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The case study method

A case study is a teaching tool that shows the application of disciplinary information to real situations. Cases can be fact-driven with a correct answer, or they can be context driven where multiple solutions are possible.  Since cases are used to promote deeper understanding, the best cases require students to problem-solve and apply disciplinary material.

In the case study method, the instructor first gives disciplinary information, usually by lecturing. The case study follows, accompanied by a series of questions or tasks based on the course outcomes/objectives. The case study is accompanied by a series of questions or tasks based on the course outcomes/objectives.  The questions or tasks can be solved by the individual student or by students working in groups.

Instructors can create their own cases or can find cases that already exist. Whether creating your own case or finding a case, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • What are the learning objectives for the case?
  • What must students know prior to solving the case?
  • Will students need to perform additional research to solve the case?
  • What directions will you need to give students when using this method?
  • How much time will the case take?
  • How will you evaluate the students’ performance?
  • Will students work in groups or individually?
  • If students work in groups, will you monitor performance of individual group members?  If so, how?

Cases need not be written.  Cases can be in the form of a video clip, newspaper article, journal article, or a piece of music or other art.  No matter the media, the case study must be thoughtfully constructed to:

  • incorporate a defined set of learning objectives
  • give clear instructions to students
  • fit strategically into the course
  • evaluate the student’s performance using a clear set of standards.

How do you go about writing a case?

  • Identify your learning objectives.
  • Identify what course objectives relate to your learning objectives.
  • Create your case by:
    • Thinking back to your disciplinary experience.  Is there anything in your disciplinary experience related to the learning and course objectives?  Write that experience as your case, modifying as necessary to meet your objectives.
    • If you don’t have disciplinary experience matching your objectives, speak with others in your discipline that might.
    • Use a case study found these websites:
    • After the case is written, ask a colleague, former student, or graduate assistant to review the case to determine if it fits your objectives, is clear, and you have given the student enough support to complete the task.

Need more information?

See these websites:

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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