The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

3.6 The costs of adopting the case method

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The pedagogical value of the case method has been discussed throughout the chapter. However, you must be prepared to face the following costs if you intend to introduce the case method in your teaching.

  • Class control. The use of the case discussion means that you trade off considerable control over the class outcome for a dynamic, student-centred exercise. This can be problematic. By allowing students to express their ideas, the case method gives some students the impression that all ideas are equally good. It is up to you to guide the class through the process of distinguishing between good and bad ideas. Similarly, students do not always take away from the discussion the ideas one hopes. Even if this problem is common to other teaching methods, it is particularly evident in case analysis. However, a good closure at the end of the case discussion can help reduce or eliminate such a problem.
  • Preparation costs. Preparing and conducting a case discussion tends to demand more energy and time than lecturing. It is still relatively difficult to find good cases in economics and instructors find they must spend time working them up themselves.
  • Students’ preparation. Students must prepare much more than they typically do for seminars and they must also take the risk of expressing their ideas in public and being willing for these ideas to be subject to critical review.
  • Breadth of curriculum. Teaching cases takes time and it can lead to the elimination of some material from the curriculum that would have otherwise been presented. However, the experience from lecturers who have adopted the case method shows that while students tend to have a less thorough and detailed knowledge of models, they have a good understanding of the fundamental insights and basic mechanics of some central ideas in economic theory and are able to apply them to the analysis of policy. What they learn is not what we cover.
  • Colleagues’ involvement. The use of the case method in big modules where the teaching is shared among more than one lecturer requires that all those involved in the teaching share the same passion and belief in the method. Sometimes it can be difficult to find such co-operation. In this respect, it can be helpful to prepare relatively detailed teaching notes that simplify the work required by colleagues and promote consistency in the teaching approach.