Department of Business Administration

Lund University School of Economics and Management

How case method teaching spreads from one lecturer to another

Published: 2019-05-16

From internal training courses for university lecturers in which the participants take a deep dive into case method teaching, to dedicated conferences and competitions. The alternatives to traditional classroom teaching are increasing and one of them is known as case method teaching, with stories based on real situations which students must solve in collaboration.

A classroom, with some people raising their hands in question, one woman smiling. Photo.

April 2019 was high season for case method teaching at the School of Economics and Management and Lund University.

Tuesday lunchtime. The discussion is lively from the outset. As a lecturer, how do you improvise if you have a case that doesn’t work? How do you manage students who become good at solving cases, rather than at the subject itself? These were among the questions, proposed answers and reflections from students and teaching staff on the course “How to teach with cases” in which the participants are usually university lecturers.

“We have heard that some lecturers are quite wary of teaching with cases. You feel secure behind your PowerPoint presentation. In other words, you need to feel secure with your case and what you need to consider from a purely practical perspective,” says Ola Mattisson, one of the lecturers on the course.

This year’s training course got underway at the end of March, with participants from several departments at the School of Economics and Management. The course is offered when needed by lecturers in business administration via AHU and is open to teaching staff from all over the University.

The aim of the course is to offer educators the opportunity to see how they could use case studies in their own teaching. There are many different forms of cases, but they are generally based on a written real-life problem with facts, data and several possible solutions, developed for a specific teaching purpose. The students are advised first to figure things out for themselves, then to discuss the case with each other to develop and test their arguments and proposed solutions to what they perceive to be the central problem.

From abstract theories to concrete decisions

“This enables us to go from abstract theories to concrete decisions. Cases that are written to illustrate concepts or problems make the penny drop for the students. They gain insight into the fact that the theories can be applied in practice,” says Ulf Ramberg.

Together with Ola Mattisson, he is running the spring case courses for lecturers, with contributions from visiting lecturers from the Faculty of Engineering, among others. He explains that the course provides all participants with the opportunity for a conversation about learning.

“We seldom have time to talk about how we work with learning in our classrooms. Here, we get a chance to engage in a collegial discussion in which we learn from one another. We have a lot in common, even though we teach different subjects. I also want to emphasise that case studies in particular are not the only possible successful teaching method; the learning outcomes of course must determine what is most appropriate.”

Wednesday evening. For three intensive evenings, the Tegstam room at the School of Economics and Management has been transformed and changed shape. The room is indeed specifically designed for case teaching, but during these days in April, a group of students has been confronted with difficult decisions and challenges. It is time for the second edition of the LUSEM Case Competition and the competing teams have three hours per evening to solve tricky reality-based cases.

“On Monday, I didn’t know anything about case competitions,” says Master’s student Torben Weber.

Three hours later, his team has taken home the second prize in the competition.

Learning by doing

For several years, students and teaching staff from the School of Economics and Management have taken part in Swedish and international case competitions. In January, the LUSEM team achieved a prestigious second place in the John Molson MBA International Case Competition in the US and, in April, LUSEM hosted its own competition in Lund. The competing student teams got to tackle thorny dilemmas such as: “Should Google compromise its core values to establish itself on the Chinese market?” One hour after the case had been presented to the participants, they stood up on stage to explain their strategies.

“This really is learning by doing. You can read about management in a book, but in order to really learn you need to go deeper and practise,” says the initiator of the competition, Mats Urde, during the final round.

“These kinds of open-ended cases are interesting. I believe we will all continue to follow the developments around Google and China with great excitement!”

Thursday afternoon. Thirty educators interested in activity-based learning from several of the faculties at Lund University are playing a game together. It is LU Case Day and the Faculty of Engineering, together with the School of Economics and Management and the Faculty of Medicine, have invited participants in the Lund University Case Academy network (LUCA) to a full-day conference on the theme of active learning and gamification.

“We must ask ourselves what we want to achieve by using cases and games in our teaching. We shouldn’t simply adopt trends, we may need to ponder where we want to be in the future as a higher education institution,” says Joakim Kembro, senior lecturer in logistics at the Faculty of Engineering and one of the organisers of this year’s LU Case Day.

The conference practised what it preached and kicked off with a few hours – more or less – of role playing, in which the participants took part in a simulation of a company set-up. The room at the Engineering Students’ Union building was buzzing as soon as the game leaders had explained the terms. Each table of students represents the management of a company. How much should they invest in marketing? On what market? Step by step, the participants are then guided forward to see how their reasoning stands up to that of the other groups.

“What we are doing now in the game is a process for decision-making. It is about cooperation and it is something that we may all need to think about, regardless of which subject we are teaching,” says Joakim Kembro.

Diskussion kring ett bord. Foto.

The last course session for “How to teach with cases” is on 13 June. By then, the participants will have received sufficient input to have pondered how they could use cases in their own teaching. One of those who previously attended the parallel course, “How to write cases” (starting on 7 May), is the doctoral student in entrepreneurship Tanya Kolyaka. There she laid the foundation for a case of her own, “Pulling by Bootstraps: financing the growth of Green Engineering” which she has since then revised, used in teaching, published – and won a prize for.

“It was very rewarding to attend the course. We were a small group of four or five participants and the lecturers have an enormous experience of case teaching. There was plenty of time for discussion and we could address particular issues in depth and received useful and detailed feedback on everything.”

Tanya Kolyaka sees cases specifically as the perfect way for students in entrepreneurship to understand and learn the theories.

“I am an entrepreneur myself and I initially questioned the notion of how to teach entrepreneurship. You have to experience it! But then it occurred to me that theory and practice belong together, and here at the School of Economics and Management, we have such good conditions, with Ideon right next door. There is so much we can learn from the companies that are our neighbours.”

About LUM

This article was first published and distributed through the LUM newsletter.

The first edition of Lund University Magazine – LUM – was published 1968. Today, the magazine reaches all employees and almost as many outside the university. The paper magazine comes six times a year, and between the magazines a newsletter from LUM arrives.

Facts on the case method

The case method was introduced as early as the 1870s at Harvard Law School and subsequently at Harvard Business School. The case method is currently used all over the world and it has developed into a number of different variations. The fundamental principle is that the students are to prepare individually and then work in teams, often of four or five in each group. Just as they will have to do in real life in their future professions, they must tackle complex problems for which there are several possible solutions. The case method activates, engages and generates curiosity in the students while enabling a structured learning process with lectures, group work and shared teacher-led seminars.