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Vol 1, Issue 03, Aug 2019
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Jamie Rundle is an educator and academic at the Sheffield University Management School, at The University of Sheffield, UK, where he divides his time between teaching strategic management and researching dynamic organizational capabilities.  Jamie is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has been using the case method of teaching for the past ten years. Since 2012, he has been an Executive Committee and Advisory Board member at The Case Centre, UK.  Prior to his academic career, Jamie spent more than fifteen years in the manufacturing sector in operations and supply chain management roles. Jamie's own case writing has focused largely on disaster relief operations and supply chain, cumulating recently in a published paper which draws upon this work to explore the role of customs and humanitarian aid.  Jamie has taught using the case method in his external roles in Norway, Finland, the US and Sri Lanka, and would be delighted to work with other educators to continue this work elsewhere.

Here, Jamie Rundle shares his perspectives on why case method is popular in management education, teaching with cases, the importance of case writing in effective teaching of management subjects, and what makes a good teaching case.

CRC: Why, according to you, is the case method of teaching so popular in Management education?

Jamie: Fundamentally, the case method of learning in management education exposes students to cross-disciplinary business and management scenarios, often based on true and factual circumstances presented specifically to explore the causes and extract solutions from a particular perspective.  Case method of learning forces students to confront the hard reality of ambiguity (often the principal enemy of students), coercing decisions in uncertain circumstances, often where the information is asymmetric, in order to build confidence and develop analytical ability. Cases are therefore important for breaking down the silo-mentality of business and management teaching, where disciplines might be treated as separate entities often divorced from one another.  The reality of business and management, of course, is very different.

CRC: What is your experience with teaching with the case method so far?

Jamie: Case method of learning is one of the most rewarding experiences for both the students and the educator, but this comes at a price.  That is, effective case teaching requires careful and thorough preparation by the educator in order to select an appropriate case and orchestrate a meaningful discussion which meets your learning objectives.  And, preparation by the students to ensure meaningful participation.  The case study creates a simulated environment and, as with any live performance, all the participants need to be prepared.  In an executive or MBA setting, orchestrating the discussion means drawing upon the wide-ranging knowledge and experience of the students and responding to a constantly evolving, dynamic discussion.  The case method done well, in my experience, is the most collegiate of learning styles, in which the entire class (including the educator) should be ready to embrace a discussion which can take various paths. However, it is the essential role of the educator to ensure those paths serve the objectives set, or face the very real risk the activity collapsing.

CRC: Please share with us your experience of using case method with undergraduate students?

Jamie: Historically, much of the focus on case teaching tends to be on (post-experience) executive education and MBA classes.  However, teaching a class of (pre-experience) undergraduate students by using the case method means different challenges, but is certainly no-less-rewarding.  In fact, in my experience, the array of ideas and discussion derived from undergraduates is not usually inhibited by previous industry experience, allowing instead for theory-driven suggestions and fresh-thinking.  However, two related and salient learning points I’d like to share are, firstly, select your case carefully.  Undergraduate students are often asked to read materials where the relevance is not immediately apparent, or may be dated, and so can quickly be turned off by poor case choice too.  Is it necessary, for example, to always teach undergraduates about c-suite problems?  And secondly, manage expectations.  There may not always be an ‘a-ha’ moment, or a gripping twist in the case, and it may not feature a ‘big hero’ or heroine who ‘saves the day’ with some ‘deus ex machina’ breakthrough innovation moment.  But, it is likely that your undergraduates are going to face a dilemma at some stage, which requires - let’s face it - tedious, analytical and time-consuming thinking to be done. Why not give them a taste of it now, with a case designed for that purpose?

CRC: How important is case writing to effective teaching of Management subjects?

Jamie: Case writing is a critical element in the effective teaching of management subjects and the long history of case teaching at some of the world’s leading schools illustrates this.  However, the challenges faced by educators today regarding relevance and new ways of consuming information have forced us to ask whether the vehicle for disseminating case scenarios is necessarily the best one.  It’s no longer realistic to assume that one-size-fits-all, or that every scenario proposed in a case should be written and explored using the same format (i.e., “ the chief executive spun around in his chair and pondered the problem”).  As Maslow famously said, “it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail”.  Therefore,  the way in which cases are written needs to meet the needs of that case for an audience today (and tomorrow).  What theories are they learning?  What examples of practice do they follow? Where will they look for information? And what is the context in which they live?

CRC: Tell us, what according to you, makes a good teaching case?

Jamie: For me, there are two equally critical elements to a good teaching case: Firstly, an excellent teaching note; and secondly, relevance.  The teaching note is the heart that pumps the blood of the case, providing the crucial elements to the educators to bring the information to life and setting the scene.  Every case has a bigger back-story (i.e., the context, history and other related factors) which is not necessary (or possible) to include in the main case, but is important to support the educator teaching your case, perhaps on the other side of the world.  The teaching note allows an educator to construct a scaffold in which to teach from, enabling them to introduce a degree of messiness and ambiguity.  Relevance is critical, no matter how interesting a case may be (and there are a lot of very interesting cases available), if it does not meet the objectives of the learners then there is little point in delivering it.  Rarely are the problems articulated in a good case solved by applying simple, linear solutions, but a relevant case can bear the purposeful messiness and ambiguity necessary to ensure learners explore all the angles.

CRC: Anything else you would like to say:

Jamie: Plan for the unexpected. Cases may have clear directions and instructions, which are enormously helpful, but students’ ideas can take all kinds of directions, some useful, and others not-so. You have to unbundle these ideas and look for the relevance from others’ perspectives.  As an educator, also consider feeding your ideas back to the case authors in order to develop the cases over time.  Case writing, in my view, is a community that works to support one another.

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