Teaching with Cases

Given that students are natural case-based reasoners, how can teaching be arranged to reflect this model of thinking? To help students leverage their ability to reason from cases, teachers must play three roles. Obviously, students cannot reason from cases if they have no cases to begin with. You can't make analogies to the Roman Conquest of England if you never knew about it in the first place. The first role of teachers should be to provide students with applicable cases at the time they are required.

Moreover, students cannot use cases properly unless they know how to label them, and understand what the cases mean to them. We cannot find what we have not properly labeled. To label a case so that we can find it when it's relevant, we need to understand its significance, to see what points it makes. Thus, a label like "Roman Conquest" is less likely to be useful than the label "One of the greatest military blunders of history caused by lack of training." The second role of teachers should be to help students explore and draw out useful generalizations from cases.

To learn a new case, a student must experience an expectation failure. So, the third role of teachers should be to place students in situations in which they will face failure.

This last role sheds a different light on the goal of education. The question that most often guides teaching is: "What is it that we want students to know?" But the in-the-trenches question teachers should ask daily is, "What experiences do we want students to have?"

Next Story The Central Issues of Case-Based Teaching

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