Research vs. Teaching – achieving synergies with cases

Business schools and universities are under pressure to demonstrate excellence in both teaching and research. Could the case method be an effective means of doing both?

Alt text Traditionally, publication in peer reviewed journals is considered the ultimate benchmark for academic achievement. Recently, however, providing world-class teaching has been increasingly highlighted. As study fees increase worldwide, students, and their parents, demand ever more ‘value for money’ in the classroom. The leading global ranking systems today benchmark teaching, as well as citations, as a quality indicator.

Many higher education institutions employ both faculty primarily engaged in research, and others with a predominantly teaching brief. The challenge remains as to how to get the best of leading edge research to students in the classroom, and how to make what goes on in the classroom contribute to academic recognition. Jane Houzer, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business, London South Bank University feels that synergies can be achieved: “Excellent teaching in higher education is, by its nature, research informed, in particular, research should overtly underpin postgraduate teaching,” she observes. Therefore, there is a ‘continuum’ between research and dissemination of knowledge and changing/evolving practise, where the classroom/teaching plays a crucial facilitative role. In the business disciplines, the experience of teaching, for example at postgraduate level, where the students are professionals/practitioners, often inspires academics to undertake certain areas of research as problems and challenges are brought to the table for discussion.

So how can this synergy be nurtured? While the case method is traditionally perceived primarily on the ‘teaching’ side of the equation, it may in fact be one of the most effective and dynamic ways to get research into the classroom. Of the more than 42,000 cases in our collection, 43% are based on field research. However, original research underpins the vast majority of the most successful and award-winning cases. No fewer than 76% of tThe Case Centre's all-time best-selling cases are based on field research, as have been 76% of the overall winners of our annual case awards since their inception.

According to Mark Jenkins, Professor of Business Strategy and Director of Research at Cranfield School of Management, faculty are under more pressure than ever to deliver synergies between their research and teaching: “Research needs to contribute more significantly to what is delivered in the classroom and teaching needs to be more research based.” He believes the teaching case can be a prime way to disseminate research and become an effective communication with a class. With the right support, researchers can write and use cases to develop their teaching expertise, and also fully exploit the flexibility of their data.

At the same time, Mark Jenkins feels teachers can be encouraged to use cases to develop their own research agenda. After writing his award-winning Formula One Constructors case series he, himself, realised that there was more depth to be explored in the data he had uncovered for the cases. From that further research, he was able to develop and publish flagship journal publications.

Alt text Armand Gilinsky, Professor of Business at Sonoma State University, and current President of NACRA, observes that the field-researched teaching case, by its very nature, straddles the supposed divide of research and teaching: “Writing an excellent teaching case not only enables an author to reach a host of audiences in many lands, but also enables students from diverse backgrounds work together to reach a higher level of understanding.” He emphasises the skill and application involved in producing cases of the highest quality: “To be sure, crafting an excellent teaching case is challenging: a case must be the product of expert field research and superior teaching acumen. A case author shapes a story-line, collects data, and verifies information in order to create a decision focus, and also develops an Instructor's Manual with discussion guidance that is carefully grounded in theory - probably the most challenging aspect of case writing.”

For Michael Netzley, Assistant Professor of Corporate Communication at Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University, the development of both cases and publications emerged as a result of his own unique experience of relocating to Singapore and helping on the project to build a new university. “The most productive first step came from case writing and interviews leading to localised teaching materials. Pedagogical publications submitted to peer reviewed journals have followed, sharing the lessons learned while developing and teaching the materials. Such manuscripts would not have emerged so quickly, or clearly, without the challenge of researching, writing, and testing new case studies in class and receiving feedback. Undoubtedly,” he feels, “the research required to develop both local and current case studies creates opportunities for bettering both teaching and research.” However, the issue of recognition for case writing in institutions which fail to fully grasp this synergy remains a concern. According to Michael Netzley, “Getting senior administration to genuinely value case research, teaching, and then either pedagogical or applied research can be a slow process. We can have the best intentions, create exciting programs, throw money at it and even give awards, but if the senior leadership does not genuinely value such research and fully integrate it into the appraisal and annual review system, then faculty can often be reluctant to pursue this path.”

As the current discussion of how to achieve excellence in both teaching and research becomes more widespread, greater understanding of the synergistic strengths of the case method in this regard are surely set to grow.

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