DVD Case Teaching Tool (HBSP, 2003).
By Ann Velenchik Wellesley College
With considerable help from Pat Conway, Mike Hemesath, Eric Ribbens, and David Schodt
What is Teaching with the Case Method?
The case method combines two elements: the case itself and the discussion of that case. A teaching case is a rich narrative in which individuals or groups must make a decision or solve a problem. A teaching case is not a "case study" of the type used in academic research. Teaching cases provide information, but neither analysis nor conclusions. The analytical work of explaining the relationships among events in the case, identifying options, evaluating choices and predicting the effects of actions is the work done by students during the classroom discussion.Learn more about the Case Method
Why Teach with the Case Method?
In a case discussion, students "do" the work of the discipline, rather than watch or read about how it is done by others. By engaging in the case, students apply the concepts, techniques and methods of the discipline and improve their ability to apply them. Case discussions bring energy and excitement to the classroom, providing students with an opportunity to work with a range of evidence, and improving their ability to apply the vocabulary, theory and methods they have learned in the course. Learn more about teaching with Cases
How to Teach with the Case Method?
Case method teaching brings together three components: an appropriate case, students who are prepared to engage with the case material in a discussion, and an instructor who knows the case, has a plan for the discussion and is ready to deal with the unexpected. This section provides detailed instructions on how to develop each of these components.Learn how to teach with Cases
Teaching Economics with the Case MethodLearn about Economics-specific aspects of teaching with Cases
Browse the collection of teaching examples
Browse a list of references related to teaching with Cases