Raising the curtain – how to start a case class

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First impressions count. Marketing experts inform us that we have between a few seconds and a couple of minutes to engage an audience, a customer or a future employer. While business school programmes often share this insight with their participants, the same rule of thumb applies to instructors at the beginning of a class. A room full of expectant students, often joined these days by others online, is one of the most challenging situations a teacher faces. So, how do case educators get ready for those crucial initial minutes, and how can they ensure they grab the attention of the class and lay firm foundations for the case discussion and learning outcomes to follow?

Preparation

“A huge part of getting the beginning of a class right is being prepared,” says Stefan Michel. “It’s about preparing a fertile ground for the discussion from the get-go. Participants notice immediately whether an instructor is prepared or not - just as instructors can tell whether or not a participant has prepared by reading the case.”

Red curtains opening for a theatre show

The beginning of the class needs complete instructor focus, without distractions from practical considerations, so preparation encompasses many aspects - not just the case. This includes ensuring the physical set up of the room has been prepared and checked ahead of time. Stefan Michel has printed posters already hanging in each additional break out space to get group sessions off to the best start too. Any technology needs to have been tested: does the video work, are participants who are joining online connected, can everyone in person and remote see and hear, are chat boxes live and working? Securing help from an assistant or technical back-up ahead of time is invaluable in allowing the instructor to focus on the actual start of class.

For the case, much detailed preparation will have taken place over time before class: creating any audio visual materials, inviting guest speakers, engaging with other faculty who are teaching the same module, or co-teaching, to share best practice, identify pitfalls, and harmonise teaching plans. Teachers are advised to have found out about any background of participants that could be relevant to the case, to be acknowledged early on in class. A couple of hours might be reserved shortly before class to reread the case and check online for the latest news regarding the subject. No matter how many times an instructor might have taught a case before, it needs to be fresh in the their mind as they enter class with full energy. The stage is set; the audience awaits.

Locating the learning

A case unfolds as a story, and both case subject and narrative need to fit into a wider pedagogical context, which all needs to make sense to the students. Jill Avery takes an approach to the start of class that already points the way towards the objectives and conclusion of the case journey: “I own the first - and last - five minutes of real estate in every class session,” she says. “This helps both to set the stage for the learning, and later to cement the key takeaways for students. My opening remarks always situate the case within a learning module and relate it to the cases, theory, and frameworks that have come before it. Placing the case into a bigger managerial context or question is helpful for communicating the importance of the learning yet to come,” she adds.

Jamie Rundle also begins by locating the case: “I set the scene, establishing clear links between previous lectures, theory and other cases my students have experienced. In a large programme such as ours I need to be aware that students will arrive at the final year having studied a variety of different module units, and will have different perspectives which can be rich, but means some may not immediately see the relevance of the case to their degree specialism. It’s my challenge to get the attention of all of them so they can grasp the purpose of the class at the very start,” he says. “It is always good to establish a base level of collective understanding of what will follow, so, I also seek to manage expectations, down to giving rough timings for each part of the class ahead. And I generally reassure everyone that the class discussion will be a ‘safe space’. ”

Such considerations remind us that individual students or student groups, such as undergraduates or executives, may be new to case pedagogy. While regular case-using schools offer induction programmes in the method (we will take a look at this topic in April 2023), many others do not. Instructors may be offering the only case method teaching on a course or at a school. “If your students are unfamiliar with how case-based teaching and learning work, you are going to need to begin by explaining it to them, even if that has to be at the beginning of an individual class,” says Greg Lopez. “Your strategy for the start also needs to consider the size of the class and specific needs of the student group in order to engage them right from the beginning to travel with you through to the learning outcomes.”

