Case Studies | Saving the case via a time warp
Case discussions take time. Written exercises can help your students succeed.
In 2000, the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy published a guide for professors looking to bring the case study method to their classroom, called “The ABCs of Case Teaching.” Prepared by Vicki L. Golich, Mark Boyer, Patrice Franko, and Steve Lamy — all pioneers in the case study field — the guide presented a comprehensive assessment of how professors can systematically deploy the case study method in their classroom.
In the fourth part of our series spotlighting the book’s key insights, we look at how to save the case when time doesn’t seem to be on your side.
Oftentimes, our efforts to organize a course around readings and cases lead to the mismanagement of instructional time — a fancy way of saying that case instructors run out of time in the middle of things.
As instructors, we consistently underestimate the amount of time needed to carry out a full case discussion and overestimate the amount of content we can cover in a single session. The result is a truncated discussion, with a radical foreshortening of the crucial final phase of the session, when students summarize, consolidate, and reflect upon what they have learned. This is the pedagogical equivalent of a joke ended before the punchline.
The result is a truncated discussion, with a radical foreshortening of the crucial final phase when the class summarizes, consolidates, and reflects upon what was learned.
If a discussion gets away from a case teacher, a written wrap-up may be an effective remedy. With three minutes left of a class, it can be difficult for a case teacher to touch on all the themes they would like to reflect on, or make all the connections to broader theoretical perspectives that they think are important. In these cases, instructors should ask students to complete the reflection task in a quick written exercise. Then, to summarize students’ contributions, the instructor should prepare a handout that responds to some of these themes, for distribution during the next class.
Alternatively, the instructor can use a learning management system like Canvas, or an email discussion, to continue the conversation. This turns the negative of the time warp into a positive exercise in continuing dialogue outside the classroom.
In the online environment, where most case instructors have spent the last thirteen months of the pandemic, a written discussion board is a particularly effective way to save the case and capture student progress once the main class session is over. Tech challenges and timezones can limit students’ ability to participate in synchronous, lively discussions. Indeed, in an environment where many of us are experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” an activity outside class may actually be more effective than a verbal discussion in maximizing student engagement.
Google Docs provide a potential solution. Because Google Docs — shared documents that multiple people can access simultaneously— sync automatically and in real time, they enable live interaction for students outside the regular class schedule. Synchronous and asynchronous discussion boards allow students to engage with one another in writing in an organic way. If you miss the chance to talk about the details of the case or its implications during class, a Google Doc discussion is a way around the problem.
Read more: 4 steps to run a Google Docs discussion in your international affairs course.
Watch our September 2020 webinar on teaching with case studies in the online classroom:
Explore more ISD resources on how to use case studies successfully.
In the long run
As an instructor, you should also reflect on classes where you run out of time to complete a planned in-class discussion. First, diagnose the problem:
- Did you try to do too much, or was it just a bad teaching day?
- What were the teaching objectives? Were they too broad or involved for their respective audience?
If the failure was less in planning and more in execution, you should try to identify the crucial turning point(s) where time ran away. Would an intervention such as, “This is very exciting material here — but we need to move on to another aspect of this problem” have worked?
Also remember that just because you ran out of time as the instructor, it does not mean that the class was not productive. Perhaps the students took over and ran down a fruitful but different path from the one you had originally planned. When that happens, a written post-class exercise might be the best way to save the case.
Read more in the series: