Webinar takeaways: a student guide to getting started with cases

student with headphonesIn September 2020, The Case Centre held a free webinar for students who are new to cases.

Led by case expert Scott Andrews (University of Worcester, UK), we reflect on some of the key takeaways from the workshop.


What is a case?

Cases bring an element of reality into the classroom, they allow students to be immersed into a narrative or a story. Students need to think: What would I do? How would I respond to challenges and issues? How would I use the data to supplement my analysis to the solution?

Cases are designed to take students on a journey. The students are in charge of the conversation, with teachers facilitating the discussion and learning. Participation is everything when it comes to the case method.

Cases are a fun and exciting way of learning management skills, but students need to prepare properly by thoroughly reading their case prior to the discussion in class.

The whole point of a case is for the protagonist to make a decision. The data in a case is often incomplete (by design) but there’s enough to create a picture for students to come to their own conclusions. This concurs with Malcolm McNair’s (Harvard Business School) belief that a case student has to undertake some form of detective work; they need to unpick the data to decide what happens next.

7 steps7 steps to student case preparation

Preparing for the class discussion is key and there are seven steps to consider.

1. What are the key issues of the case?

The professor will normally provide two or three questions to bear in mind while reading the case prior to the discussion. Read the case like a story, then again at a slower pace, so you can pinpoint the main and sub issues. It’s essential to make notes on the case and to use different highlighters to underline the various key points.

It’s also important to keep the subject matter in the back of your mind. For example, an international business case will look at a business management problem, whereas a leadership case may require a decision to be made.

2. Who are the key stakeholders?

Who are the main actors or characters? Are the stakeholders heroes or villains? It’s easier to tackle the issues of the case when you consider the various viewpoints while reading it.

3. What extra data would be helpful to access in order to more fully appraise the issues raised in the case? And where can this be found?

The data is included in the case for a reason so read it thoroughly. But also consider going online to find out about the company.

4. What skills are being tested in this case?

Being a detective involves more skills than simply just solving a case. For example, you need good decision making, the ability to handle assumptions and inferences, and to listen to and understand others. These skills all apply to learning with cases.

5. Are there any case snags or hidden issues?

Almost all cases have four key structures that can help deduce this.

  • Chronology – Make sure to highlight all the dates, which aren’t always in time order. Interesting secrets can be discovered.
  • Narrative – Opinions and motives can be more important than facts. How’s that shaping the story?
  • Expository – What is hidden that requires unearthing?
  • Plot – What motives, opinions, influences and behaviour do the characters have?

6. What management, theory, models or learning tools could inform your case analysis or help you to make sense of the issues?

Theories, frameworks, models and tools have great value so consider which may help, and apply them.

7. Opening and closure

The opening and closing paragraphs often mirror each other. Re-read them as they often reinforce the key issues.

Types of casesTypes of cases

The Case Centre has tens of thousands of different cases (61,700+), but you can break them down into six different types: incident, background, exercise, situation, complex, decision.

  • Incident – These cases are very short. They involve a single pursuit and not as much preparation is required. As these are short cases, the professor might take a break mid-lecture to ask students to discuss the issues raised in the case with the person next to them for a few minutes before feeding back to the whole group.
  • Background – There are often no characters, just background data on a specific company or sector, promoting opportunities for students to make environmental or economic appraisals of the company or sector.
  • Exercise – These cases are full of quantitative data which encourages number crunching, they are often used in finance and business planning subject areas.
  • Situation – These cases are often used in marketing, strategy and general management. The cases describe a situation, and invite students to be in the shoes of the protagonist, asking what should the protagonist do next or differently?
  • Complex – These cases contain lots of data – some of which is highly relevant and some may be less relevant to the central themes of the case. Students face the challenge of identifying the relevant data from the less relevant data as part of their case analysis. These cases often contain lots of layers and complexities.
  • Decision – An organisation faces a decision in this type of case. The case includes lots of information for the student to use to decide what option should/could be taken. In class, students are invited to form arguments to support their chosen option.

In addition, live cases are increasing in popularity. They’re part case/part consultancy project. Students are introduced to real characters in the organisation e.g. a local business person visits in person or via Zoom. There’s a challenge set and students have to question the visiting speaker then consider different solutions to the problem. Recommendations are then made to the company.

Cases come in four main formats.

  • Text based – One story/narrative where students can read the data and make recommendations.
  • Sequential – Information in Case A is discussed in class. Case B, C and D etc. then follow. Layer by layer, a richer picture of the situation in the organisation is formed.
  • Multimedia – These usually involve video and audio content, links to websites, tables, charts.
  • Simulations – A particular digital simulation is presented, requiring decisions to be made as they progress through the simulation towards a solution.

Supporting case learners

There are many resources to support students. A range of books and articles can be found on The Case Centre’s website.

LWCISGLearning with Cases: An Interactive Study Guide

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

Along with understanding more about cases and the case method, students learn how to:

  • analyse a case quickly and thoroughly using our practical Case Analysis Framework
  • prepare efficiently for class
  • participate in a case discussion
  • plan for assessment through cases. 

What the experts say

When others are asked what are they looking for from students in a case discussion, the most frequent response is for students to contribute in the discussion -  so have a go and give it your best shot. Professors reward students that offer insightful comments, take risks, and give balanced analysis.

Watch the webinar

The full webinar is available to watch back below:

Develop your skills

The Case Centre runs a programme of case workshops designed to develop your case teaching and writing skills. Find out more here

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