Accreditation - getting cases recognised - The Case Centre investigates

AccreditationLike it or not, in the competitive global business school world, accreditation cannot be ignored. Schools have to invest considerable time and money to provide the necessary data and detail. Nevertheless, they frequently express frustration that the process does not do justice to strengths in case writing and teaching - especially where original case development and/or powerful use of the case method are cornerstones of the pedagogical approach.  The Case Centre maintains a constant dialogue with accreditation bodies on this issue and it appears that the variety in the mission of business schools and universities is being increasingly recognised. In this article, we explore ways in which case activity can currently contribute to accreditation and provide a checklist of measures which may help schools integrate them more fully to their advantage.

There are several accreditations available to business schools from various bodies worldwide. They include AACSB, AICTE, AMBA, CEEMAN and EFMD. While the fundamental objective of all of these is to promote excellence in management education, each differs in its particular focus on institutional and/or programme quality, and geographical applicability. Joanne Hession is Managing Director of QED, an organisation which assists business schools with accreditation projects. She identifies the 'Triple Crown' of AACSB, AMBA and EQUIS (EFMD), as the three institutional accreditations most recognised by international business schools. "Accreditation by a recognised body brings a number of benefits and is a very good step for any institution aspiring to join the business school elite. However, accreditation cannot be taken lightly and usually involves analysing and improving systems right across the organisation. It is vital to understand precisely what each accreditation requires." The opportunity to include and gain credit for case method activity hinges on this understanding.

Case writing and research

Field researched cases are based on original faculty investigation, so the link between cases and research will usually be strong at case writing schools. This link is important for accreditation, and AACSB and EQUIS both cater specifically for such case writing within the criteria relating to research, and require a detailed description of the primary research.

Broadly defined, peer review can be a pre-condition for cases to be recognised for accreditation. Some cases, or the research upon which they are based, are published in recognised peer review journals which can be highlighted. Before accepting cases for distribution, The Case Centre itself requires evidence that cases have been tested in the classroom and revised, as appropriate. For the purposes of accreditation, it makes sense for institutions to formalise this process as a robust internal academic and pedagogical 'peer review' of each case before publication, with external input, where appropriate. Evidence of serious case publication outlets is also required for certain accreditations.

Bridging theory and practice

Accreditation schemes such as AMBA look for evidence that an institution is engaged in scholarly or intellectual activity and that a bridge is made between theory and business practice. Indeed, all schemes require evidence that practical learning experiences are offered. Case writing and teaching often fulfil this, especially when topical cases authored at the institution are brought fresh to the classroom. Schools might therefore identify how the development of cases and their use with participants fit into this institutional obligation.

Case teaching

All accreditations require evidence of a variety of teaching methods and why they are used. There are many schools, some very high profile, which, for whatever reason, develop few, if any, of their own teaching cases, while having a strong and successful history of using cases in the classroom. So, a school with a teaching focus such as the case method, needs to demonstrate how this fulfils its pedagogical objectives and is complemented by the other methods in the teaching mix, such as guest lectures, supplementary textbook or article reading, practical or online business modelling exercises, for example.

Most accreditations seek evidence that an international business education is provided. This can be a challenge for business schools in developing economies, or where students and teachers are drawn from a predominantly local area. Such schools often use cases authored worldwide as a way to bring the international dimension into the classroom and might highlight this in accreditation. Using cases with audio-visual elements would be particularly potent examples.

Institutional goals

Underlying all the above elements is the fact that accreditation bodies want to see within the mission of the business school multiple, well defined, pedagogical objectives and the assurance that these will be met and can be assessed. Cases have the scope to have an impact as part of institutional strategy, so where case writing or teaching can be clearly shown to support these outcomes, they will be relevant to the accreditation. Always providing teaching notes for cases will help articulate learning goals for each case and how they might be measured. According to Joanne Hession, "Institutions need to make sure they articulate and understand their pedagogical strategy and become conscious of the strategic role the development and use of cases can play within that. On their own, cases won't deliver accreditation, but linked in, as evidence of assisting the overall strategy of the school, they may have a powerful part to play."

Our checklist* for cases and accreditation

These steps may support presenting case activity within the context of accreditation projects.

  1. Document all original research undertaken for a case.
  2. Log peer reviewed publication of research relating to cases, and/or the publication of cases in peer reviewed journals.
  3. Develop a robust internal 'peer review' procedure for cases. This should take place before publication of each case, be well documented, and relate both to the research content and the pedagogical effectiveness in the classroom. Consider adding external academic input to this process.
  4. Ensure serious case publication outlets are used and documented.
  5. For each course, develop summary documents which specify pedagogical objectives: in particular how do cases bring business practice into the classroom, and, how do cases fit alongside other elements in the teaching mix?
  6. List and classify teaching cases used according to the pedagogical objectives: (eg bringing an international element into the classroom.)
  7. Write and publish teaching notes for all new cases which articulate learning outcomes and how these might be measured.
  8. Compile evidence of how case activity supports core institutional objectives in general and specifically, and how this can be measured.

* Checklist copyright

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