Benjamin Franklin said, Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. The relevance of this quote cannot be emphasised enough in this day and age. Taking a cue from Franklins words, education today employs the time-tested case study method of teaching to empower students, so as to allow them to gain leverage in the future.
Renowned to be different from most other teaching methods employed at the school and undergraduate course levels in subjects like business, law and medical schoolswhere the curricula for many years have been based on the analysis of real-world casesprofessors in a variety of other disciplines like physical sciences, mathematics, literature and history have been finding that the case method, when used, helps them assess a students ability to synthesise, evaluate, and apply information and concepts learned in lectures and texts. It has been strongly felt that cases can help organise and bring to life abstract and disparate concepts by forcing students to make difficult decisions about complex human dilemmas through active participation.
According to Vidya Balasubramanyam, dean, St Josephs College of Business Administration, The case method helps students understand theoretical concepts better by allowing them to apply their knowledge to real life situations. It fosters team work, encourages lateral thinking and innovations and allows them to apply concepts across disciplines. It helps teachers, as well, in gauging the comprehension levels of their students.
A thought seconded by Lata Chakravarthy, director, ICFAI Business School Bangalore, too. The case method brings the corporate world into the classroom, sensitising students to the challenges of the industry. It prepares them to perform better in a global environment by exposing them to situations in the industry worldwide, she says.
Dealing With Cases
It all begins with students being handed over the case material, which is the description of an actual situation, generally involving a decision, well in advance. Students then have to address the situation described in the case and take on the role of a decision maker. The student must, first of all, familiarise herself with the case well, develop several alternative solutions and then engage in a small group discussion where members come up with the best possible solutions to the problem at hand. That is followed by a classroom discussion, guided by the instructor, where students are expected to participate in the conversation and present their views.
During the course of these discussions, the instructor generally challenges the students points of view, encouraging them to come up with increasingly innovative ways of looking at and analysing problems and arriving at solutions. In the post classroom discussions, students are encouraged to reflect on how their initial ideas changed as a result of the input from their group members and faculty.
This method relies heavily on students analytical skills and requires them to be open to new ideas all the time, says Vidya Balasubramanyam.
A Cut Above
Despite the numerous teaching methods with fancy names that hit the academic world every year, the case study remains the most preferred learning tool. The case method is the best way to learn complex concepts. Most concepts make practical sense only after case studies. Learning to articulate and explain concepts in simple terms is another advantage of the case method, says Renu R., a student of the International Academy of Management and Entrepreneurship, Bengaluru.
It is also famed for its ability to develop qualitative and quantitative analytical skills in studentsincluding problemidentification, decision making, application, oral communication and time management along with interpersonal and written communication skills. It also allows students to identify the underlying problems and learn by doing.
Not only do students see how the course material applies to the world outside the classroom, but they also get to see how data is often ambiguous. Most of all, students learn to be good team players and respect others points of view. Case studies used in most business schools are those published by the Harvard Business School, Darden School of Business (University of Virginia, USA), other academic institutions, or case clearing houses. Although they are great starters, according to Namit Kapoor, consultant, Duke Corporate Education India, live cases are the best bet ever. Live cases add life to the discussion as cases are no less than laboratories for management students, he says.
Like every teaching methodology under the sun, the case study method, too needs a methodical approach to derive full benefits.The success of the method requires a well-written case study based on field research; well trained and quality case facilitators who can engage the class in a lively discussion, push students to the limit and bring out the key learning points; students who are motivated and prepare for the cases, besides being capable of analytical reasoning and articulation, says Vinay Hebbar, managing director of Harvard Business Publishing, India.