Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting the best out of case-method

“That’s amazing”,
“I didn’t know that”
“That’s just not right”,
"I don’t agree at at all”
“Whats going on here?”
“ I have no clue”
“How is that related?”
“This is not working!”
are just some of the thoughts that go through your head while sitting through a case discussions. We have all been there and can relate to it. Sometimes we are amazed, sometimes confused and at times frustrated. Case-method is a roller-coaster ride. It is meant to be one. Some first years came by asking for advice on how to deal with case-method and the classroom discussion. I will share my experience and attempt a brief assessment of how one can maximize learning experience through the case-method.
Look at the case method as a three stage process first ‘prepare’, second ‘participate and engage’ and third ‘reflect’.

How often have you not followed the discussion as you were trying to brush up areas of the case that you didn’t read prior? To knowledgeably contribute to the discussion at hand you must adequately prepare all material prior to the case discussion. A lack of basic understanding can jeopardize the process by taking discussion to either irrelevant or already stated and documented facts. This does not mean that one should have figured out the complete answer to the problem. As and when you encounter issues you should note them down and raise them at an appropriate time in the classroom.

Case-method will only be effective when one chooses to actively participate in the conversation. The most insightful comments are those that directly relate to the topic under discussion or are an elaboration, responses or clarification to a point made short while earlier. To contribute effectively one must be engaged and attentive. If not one merely states a position they held before coming to the class which may or may not add value. My best learning moment came in a case that asked us to decide whether a for-profit company should take up a loss making venture for the benefit of the society. I was adamantly in the “no” camp but changed my point of view when a third camp framed it as “How can it be done” rather than “yes” or “no” question. While I had my point of view for good reasons I was attentive and interested in other points of view and left the class feeling enlightened. The discussions are least constructive when students hold certain assumptions such as “I know the subject better than anyone else”, “I know the subject and this is not going to add much value”, “I know my point is right and must convince others”, “I don’t really know the subject and must not talk”. In these situations the prophecy fulfills itself as the person leaves with the same opinions they held prior to the meeting.

Another important part of case-method frequently overlooked is that of reflection. Quite frequently we leave the classroom with some new insights, questions or frustrations. On one hand we must seek answers and clarify concepts that were not completely resolved during the discussion and on the other we must examine the process. We should explore if we were able to effectively learn from others, understand their viewpoints and clearly communicate our own. At the same time ask the basic questions; was the discussion effective? Did we collectively meet the objectives we set out for the class? This examination is primary source of ongoing improvement and learning.

I believe in the roller coaster ride that is the case-method. It is truly a powerful way to learn and like all things powerful it must be used right. So prepare, participate and engage and reflect to make your case-method experience a great one!
Readers please feel free to add from your experience. Lets do this in true case-method style.


MechaniGal said...

The best thing about the case method is the fact that a particular class is a one-time only performance! The progression of the discussion is determined by the composition of the class and therefore the same case when discussed in a different class will be a completely different experience! I think that's fantastic!

Anand said...

At the same time you might notices how well coordinated all the sections. In the end they arrive at pretty much the sme insights and discussions. It all well orchastrated akin to random walk with a drift!

Christof Meyer said...

Good post Anand,

I too believe that the case method is the best way but for another reason. I think that this method exposes people to their own need for learning at a far more rapid rate than any other method.

I mean, who can say that they "pretty much get this material" after they have said something in class that was so far off base that everyone laughed at you? And because our classes are so small -EVERYONE gets the chance to look bad at some point, therefore leading us all to learn more so that it doesn't happen again.

The flip side, I think is also true. That is, when you say something GREAT, everyone notices, and so it is possible to restore your credibility as a learner simply by reading your cases, learning the material and then "showing up" for class in a public way.

Good post. We should talk about this at first coffee. See you at school

Ameya said...

I am sad that I cannot partake in this 'Case' discussion, but its nice to get a feel of what it must be like in that lecture theatre with all the super brains analysing a case and then shooting their viewpoints!


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