Past, present and future under a magnifying glass

For Taiyuan Wang a prime objective of the beginning of a class is to set up the relevance of the content in the perception of his participants. A case may not be being taught in isolation but alongside other teaching methods. “How you start a class is always context specific,” he says. “We offer some programmes over two continuous days and I can find myself teaching the first session as a combination of a lecture and a case. I try to view the case holistically in context and pull out parts of the lecture that will relate to it. I therefore plan very carefully with ‘impact value’ for the participant always in mind.” He highlights a concern of many case instructors:  “In reality, several participants will probably not have read the case ahead of class, so I may quickly move to a prepared small class assignment to bridge this gap and give time for those concerned to get up to speed.” Some instructors come prepared with materials to start the class such as a short video or a couple of slides designed to capture attention, summarise context, and bring the collective class consciousness together. Such elements can elegantly provide space for those catching up with reading the case. Some faculty suggest preparing two or three key learning objectives for the session to be shared up front with the assembled class.

Starting with a question

A classic case class early starter is a question. “The opening question or few questions are absolutely critical,” observes June Cotte. “They set the tone and direction, the importance and the drama of the case. It is essential to prepare them carefully,” she advises. “If the first questions are too directive, the students may get the impression that we will just be ‘answering questions’. If too vague, they may struggle to get involved.” Questions can be open, cold calls, or pre-arranged with a participant with knowledge of the case company or topic. Every class is different, so you need to know the students as a group too. “If the class is culturally reticent to volunteer, I may use cold-calling more frequently to start things off,” explains June Cotte. “Other types of classes may have students almost too eager to jump in and solve the entire case with the first hand raised. If that happens too early in a class, it’s important to have strategies ready which can subtly deflect, so we can continue a discussion that builds back up to that point,” she explains. (Connect recently looked at the issue of ‘class sabotage’)

“I generally cold call at first to reinforce the importance of preparation,” reports Jill Avery. “This has the added advantage of giving students practice for real-world interactions where managers are expected to jump into discussions at any moment. An action-oriented opening question gets everyone in class ready to make a decision and defend it. It also sets the stage for a lively debate.” Jill Avery highlights the importance of making sure such interaction with the class is accessible to everyone participating right from the start: “I always ask my opening question and then restate it with slightly different wording in case students for whom English is not their first language had trouble understanding it. I also pause after asking each question before I choose a student to call on, as I want to give students who have different learning styles and processing speeds time to consider the question and raise their hands.”

“Cold calling the first question, or sometimes calling on a pre-arranged individual or group, can set the tone and path of a class,” comments Greg Lopez. “It reinforces the importance of reading the case before coming to class and gives the instructor an instantaneous feel for how easy or difficult the case may be for the particular student group and how well they have prepared. This allows on-the-spot adjustments to be made to the teaching plan.” In the case of hybrid classes, some instructors suggest making sure one initial cold call each is addressed to the remote and in person participants to ensure both groups feel involved from the beginning. One strategy is to direct the very first question to online participants because of the greater challenge they face to feel like equal class participants. It also reminds those in the room that everyone belongs. Pre-assigning both online and in person participants to each break out group also helps make the class move forward seamlessly as one. 

PAGE 2 

Case choice and confidence

Starting a class with confidence entails knowing the case inside out. “Participants will pick up straight away if an instructor is not confident about a case, which in large part does come through preparation,” says Stefan Michel. “Whether establishing context, content, or cold calling, the first imperative is to establish ‘informal authority’ and take the class with you straight away. The start of class is then about creating an atmosphere for discussion, rather than for winning an argument, and cases rarely have a single solution anyway.”  A vibrant case discussion does of course involve instructors letting go of control at many points - especially if a participant happens to know more about something than they do. “You can confidently ‘give away’ authority at any stage of the class process, but you must be careful not to ‘lose’ it, and especially not at the outset, because it will be almost impossible to get back,” he observes.

