Getting credit for cases

AccreditationIt is difficult to imagine management education without the case method. Yet at a time when measures such as accreditation and rankings are increasingly applied to the performance of business schools worldwide, the writing and teaching of cases seldom feature explicitly within their standards or criteria.

Perhaps this stems from a lack of understanding of the case method on the part of the authors of rankings and accreditations, and The Case Centre's mission includes striving to educate evaluating bodies about its strengths. On closer analysis, it becomes clear that the issues around getting formal credit for case writing and teaching are more complex.

Why recognition?

The case method is the main pedagogical approach at many of the world’s most successful business schools, yet it is frequently misunderstood, even by the leaders of some schools that use many teaching cases. Original case development can receive little internal credit compared to research leading to publication in peer reviewed journals, which remains the most important criterion for career advancement. The pressures on institutions and the implications for funding of national research assessment exercises compound this problem. Faculty who create original cases to use in the classroom can become frustrated, particularly when they are developed from the same field research that leads to journal publication. Smaller or newer business schools, especially in emerging economies, or countries new to business education, face similar problems. They may develop, use and publish original cases as a core part of their pedagogy, for example, cases including scenarios relevant to their students’ local economic and cultural environment; yet this activity receives no specific external recognition by accreditation bodies or in rankings.

Rankings

The management education landscape is now unthinkable without rankings, published by the likes of América Economiá, BusinessWeek, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Espansione, the Financial Times, Forbes Magazine, Handelsblatt, US News and World Report and the Wall Street Journal. Rankings, such as the THE-QS World University Rankings, are also having an impact because the vast majority of business schools are part of a university, often not immediately obvious from their independent profiles. Inevitably, rankings are consulted by prospective participants, parents and future employers, and each ranking tells a different story. Many have a single focus, such as post study salary potential (Forbes Magazine), or faculty research publication (Handelsblatt), and teaching methods may not form part of the investigation at all. The more general BusinessWeek Best Business Schools ranking is based on twelve criteria including teaching, based on a student survey, and ‘educational quality’ is assessed using a complex system incorporating faculty/student ratios, class preparation time and the availability of internships.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the case method features nowhere in a central position. Rankings tend to use a quantitative methodology and seek ‘the most’ or ‘the highest’ in order to rank: an approach that would not work well for cases. Where a lone teacher is pioneering case development, any benefits to the students’ education would hardly be reflected in a comparative, quantitative evaluation of the numbers of cases produced. A small number of cases produced at a school, no matter how significant to the author and students, would pale into insignificance beside a business school which produces hundreds of cases each year, as a result of a long teaching tradition. Far from having a positive effect, this would negatively affect a school’s overall ranking.Della Bradshaw, Editor of the Financial Times business school rankings is mindful of the difficulties of measuring case, or book, authorship in a way that provides a robust and rigorous comparative picture, and that is why they are not explicitly included. She feels that “the best teaching is informed by the best research,” and the FT rankings evaluate research according to publications in 40 academic and practitioner journals. The ultimate test of whether participants have been well taught is probably how much employers want them, and the FT rankings incorporate data on the number of students who find employment after their degree.

Accreditation

In the Introduction to a 2005 Task Force Report, Richard E Sorensen, former Chair of AACSB International (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), sees accreditation as “the most credible source of information about MBA programs,” and “an important differentiator of quality.” He feels that rankings are too narrow with their quantitative approach and that it is important to “define and collect better indicators of program quality, such as academic qualifications of faculty and research.” However, the qualitative picture that accreditation awarding bodies such as AACSB, AICTE, Association of MBAs (AMBA), CEEMAN and EFMD aim to present can be just as diverse as that of rankings, depending on focus and methodology. Though excellence and innovation in pedagogy both feature as a standard in most accreditations, case authorship or classroom use are rarely mentioned by name. Indeed, according to Peter Calladine, Accreditation Services Manager at AMBA, “an appropriate range of teaching on any MBA programme is required for accreditation, which may, but does not have to include case studies. We recognise that the case method remains a very popular form of teaching at business schools, but it also has its opponents.”

On closer inspection, many standards and criteria used in accreditations do offer scope to highlight case writing and teaching. EFMD offers several accreditations, each with a different focus. EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) follows the fundamental objective to raise the standard of management education worldwide, emphasising programme design and achieving a balance between imparting knowledge and practical skills. EQUIS defines research as “a broad spectrum of intellectual endeavour” and looks for innovation, international impact and dissemination of relevant research throughout the school’s activities - arguably all relevant to the development and use of teaching cases. EPAS (EFMD Programme Accreditation System) also includes a strong focus on curriculum design, teaching methods and learning outcomes, all of which play to the case method’s strengths: “Does the design promote an appropriate blend of theory with business practice?” and “What opportunities are provided to students to benefit from group work and practical experience?”

Teaching

For external rankings and accreditation to give higher recognition to case development and teaching, it may well be that institutions themselves, funding bodies and governments need to place more emphasis on the importance of teaching. Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the UK Higher Education Authority writes1 how demotivating an excessive stress on research output can be for faculty, as demonstrated in a recent survey. While he was Pro Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), the University of Sydney recognised how a reputation for research excellence at the expense of teaching, was not always good for the university. He recalls, we “made it a condition of all promotions... that the candidate had to demonstrate superior or outstanding performance in teaching. Excellence in research was also required, but it could not be substituted for excellence in teaching.” Programmes, such as the International Teachers Programme run by an international consortium of business schools seek to improve and recognise teaching skills and foster the “links between good research and good teaching” (itp-schools.org). If a widespread focus on quality and innovation in teaching could develop in the future, alongside the importance of research, this would surely enhance the future recognition of specific teaching methods, like the case method.


1 Times Higher Education, 13 August 2009 

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The Case Centre is investigating ways to formally accredit case writing and teaching and is looking for faculty to join an international group to help explore this issue. If you are interested, please contact:
 
Fran Baylis Richard McCracken
Director
+44 (0)1234 756400
richard@thecasecentre.org