What is the “Case Method”?

Teaching using case studies has typically been used in Business Schools, Law Schools, and Medical Schools but it is a technique being used by other disciplines to provide exposure to complex real world problems for which there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. At Waterloo, cases have been used in disciplines including Engineering, Biology, Accounting, Social Work, Environment and Business, English and others.

The traditional “Case Method” used in Business Schools involves a three stage process where:

  1. students are given the case and asked to work on it individually to come up with a recommendation or course of action (done outside of class time). The key here is for students to be able to justify and support their choices or decisions.
  2. students meet in small groups of 4 or 5 to discuss the case and their recommendations (done outside of class time) – the objective here is to share perspectives, not come to a consensus as a group
  3. the case is discussed in class with the entire class with the Professor acting as a facilitator to guide discussion.

The amount of learning increases over each stage with exposure to different perspectives.

Learning using the Case Method

While this is the typical method used in MBA programs where cases are used in most courses, it can be modified and adapted. For instance, students can read the case and prepare before class and class time can be used for small group discussion and then discussing the case as a large group (i.e. the entire class). It is important to communicate expectations to students about coming to class prepared as the quality of discussion depends on proper preparation. One technique to encourage students to prepare is to give them questions about the case to answer and submit before class begins.

These techniques of using small group work for peer teaching (i.e. small group work to share perspectives) and facilitating a discussion with the entire class can be adapted and used for other contexts than just cases.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Case Method or using cases in your course, contact Scott Anderson in the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Waterloo Cases in Design Engineering also writes and supports the use of cases in Engineering courses.


Erskine, J., Leenders, M., and Mauffette-Leenders, L. (2012). Learning with Cases, 4th Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Erskine, J., Leenders, M., and Mauffette-Leenders, L. (2003). Teaching with Cases, 3rd Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Mauffette-Leenders, L., Erskine, J. and Leenders, M. (2001) Writing Cases, 4th Edition, Ivey Publication Services, Richard Ivey School of Business, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.

Peeking Behind the Campus Curtains: Learning Through Leadership — Fahd Munir, CTE Coop Student

blog picImagine a university experience without clubs, teams, or leadership opportunities. While academic achievement is important, many other campus opportunities provide chances to get involved in other aspects of university life. Going to class is usually the number one priority; however, that does not and should not make it the only priority. This idea of getting involved with campus life as a student leader is something I learned in my first year living at the Ron Eydt Village residence at the University of Waterloo.

When September rolls around, the campus is filled with promotions from the various student clubs, teams, and services offering leadership opportunities. So why get involved?  Why take on leadership opportunities at all?

Signing up for clubs and attending meetings sounds a bit overwhelming, especially with midterms, assignments, readings and finals all term long. This being said, once you dip your toe into the extra-curricular pool you see how easy it really can be! There are plenty of opportunities across campus that student leaders can utilize to refine their learning style.

Any first year undergraduate student can tell you about the challenge of making new friends in class. Most students are too focussed on lecture content to care what you have to say, and when you are finally able to strike up a conversation with someone, you don’t see them again in that same spot next class.  University is always a good place to find a common-ground with students who share similar interests. So how do you find these students if not in class?

One of the most comforting things to know as an undergraduate student is that there are students in my class that can be helpful if I miss a lecture due to illness or an interview. Not every student has the luxury in their first year to have a residence floor where making friends is as simple as saying hello every morning. Assembling study groups with the students in your residence is crucial to learning how to learn in a new environment away from home. Every student has a different mode of learning, so understanding what works on an individual basis is the best way to achieve academic success.

If you talk to any successful upper-year university student on campus they will tell you the same thing: they didn’t get to where they are alone – they needed the people around them to help put them in a position where they could succeed and learn more effectively. Study groups that may not have been as effective back in high school become much more constructive and useful around exam times. One of the most satisfying rewards that study groups or extra-curricular involvement provides is the chance to bounce ideas off of other students.

The Federation of Students(FEDS) works with services and clubs on campus that specialize in academics, religion, environment, politics, business, health, and everything in between. Learning is not limited to these types of clubs; it can also become easier by involvement in intramural sports, fitness classes and sports team. With all of these different ways to meet other students it was really up to me to pick what I felt best lined up with my interests.

So now that we have established the presence of opportunities on campus, the question becomes: do the new friends you meet outside of class help or hinder your learning? In other words, is student leadership a hindrance or a supplement to learning? Experiential learning is one of the pillars of the University of Waterloo’s strategic plan, especially with the emphasis on co-operative education for many students. Experiential learning, through club and service experiences, allows students with similar academic and employment aspirations to interact. This is beneficial to learning because it allows both students to gain a new perspective and discuss concepts more openly. See the Centre for Teaching Excellence blog written by Katherine Lithgow called “Providing Authentic Learning Experiences” for more information about experiential learning.

My own involvement with the Campus Response Team (CRT), which is composed of undergraduate students from all of the different faculties, shows how getting involved with other undergraduate students enhances one’s learning.  The bonds that I have made during my previous two terms volunteering have given me an outlet to ask for advice from the older students, as well as the opportunity to make some great friends to spend time with outside of classes. So how does this experience make me a better learner? Not only has the CRT boosted my confidence during a medical response, but it has helped reinforce important soft skills such as communication, teamwork and project management. CRT has also given me an opportunity to discuss academic interests, course content, lab experiments and instructor teaching styles with my fellow undergraduate students.