Person writing on a notepad

One sure way to know a case inside out and start confidently is to have authored it yourself; also an opportunity to tailor the content to participant needs. Stefan Michel developed his innovative series of cartoon cases in response to shorter attention spans and the lack of preparation he observed in some participant groups. (Stefan is running a webinar on writing and teaching cartoon cases in March.) Jamie Rundle originally started to develop cases on disaster management to be able to capture more quickly the attention and interest of his undergraduates. “It is all too easy to bore people, especially in drier topics such as pre-pandemic supply chain management,” he observes. “It is crucial to get the involvement of students as early in the class as possible, and the aim has to be for everyone to play a role in class. I have developed some disaster cases that can unfold in real time involving interjections of new - also in real time - information to add to the ambiguity and uncertainty. I might split my students into two teams to engage them immediately - as though they were gaming, which they can relate to - and they quickly learn that the crisis ‘needs an answer’ before the end of class. We often end up with two solutions, which always adds excitement and depth to the discussion.”

Nader Tavassoli mostly uses his own cases. “Having a deep knowledge of the situation from writing the case, and a deep understanding of the academic and managerial perspectives from writing the teaching note, is the best preparation possible, and participants sense that immediately,” he observes. The reality is however that, instructors will more often than not use cases authored by others, which impacts on preparation. “For cases that are not my own, I not only read the teaching note but research the company and situation online, including their annual reports, and I look at the academic literature that speaks to the case. I also look at other cases and teaching notes on the same topic, so that I am able to provide examples from other industries,” he suggests. Like other educators we spoke to, Nader Tavassoli highlights how useful a teaching note can be, though not all teaching notes include specific guidance on how to start the class. Some authors do make available videos of themselves teaching their own cases, which provides an insight into how they start teaching their own case class, and is invaluable for less experienced instructors. For authors to routinely include in teaching notes suggestions as to how to start teaching the case would prove enormously helpful to many.

But every class serves a unique purpose and the same case can be used in a multitude of ways. June Cotte prepares by (re)reading the case with fresh eyes, just as her best students might. “I make margin notes, add in questions that come to mind, highlight key metrics and do some quick calculations. Critically, I do all this before consulting any teaching note, because the case writer may have planned a different use, or to a different student group,” she observes. “The learning objectives will affect how I start the class, so, for cases with a focus on making an analytically-informed decision, we may jump right into a decision. But with cases more about teaching a skill or analysis method, I may ‘back in’ to a decision by first having the class consider relevant variables and contexts that will go into the analytical approach I am teaching them.”

Psychological aspects

Ultimately, instructors can arrive very well prepared, armed with a teaching strategy, plan, and highlighted notes or a crib sheet, but the class may still derail right from the start as a consequence of other, softer factors, which also need consideration. For example, even inadvertently, shaming students who have not read the case may prove counterproductive. By the same token, trying too overtly to get those students up to speed with time to read the case early in class brings with it the risk of demotivating those who have done the preparation. Arbitrarily cold calling someone who feels out of their depth may cause embarrassment which can spread across the class and set students against the instructor. Failing to have checked the business headlines of the previous 24 hours, which inform of a major change in the fortunes of the case company, risks the instructor losing credibility and confidence, especially when a participant breaks the news just as class starts. Not knowing the name of the current CEO of a case company can cause embarrassment and a loss of respect for an instructor and not just for that session. 

Turning from plan A to B

Cultural factors also need consideration. For Nader Tavassoli recognising and acknowledging this early in the class process is important. “Students often need help to understand the cultural context of a case. Our cohorts are very multi-cultural and it deeply enriches a case discussion when you can bring out diverse perspectives. Even within cultures, and especially in the current climate, there are issues of diversity and inclusion to respect and be aware of before you start. For example, with my case, M-KOPA Solar: Using Digital Disruption to Connect the World's Poor, most students have little or no knowledge of social and cultural issues in rural Africa so I make sure, early on in class, to develop a better understanding of these. This can be a sensitive matter, but also important even for regional students who have grown up in cities, a context completely different from that of a rural village.”

Understanding the conventions and expectations of class participants also plays a role. “My students, especially senior level executives, can be highly analytical and often attend class with the purpose of immediately implementing new learning back in their companies,” says Taiyuan Wang. “This means that right from the start of class I need to engage them with the promise of relevant learning points, especially models and frameworks, that will have a potential impact for them to use in practice. If not, I may lose their attention early on. With this in mind, I have developed my SMILE preparation framework, a kind of checklist I work through before I start the class: Story - Model/Framework - Impact - Logic - Engagement, which I use to evolve my teaching plan. But, regardless of culture, people do love a good story,” he concludes. 

