The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

1.3 Adopting the case method

There is no single approach to case teaching. Instead there are several approaches which work for different people in different situations. However, in general, it is possible to distinguish between two main ways of using case studies.

The first way is to use the case study as a support and an illustration in lectures and seminars. For example, in the lecture you might explain how the case illustrates typical dilemmas or issues that policy-makers, public or private managers face and the principles that can be used to help them reach a reasonable decision. In seminars, short cases can be discussed to show the application of theory, stimulate analysis and induce evaluation. This approach to the use of case studies does not necessarily require the development and presentation of long and elaborated case studies. Extracts from newspapers and business journals can be used to great effect in investigating issues and fostering students’ analytical skills. The main advantage of this approach is that it requires relatively little preparation and constitutes an easy and gradual introduction to the use of longer and more comprehensive case studies at a later stage.

The second way of using case studies is to challenge the students to grapple with a decision-maker’s dilemma, formulate a strategy and come to a class prepared to explain and defend their recommendations. In this approach, which is usually referred to as ‘case method teaching’, the instructor either does not lecture or conducts a limited number of lectures that are complemented by the analysis of longer and more complex case studies. The role of the lecturer is to moderate a classroom discussion among the students in which the students compare their different approaches. Learning from each other, the students work together to reach a richer understanding. This requires more effort on the part of the lecturer in order to prepare the required case studies and to plan for their use in class discussion.

This chapter outlines each of these two approaches to case studies teaching. If you believe in the pedagogical value of case studies and are new to this teaching method, the gradual progression from the use of newsclips to the use of more comprehensive case studies can represent the best way of introducing this approach into your teaching. Section 2 explains how you can introduce the case method by using short newspaper articles. Section 3 focuses on ‘case method teaching’, which contemplates the use of longer and more comprehensive case studies. In both sections the overall aim is to show how you can accommodate the case method in your economics modules and, above all, to show how they help achieve the pedagogical goals discussed in subsection 1.2.