Clubs, services and teams help you obtain the soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and academic environment. The soft skills are transferable to different areas of learning, such as study habits at work or on campus. Learning how to communicate better can lead to setting up a study group which can actually lead to more success in academic work. Joining an intramural team on campus can be the perfect way to alleviate the stress that gets built up from assignments and exams. Without this burden of stress, students can learn freely and absorb knowledge better. Professional schools and graduate student programs in Canada are becoming more competitive, so it is important to be well-rounded through leadership experience.

Being a leader on campus is about more than just résumé building; rather, it’s about applying effective leadership qualities to the academic learning environment such as on a co-operative work term. Leadership opens the door for self-discovery, but it requires that we check behind the scenes of campus life to do so. So the next time the club fair rolls around, use it as an opportunity to sneak a peek behind the campus curtains.  What you notice might actually surprise you!

Using “Transit Questions” in place-based pedagogy – Trevor Holmes

I love being in the classroom, whether it’s large or small, whether I’m officially the teacher or the learner. But I also love getting out of the classroom. Some of the most powerful experiences in my own learning and my own teaching have been observing, interacting, and reflecting in spaces other than lecture halls and seminar rooms. Some time ago, I wrote about place-based pedagogy (with some suggested reading) and gave the example of a workshop for the Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) conference at Thompson Rivers University. Since then, I have continued to use what previously I hadn’t a name for in my own cultural studies course — the field observations and intellectual response papers, the spontaneous “field trips” out into parts of campus to apply concepts, the incorporation of people’s experiences into the framework of the course.

Today’s post is about a small piece of the place-based learning experience I had at the EDC conference, a piece that I’m considering using with my own learners when they do their field observations. To date, I’ve supplied them with reflection questions and notetaking guides for the site visits. I’ve used the online quiz tool in the learning management system to ask “prime the pump” journal questions. But I’ve never yet tried the “transit question” approach. Transit questions were thought-triggering questions handed out just before traveling to the field sites in Kamloops. There were, to my recollection, four different cue cards and each pair of people received one or two cue cards. The idea was that the question on the front (and maybe there was one on the back) would ready us for what we were about to see by asking us about related prior experience with X, or what we expect to find when we get to X, or how is X usually structured. The idea was to talk to our partners about the questions and answer them informally as we made our way to the sites (which took 10-20 minutes to get to).

Photograph of two people in Iceland
Photo of two people in Iceland. Source: Karlbark’s Fotothing stream (shared under CC license)

I can imagine transit questions for pairs that would be suitable for my course too. However, we don’t always have pairs (sometimes small groups, sometimes solitary learners going to a space in their hometown, and so on). I can easily adapt the idea for solo use, though clearly I wouldn’t want someone to be taking notes in response to the prompt while, say, driving!

If we do the field trip to Laurel Creek Conservation area again to test ideas found in Jody Baker’s article about Algonquin Park and the Canadian imaginary, I’ll be using transit questions for the bus ride for sure. With other observations I will have to think about how to adapt the idea. Choosing the right question or questions seems to be important, and offering space to jot notes for those who don’t want to start talking immediately. I’d strongly encourage this approach when you know people will be traveling somewhere for the course by bus, or by foot/assistive device. I can imagine that there are lots of opportunities to do this (and it’s likely already done) in disciplines as varied as geography, planning, fine art, architecture, biology, geosciences, accounting, anthropology, and many others. I’m thinking it would be great if they could pull questions from a question bank to their phones or other devices en route as well… the possibilities!

Transit questions on the way to field sites helped to ready me and my partner for what we’d be looking at, to reflect on the implications of our mini-field trip, and to connect our histories to the present task. I recommend them wholeheartedly.

Beginnings – Trevor Holmes

I’m not ready for this. I need a longer break! My first class is this week — I have a reprieve until Friday at 10:00, so my apologies to those who had to begin at 8:30 this morning!

As we enter 2011 we face an unprecedented level of distraction. Over the weekend, a few things came together for me as I was socializing (online and in person) and simultaneously thinking about my first lecture. At a friend’s house, we were talking about Millennials — the people born since 1982 or so who have been coming of age in the new millennium — and how (even for us, a Gen X and a Boomer) it seems impossible to have slower time for reflection and focus. The next day, someone passed along an article about the ways in which English literature departments have lost the plot. Both moments are very present in my mind as I plan the first lecture of a Cultural Studies course (a course that could be seen as one big pile of distractions, and that’s one of the kinder things said about the discipline!). Continue reading Beginnings – Trevor Holmes

A Peer Teaching Model for Senior Students

In my role as the CTE Liaison for the Faculty of Engineering, part of my job is to assist professors by providing pedagogical advice. This task requires some research from my side in addition to my experience as an engineering student Continue reading A Peer Teaching Model for Senior Students

Learning Through Peer Discussion – Mary Power

discuss-copy It seems intuitive that group discussion can enhance the learning experience. We (or at least I do anyway) almost often think of discussions occurring among a small group of individuals. Yet there is a growing body of research evidence indicating that discussion based collaborative learning is a powerful tool that can be used even in large class situations. Continue reading Learning Through Peer Discussion – Mary Power