Case acting

Much of this overview of starting a case class has focussed on the importance of preparation, but can you prepare too much? Jamie Rundle points out: “You cannot sidestep preparing and managing expectations of the class. But, preparing in the wrong way can mean you do all the navigating and don't let go of the reins.” In the end it comes down to developing confidence, techniques and skills as a case teacher to go with the flow, and being willing to learn from things that go wrong as you redirect a class back onto the right track towards the learning objectives.

We give the last words to Nader Tavassoli who shares with us one of his earliest experiences of case teaching: arriving at class having prepared the wrong case! “Fortuitously, I had asked a student to start us off on the decision context without specifying the case,” he recalls. “Though seized by panic, I kept asking for more information about the situation using the 5Cs framework (context, customers, competitors, collaborators, company) and cold-calling other students to solicit opposing views. Extraordinarily, this proved to be the best opening of any case I had yet experienced, and it taught me not to think just in terms of a series of teacher-student interactions, but to foster a real discussion and deeply develop context from the beginning of class.” He concludes: “On that occasion, I was able during group work to find and skim the correct teaching note to help me guide the case to a conclusion with a ‘what happened’ perspective. To this day, I have no idea how I pulled off that class without being found out. But, the style of doing live ‘group consulting on stage’ that I learned that day, has served me very well ever since.” 

This article was published in Connect, January 2023.

Page 1

Preparation

“A huge part of getting the beginning of a class right is being prepared,” says Stefan Michel. “It’s about preparing a fertile ground for the discussion from the get-go. Participants notice immediately whether an instructor is prepared or not - just as instructors can tell whether or not a participant has prepared by reading the case.”

Red curtains opening for a theatre show

The beginning of the class needs complete instructor focus, without distractions from practical considerations, so preparation encompasses many aspects - not just the case. This includes ensuring the physical set up of the room has been prepared and checked ahead of time. Stefan Michel has printed posters already hanging in each additional break out space to get group sessions off to the best start too. Any technology needs to have been tested: does the video work, are participants who are joining online connected, can everyone in person and remote see and hear, are chat boxes live and working? Securing help from an assistant or technical back-up ahead of time is invaluable in allowing the instructor to focus on the actual start of class.

For the case, much detailed preparation will have taken place over time before class: creating any audio visual materials, inviting guest speakers, engaging with other faculty who are teaching the same module, or co-teaching, to share best practice, identify pitfalls, and harmonise teaching plans. Teachers are advised to have found out about any background of participants that could be relevant to the case, to be acknowledged early on in class. A couple of hours might be reserved shortly before class to reread the case and check online for the latest news regarding the subject. No matter how many times an instructor might have taught a case before, it needs to be fresh in the their mind as they enter class with full energy. The stage is set; the audience awaits.

Locating the learning

A case unfolds as a story, and both case subject and narrative need to fit into a wider pedagogical context, which all needs to make sense to the students. Jill Avery takes an approach to the start of class that already points the way towards the objectives and conclusion of the case journey: “I own the first - and last - five minutes of real estate in every class session,” she says. “This helps both to set the stage for the learning, and later to cement the key takeaways for students. My opening remarks always situate the case within a learning module and relate it to the cases, theory, and frameworks that have come before it. Placing the case into a bigger managerial context or question is helpful for communicating the importance of the learning yet to come,” she adds.

