Case work in the teaching increases student reflection

There is no right way to teach, but there are tools that can create a varied teaching, involve the students, make them think independently and increase their learning. This is the main message of Professor Robert Austin, who recently held a seminar at Aarhus BSS about case-based teaching.

2016.10.28 | Julia Rolsted Stacey

Photo: Julia Rolsted Stacey, Aarhus BSS Communication.

On 3 and 4 October, Professor Robert Austin from Ivey Business School held a seminar for a large group of lecturers from e.g. the Department of Management. Here, the former professor at CBS and Harvard was to teach them how to best employ case methods in their teaching.

Several participants were experienced lecturers, some were less experienced and others had even won awards for their teaching. But they all shared a wish to learn new tools for using case work to make their teaching more varied. And there is a very good reason for this: According to Robert Austin, cases actually contribute to student engagement, which ultimately improves the teaching and not least the students’ learning.

“When students work with cases, they are forced to participate, seek knowledge and find solutions. In other words, they need to think for themselves - rather than just listen to their lecturer. This gives them a much better understanding of the theory and how to use it in practice,” he explains. “In short, students learn the syllabus a lot better when they work intensively with a problem in a case and use the tools that they have acquired through the teaching. At the same time, case work is a really good way of preparing the students for real-life work situations in a future job.”

Cases are for everyone

According to Robert Austin, practically all teachers at Aarhus BSS can apply cases in their teaching. Cases contribute to two of the most important elements in succesful teaching: variation and discussion.

“As a teacher, you really need to alternate between different learning methods in your teaching, and cases represent a good way of ensuring this all-important variation,” says Austin.

He also explains that there are typically no “right or wrong answers” in case work. For this reason, case work represents an excellent starting point for asking the students questions and creates a framework for a class discussion of how best to link the theory to specific situations in companies. According to Associate Professor Lars Esbjerg from the Department of Management, who participated in the seminar, discussions represent a central argument for why lecturers at Danish universities should use case-based teaching:

“Robert Austin knows what it’s like to teach students at Danish universities, and that is very important knowledge in this context,” he says. “Our students are not graded on the basis of their participation in class as they are in say, the US. For this reason, Danish university teachers face a greater challenge of ensuring that our students participate case discussions, for example.”

Three ways to create good case-based teaching according to Robert Austin:

  1. Make sure you alternate between different forms of teaching. Your teaching must be both inductive and deductive and move from the specific to the general and from theory to practice. Case work is a way of ensuring this.
  2. Be aware that case work typically makes your teaching more involving and less predictable. You should always have a plan for your teaching, but also be prepared to accept that the case and the student participation may lead you in a different direction.
  3. Always prepare a set of questions which allow you to link the case to the theory.



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