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!