Jamie Rundle also begins by locating the case: “I set the scene, establishing clear links between previous lectures, theory and other cases my students have experienced. In a large programme such as ours I need to be aware that students will arrive at the final year having studied a variety of different module units, and will have different perspectives which can be rich, but means some may not immediately see the relevance of the case to their degree specialism. It’s my challenge to get the attention of all of them so they can grasp the purpose of the class at the very start,” he says. “It is always good to establish a base level of collective understanding of what will follow, so, I also seek to manage expectations, down to giving rough timings for each part of the class ahead. And I generally reassure everyone that the class discussion will be a ‘safe space’. ”

Such considerations remind us that individual students or student groups, such as undergraduates or executives, may be new to case pedagogy. While regular case-using schools offer induction programmes in the method (we will take a look at this topic in April 2023), many others do not. Instructors may be offering the only case method teaching on a course or at a school. “If your students are unfamiliar with how case-based teaching and learning work, you are going to need to begin by explaining it to them, even if that has to be at the beginning of an individual class,” says Greg Lopez. “Your strategy for the start also needs to consider the size of the class and specific needs of the student group in order to engage them right from the beginning to travel with you through to the learning outcomes.”

Past, present and future under a magnifying glass

For Taiyuan Wang a prime objective of the beginning of a class is to set up the relevance of the content in the perception of his participants. A case may not be being taught in isolation but alongside other teaching methods. “How you start a class is always context specific,” he says. “We offer some programmes over two continuous days and I can find myself teaching the first session as a combination of a lecture and a case. I try to view the case holistically in context and pull out parts of the lecture that will relate to it. I therefore plan very carefully with ‘impact value’ for the participant always in mind.” He highlights a concern of many case instructors:  “In reality, several participants will probably not have read the case ahead of class, so I may quickly move to a prepared small class assignment to bridge this gap and give time for those concerned to get up to speed.” Some instructors come prepared with materials to start the class such as a short video or a couple of slides designed to capture attention, summarise context, and bring the collective class consciousness together. Such elements can elegantly provide space for those catching up with reading the case. Some faculty suggest preparing two or three key learning objectives for the session to be shared up front with the assembled class.

Starting with a question

A classic case class early starter is a question. “The opening question or few questions are absolutely critical,” observes June Cotte. “They set the tone and direction, the importance and the drama of the case. It is essential to prepare them carefully,” she advises. “If the first questions are too directive, the students may get the impression that we will just be ‘answering questions’. If too vague, they may struggle to get involved.” Questions can be open, cold calls, or pre-arranged with a participant with knowledge of the case company or topic. Every class is different, so you need to know the students as a group too. “If the class is culturally reticent to volunteer, I may use cold-calling more frequently to start things off,” explains June Cotte. “Other types of classes may have students almost too eager to jump in and solve the entire case with the first hand raised. If that happens too early in a class, it’s important to have strategies ready which can subtly deflect, so we can continue a discussion that builds back up to that point,” she explains. (Connect recently looked at the issue of ‘class sabotage’)

“I generally cold call at first to reinforce the importance of preparation,” reports Jill Avery. “This has the added advantage of giving students practice for real-world interactions where managers are expected to jump into discussions at any moment. An action-oriented opening question gets everyone in class ready to make a decision and defend it. It also sets the stage for a lively debate.” Jill Avery highlights the importance of making sure such interaction with the class is accessible to everyone participating right from the start: “I always ask my opening question and then restate it with slightly different wording in case students for whom English is not their first language had trouble understanding it. I also pause after asking each question before I choose a student to call on, as I want to give students who have different learning styles and processing speeds time to consider the question and raise their hands.”

“Cold calling the first question, or sometimes calling on a pre-arranged individual or group, can set the tone and path of a class,” comments Greg Lopez. “It reinforces the importance of reading the case before coming to class and gives the instructor an instantaneous feel for how easy or difficult the case may be for the particular student group and how well they have prepared. This allows on-the-spot adjustments to be made to the teaching plan.” In the case of hybrid classes, some instructors suggest making sure one initial cold call each is addressed to the remote and in person participants to ensure both groups feel involved from the beginning. One strategy is to direct the very first question to online participants because of the greater challenge they face to feel like equal class participants. It also reminds those in the room that everyone belongs. Pre-assigning both online and in person participants to each break out group also helps make the class move forward seamlessly as one. 

