I've just realised that many readers of The Filter^ won't be familiar with what I'm referring to as "The Case Method". This is distinct from "using case studies", and is the pedagogical device that sets HBS apart. Stemming from the Socratic use of dialogue, the Case Method was pioneered through Law Schools, I believe. The basic idea is that students prepare for class by reading a relatively open-ended "case", 5-15 pages long, including lots of exhibits/data, threded together with a historical narrative. The instructor then leads an 80 minute class discussion, with the deliberate aim of encouraging dialogue and representing views from different positions. Typically the context will be a pressing business problem, and there is no clear "solution".
Resources from Harvard Business School explaining the case method:
- "How the case method works"
- "Inside the case method" (video)
- "HBS case method in action" (video)
- "Case method in practice", and "sample class" (David Garvin), part of the 'C. Roland Christenson Center for Teaching & Learning'
Note also that this isn't a cult - there's plenty of objective discussion about the merits of alternative pedagogical techniques (e.g. "The case against the case method"). The impression is one of genuine and reasoned commitment, not irrational fervor.
- Cases provide a repository of experiences that students can draw upon. It’s vital that if you’re using cases you know which other cases the students are being exposed to. Ideally these would tie into each other, and each module complements the others’ learning objectives
- Wait until you’ve taught the case 3-4 times before writing the teaching note
- Assignment questions can be useful if you didn’t write the case yourself and want to draw out takeaways that the original author wasn’t aware of. Essentially they’re addendum, so should only be used if called for. They should never be used as a road map for the classroom
- The problem is that cases can offer a superficial knowledge of a subject, but - and I've only just realised this - that's why the students do 3 a day. By being exposed to such a vast number although they might recognise superficial similarities in any given context, the teaching plan is to make them see the broader picture. It's not about realising that Case G resembles a previous case on network effects, and therefore the solution will be the same. It's about identifying the problem and then seeing what type of network effects there are, the magnitude, the compoundnig factors, etc. This is something I completely missed when viewing it from a distance. On the inside it's clear that the Case Method does not lend itself to a superficial treatment.