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How do we use Cases?

The case method involves 3 distinct stages of learning that complement and build on one another:

Step 1:  Individual Preparation

At this stage, students read the case and prepare their response.  They apply a problem solving model appropriate to their field of study to the decision outlined in the case and spend time generating and evaluating alternatives, developing their plan of action.  Typically, teachers provide some scaffolding (either a series of questions or a specific problem solving model) to help students approach the issue in a systematic way.  Students can also spend time at this stage gathering information needed to solve the case whether from their course materials or through research.

Step 2:  Small Group Work

At this stage, students get together in small groups to discuss their solutions to the case.  They challenge each other to justify their alternatives and their criteria for evaluating their alternatives, pointing out important details of the case that their peers may have missed.  Each student therefore reinforces and refines his or her solution to the case, developing communication skills and honing his or her problem solving skills. 

Step 3:  Large Group Discussion

At this stage, the class as a whole discuss the case, articulating the important aspects of the situation, the constraints on the decision maker, the alternatives and the criteria used to evaluate those alternatives.  Participants challenge each other to justify their positions and refine their solutions.  The teacher facilitates but allows the students to drive the discussion.  Typically, the class comes to a consensus about the best alternative(s).