The case method as an intellectual contribution: an AACSB perspective

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AACSB's Global Chief Accreditation Officer, Stephanie M Bryant, explores the significant role that teaching cases can play in fostering impactful learning experiences within the context of business education and the accreditation standards set by AACSB.  

Drop rippling in water to show impact

Recently I ran into a former student from some 20 years ago who is today a CFO of a large corporation. During our catch-up, he mentioned to me that a case I published many years ago in the Journal of American Taxation Association had been a tremendous learning opportunity for him and he took those lessons into his professional career. I was quite amazed that he not only remembered the case, but that it had had an impact on his learning and subsequent success.

I have always been a fan of innovation in teaching and learning. Especially as we are now moving towards a new world of AI at lightning speed, it will be even more important to incorporate learning experiences that do more than simply transfer knowledge. Cases are the ideal vehicle for imparting empathy, and focusing more on building learning experiences higher up on Bloom’s taxonomy of synthesis, integration, and application of knowledge.  

Where does AACSB come in? 

In my role as chief accreditation officer, I am often asked whether pedagogical cases can be “counted” as intellectual contributions for AACSB standards purposes. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Standard 8 of the 2020 Business Accreditation Standards (hereafter “the standards”) identifies “teaching and learning scholarship” as one of the three categories of intellectual contributions. Teaching and learning scholarship defines this category as: “intellectual contributions that explore the theory and methods of teaching and advance new understandings, insights, content, and methods that impact learning behavior.”

Further, the Interpretive Guidance document that accompanies the standards identifies “case studies” in the list of examples of intellectual contributions. Thus, it is within the spirit and intent of the 2020 standards to include cases as valid intellectual contributions, with the assumption that such cases are disseminated to appropriate audiences as a core tenet of being a “contribution.” 

The standards require that intellectual contributions are further identified as peer-reviewed or non-peer reviewed. Cases can be either, but peer reviewed intellectual contributions are considered prima facie higher quality for having gone through rigorous peer review.  

Measuring impact

The next question, inevitably, is how schools can be encouraged to count cases more heavily in their own list of required intellectual contributions. While AACSB sets a floor for definitions, schools can and do often set higher quality standards for acceptable intellectual contributions. Simply because it is in AACSB’s list does not mean a given school will automatically accept a case in its own list of intellectual contributions. 

The secret, in my opinion, is to show that a published case has impact. How do you do that? Publication itself produces an output, but output is not the same as impact. A case, or any published article, does not typically have impact the day it is published. Impact is a function of use of the case over time and change that can be readily observable. Schools are more likely to recognise a case and give credit if the case has provable impact.  

There is no one authoritative source for how to measure impact of cases, and indeed this can be quite challenging. Even cases published in peer reviewed journals can be difficult to obtain direct quantitative evidence of impact. Here are some ideas for you to consider as impact metrics for cases.

  • High impact factor for the journal in which the case is published.
  • Circulation of the journals in which the case is published.
  • Citations of the case.
  • Student survey of perceived practicality of the case or other student reflections on their learning as a result of using the case.
  • Case is embedded in assurance of learning and tied to competency goals which show student learning is occurring as a result of the case.
  • Pre-post measurement of ability before the case and after the case.
  • Adoption by others in the same field – including the number of students in their classes.
  • Teaching awards or external recognition, i.e., “Best Case Award” by case journals or other recognised groups.
  • Student retention rates where pedagogy is the innovation employed.
  • Social media sharing of the impact of the case or mention of the case.
  • Impact stories from participants in the case.
  • Number of downloads of the case.

Meanwhile, a uniform standard for measuring case impact would be a welcome addition to helping elevate the acceptance of cases as being incredibly valuable learning experiences. For those of you working in this space, I highly encourage this work.

Evidencing case impact with The Case Centre


Stephanie Bryant
Global Chief Accreditation Officer

As executive vice president and global chief accreditation officer for AACSB, Stephanie Bryant provides vision, leadership, and oversight of AACSB’s accreditation-related services and strategic direction for the organisation. Under Stephanie’s leadership, AACSB adopted the 2018 accounting accreditation standards and the 2020 business accreditation standards.

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