Training future leaders: The case study method in the classroom

January 31, 2014 • Brandie M. Nonnecke

“In order to make the process of teaching effective it has to have variety…. It must appear in relation to what is going on in the company and the world.”

– Arthur W. Page, 1938.

In 1938, Arthur Page urged public relations practitioners to learn and apply skills of critical judgment in the solution of emerging problems. Today, we can look to Page’s words as a reminder to not only equip our students with technical knowledge but also the skills to apply this knowledge to solve contemporary problems. Case studies can be especially effective at developing students’ abilities to apply concepts and analytical techniques learned in the classroom to better understand and solve complex, real-world problems.

The case study method can improve students’ understanding of course concepts and methods through application and discussion. Case studies typically generate animated in-class discussions where students debate the definitions and applicability of course concepts and appropriate methods to solve the case problem. Through this engagement, students develop critical thinking skills including an understanding of how they can apply these skills to solve real-world problems.

The Arthur W. Page Center offers numerous teaching modules that can be downloaded for free. Case study topics focus on ethical issues in journalism and public relations, and all cases include a student guide and a teacher guide. The student guide provides a description of the learning objectives, activity instructions, needed resources, and discussion questions. The teacher guide includes all materials found in the student guide and also includes answers to the discussion questions, further clarifications, and additional resources.

If you are interested in developing your own teaching case studies, there are five parts that should be included. The mnemonic device “CASES” can be used as a reminder of the five parts:

(1) Concrete learning objectives. Learning objectives should be clearly defined. Clearly defined learning objectives allow students to form a connection between the case study activity and overall course concepts/methods.

(2) Assemble the case study. Case studies can be built from real-world situations or from imagination. It is important that all necessary information is included for students to successfully solve the case problem.

(3) Set up the challenge or activity for the students. The case study should pose a challenge or provide an activity that actively engages students with the material.

(4) Engage students in thought-provoking questions and discussion. Students should be able to openly discuss the case, including the utility of course concepts and methods to solve the case problem.

(5) Student reflection. It is important to reiterate the connection between the case study activity and learning objectives. Students should take time to reflect on the utility of the case study in explaining course concepts/methods.

To further enrich your case study, multimedia material including oral interviews, videos, research studies, and Arthur W. Page speeches are freely available on the Page Center website.