Sunday, June 8, 2008

Creative Learning by Case Studies

Further in the series on creative things happening in theological education, Ross Langmead, musician and missiologist at Whitley College, Melbourne writes:

“In addition to the use of debates, role plays and simulation games, I am now using a case study in every lecture. I do this to help focus the topic, get students grappling with specifics and illustrate the method of practical theology, that is, reflection on specific mission situations.”

“In our ministerial training unit DP260.30 Theological Reflection for Ministry, the year long unit is taught completely in three-week-long case studies, with the first week given to outlining the case and eliciting from students the central issues, the second week given to some theological input (perhaps using experts in biblical studies or systematic theology or whatever) and the third given to detailed discussion by students according to guidelines and their written assignments.”

Harvard Practice
The Harvard Business School (HBS), which claims to have pioneered learning by the case study method, makes this pitch for learning by case studies:

“We believe that the case method is by far the most powerful way to learn the skills required to manage, and to lead.”


“The case method forces students to grapple with exactly the kinds of decisions and dilemmas managers confront every day. In doing so, it redefines the traditional educational dynamic in which the professor dispenses knowledge and students passively receive it. The case method creates a classroom in which students succeed not by simply absorbing facts and theories, but also by exercising the skills of leadership and teamwork in the face of real problems. Under the skilful guidance of a faculty member, they work together to analyze and synthesize conflicting data and points of view, to define and prioritize goals, to persuade and inspire others who think differently, to make tough decisions with uncertain information, and to seize opportunity in the face of doubt.”

“Pioneered by HBS faculty in the 1920s, the case method began as a way of importing slices of business reality into the classroom in order to breathe life and instil greater meaning into the lessons of management education. Today, although we also make use of lectures, simulations, fieldwork, and other forms of teaching as appropriate, more than 80 percent of HBS classes are built on the case method.”

While the Harvard statement relates specifically to the learning of leadership and management it is applicable to other disciplines. Other Harvard information addresses these subjects:
What is an HBS Case?
How does the case method work?
Learning from one another
Why is peer learning so important?
The role of faculty
Is the case method effective?

Dr. Geoff Pound



Image: Ross Langmead; Harvard class works with a case.