PAGE 2 

Page 2

Case choice and confidence

Starting a class with confidence entails knowing the case inside out. “Participants will pick up straight away if an instructor is not confident about a case, which in large part does come through preparation,” says Stefan Michel. “Whether establishing context, content, or cold calling, the first imperative is to establish ‘informal authority’ and take the class with you straight away. The start of class is then about creating an atmosphere for discussion, rather than for winning an argument, and cases rarely have a single solution anyway.”  A vibrant case discussion does of course involve instructors letting go of control at many points - especially if a participant happens to know more about something than they do. “You can confidently ‘give away’ authority at any stage of the class process, but you must be careful not to ‘lose’ it, and especially not at the outset, because it will be almost impossible to get back,” he observes.

Person writing on a notepad

One sure way to know a case inside out and start confidently is to have authored it yourself; also an opportunity to tailor the content to participant needs. Stefan Michel developed his innovative series of cartoon cases in response to shorter attention spans and the lack of preparation he observed in some participant groups. (Stefan is running a webinar on writing and teaching cartoon cases in March.) Jamie Rundle originally started to develop cases on disaster management to be able to capture more quickly the attention and interest of his undergraduates. “It is all too easy to bore people, especially in drier topics such as pre-pandemic supply chain management,” he observes. “It is crucial to get the involvement of students as early in the class as possible, and the aim has to be for everyone to play a role in class. I have developed some disaster cases that can unfold in real time involving interjections of new - also in real time - information to add to the ambiguity and uncertainty. I might split my students into two teams to engage them immediately - as though they were gaming, which they can relate to - and they quickly learn that the crisis ‘needs an answer’ before the end of class. We often end up with two solutions, which always adds excitement and depth to the discussion.”

Nader Tavassoli mostly uses his own cases. “Having a deep knowledge of the situation from writing the case, and a deep understanding of the academic and managerial perspectives from writing the teaching note, is the best preparation possible, and participants sense that immediately,” he observes. The reality is however that, instructors will more often than not use cases authored by others, which impacts on preparation. “For cases that are not my own, I not only read the teaching note but research the company and situation online, including their annual reports, and I look at the academic literature that speaks to the case. I also look at other cases and teaching notes on the same topic, so that I am able to provide examples from other industries,” he suggests. Like other educators we spoke to, Nader Tavassoli highlights how useful a teaching note can be, though not all teaching notes include specific guidance on how to start the class. Some authors do make available videos of themselves teaching their own cases, which provides an insight into how they start teaching their own case class, and is invaluable for less experienced instructors. For authors to routinely include in teaching notes suggestions as to how to start teaching the case would prove enormously helpful to many.

But every class serves a unique purpose and the same case can be used in a multitude of ways. June Cotte prepares by (re)reading the case with fresh eyes, just as her best students might. “I make margin notes, add in questions that come to mind, highlight key metrics and do some quick calculations. Critically, I do all this before consulting any teaching note, because the case writer may have planned a different use, or to a different student group,” she observes. “The learning objectives will affect how I start the class, so, for cases with a focus on making an analytically-informed decision, we may jump right into a decision. But with cases more about teaching a skill or analysis method, I may ‘back in’ to a decision by first having the class consider relevant variables and contexts that will go into the analytical approach I am teaching them.”

Psychological aspects

Ultimately, instructors can arrive very well prepared, armed with a teaching strategy, plan, and highlighted notes or a crib sheet, but the class may still derail right from the start as a consequence of other, softer factors, which also need consideration. For example, even inadvertently, shaming students who have not read the case may prove counterproductive. By the same token, trying too overtly to get those students up to speed with time to read the case early in class brings with it the risk of demotivating those who have done the preparation. Arbitrarily cold calling someone who feels out of their depth may cause embarrassment which can spread across the class and set students against the instructor. Failing to have checked the business headlines of the previous 24 hours, which inform of a major change in the fortunes of the case company, risks the instructor losing credibility and confidence, especially when a participant breaks the news just as class starts. Not knowing the name of the current CEO of a case company can cause embarrassment and a loss of respect for an instructor and not just for that session. 

Turning from plan A to B

Cultural factors also need consideration. For Nader Tavassoli recognising and acknowledging this early in the class process is important. “Students often need help to understand the cultural context of a case. Our cohorts are very multi-cultural and it deeply enriches a case discussion when you can bring out diverse perspectives. Even within cultures, and especially in the current climate, there are issues of diversity and inclusion to respect and be aware of before you start. For example, with my case, M-KOPA Solar: Using Digital Disruption to Connect the World's Poor, most students have little or no knowledge of social and cultural issues in rural Africa so I make sure, early on in class, to develop a better understanding of these. This can be a sensitive matter, but also important even for regional students who have grown up in cities, a context completely different from that of a rural village.”

Understanding the conventions and expectations of class participants also plays a role. “My students, especially senior level executives, can be highly analytical and often attend class with the purpose of immediately implementing new learning back in their companies,” says Taiyuan Wang. “This means that right from the start of class I need to engage them with the promise of relevant learning points, especially models and frameworks, that will have a potential impact for them to use in practice. If not, I may lose their attention early on. With this in mind, I have developed my SMILE preparation framework, a kind of checklist I work through before I start the class: Story - Model/Framework - Impact - Logic - Engagement, which I use to evolve my teaching plan. But, regardless of culture, people do love a good story,” he concludes. 

Case acting

Much of this overview of starting a case class has focussed on the importance of preparation, but can you prepare too much? Jamie Rundle points out: “You cannot sidestep preparing and managing expectations of the class. But, preparing in the wrong way can mean you do all the navigating and don't let go of the reins.” In the end it comes down to developing confidence, techniques and skills as a case teacher to go with the flow, and being willing to learn from things that go wrong as you redirect a class back onto the right track towards the learning objectives.

We give the last words to Nader Tavassoli who shares with us one of his earliest experiences of case teaching: arriving at class having prepared the wrong case! “Fortuitously, I had asked a student to start us off on the decision context without specifying the case,” he recalls. “Though seized by panic, I kept asking for more information about the situation using the 5Cs framework (context, customers, competitors, collaborators, company) and cold-calling other students to solicit opposing views. Extraordinarily, this proved to be the best opening of any case I had yet experienced, and it taught me not to think just in terms of a series of teacher-student interactions, but to foster a real discussion and deeply develop context from the beginning of class.” He concludes: “On that occasion, I was able during group work to find and skim the correct teaching note to help me guide the case to a conclusion with a ‘what happened’ perspective. To this day, I have no idea how I pulled off that class without being found out. But, the style of doing live ‘group consulting on stage’ that I learned that day, has served me very well ever since.” 

This article was published in Connect, January 2023.

Contributing insights

Greg Lopez
Lecturer (Professional Practice)
Jill Avery
Senior Lecturer of Business Administration and C. Roland Christensen Distinguished Management Educator
Taiyuan Wang
Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship
Tips on how to start a case class
  • Come in feeling prepared, come in confident.
  • Fully ‘own’ the first five minutes.
  • Relate case to context of course and any theory.
  • Prepare start materials.
  • Be ready to harness experience in class.
  • Bear in mind the psychology of participants.
  • Remain flexible from the start.

Compilation © The Case Centre, 2023.

Tips for newer case instructors
  • Prepare but don’t stress or over prepare.
  • Get help with room and tech set up.
  • Have a ‘cheat sheet’ of main points you need to cover.
  • Expect the unforeseen in your teaching plan - from the outset.
  • Directly engage students as early as possible.
  • Aim one day to create your own cases to use.
  • Learn from inevitable mistakes.

Compilation © The Case Centre, 2023.

Learning with Cases: An Interactive Study Guide

Learning with cases can be a challenging experience.

Our interactive study guide takes students through the process, providing practical tips, tricks and tools.

Picture representing 'Learning with Cases: An Interactive Study Guide'
Picture representing 'Learning with Cases: An Interactive Study Guide'
Learning with Cases: An Interactive Study Guide

Learning with cases can be a challenging experience.

Our interactive study guide takes students through the process, providing practical tips, tricks and tools.

Discover more