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Back to Newsletter Vol 2, Issue 04, Nov 2020
Prof. Rebecca Morris
Professor of Strategic and International Management and Chair, Economics and Management Department at Westfield State University

Rebecca Morris is a Professor of Strategic and International Management and Chair of the Economics and Management department at Westfield State University in Westfield, Massachusetts USA. Rebecca has served as the Editor-in-Chief of The CASE Journal since 2016.

She has published cases in the Case Research Journal, the Business Case Journal and The CASE Journal. Her cases on Nucor Steel, Nike and Kodak have appeared in dozens of management textbooks.

Rebecca is Past-President of the North American Case Research Association (NACRA) and was inducted as a NACRA Fellow in 2014. She has also served as President of The CASE Association (CASE) and became a Fellow in that organization in 2016. Currently, Rebecca conducts active case writing sessions in the US and Europe (Compact Case Hackathons) to develop new case writers.

She also writes an editorial letter for each issue of The CASE Journal focusing on case research, case writing, and case teaching.

The most recent editorial letters have addressed responding to reviewers, case ideation, fictionalized versus research-based cases, the impact of case journals and others. These editorials can be found at: https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/ journal/tcj/tcj-editorials.

A book on the writing, research and teaching of Compact Cases is forthcoming.

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

Rebecca Morris: Cases provide a learning environment that allows students to tackle wicked problems without harming actual organizations. Students are able to put themselves in the role of the decision maker to address the real issues confronting a firm and to make decisions about what the firm should do. These decisions do not endanger the firm in any way, but give the students practice in addressing situations with multiple stakeholders with conflicting values, competitive challenges, ethical dilemmas, or interpersonal dramas that are very similar to situations they may encounter in their careers. Cases help students flex their critical thinking muscles in the safety of the classroom. Cases also expose students to a wide variety of organizations in many different industries. Students gain insights into the workings of different firms and industries that may be useful as they seek post-graduate employment.

JIC: You have years of experience in writing cases, teaching with cases, and mentoring other teachers on the case method. Please share with us your experience.

Rebecca Morris: OAs an instructor in strategic management and international management, I taught with cases many years before I attempted to write my first case. At the time, my institution did not recognize published cases as valid scholarly outputs, so I did not write my first case until I had submitted my materials for tenure. I had met the CEO of Nucor Steel when he spoke on campus and decided to write about the company for my first case. Imagine my surprise when I phoned him to ask a few questions and he answered my call without any intermediaries. I almost threw the phone across the room due to my astonishment! I submitted the case to the North American Case Research Association’s annual meeting and was delighted when it was accepted for presentation.

The case roundtable workshop used by NACRA was new to me and I loved the collegial way that participants provided constructive feedback on my case and welcomed my feedback on their cases. The case writing community was welcoming and genuinely wanted to help newcomers learn the craft of case writing and publication. I resolved then that my scholarly work going forward would only be related to cases and I have stuck to that resolution. I served as a track chair for NACRA meetings and eventually was elected NACRA President. I then became involved in The CASE Association and became CASE President. I was then offered the Editor-in-Chief position of The CASE Journal. I consulted with several case writing colleagues and former journal editors before accepting the offer. One of my friends and former editor of The Case Research Journal told me that serving as journal editor would provide me with the opportunity to mentor and assist in the development of new case writers. I looked at it as a way of repaying many NACRA and CASE friends who had mentored me.

I continue to be energized by case research and writing. Participating in a case conference triggers ideas for new cases and I welcome the opportunity to think about how I might present information to students more effectively or how I might teach a case to maximize student learning. Case writing has been an important part of my career and I value the many friends I have made in my case writing journey.

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

Rebecca Morris: Case writing is one of the most effective ways to bridge the gap between the ivory tower and management practice. This is important in teaching as it promotes student engagement in learning. Students often have difficulty understanding how theoretical concepts apply in different contexts. Case writers learn to make and articulate the connection between theoretical concepts and practice in the real world as they write the instructor’s manuals that accompany the case. Because instructor’s manuals are peer-reviewed at most journals and because the instructor’s manual is considered the scholarly contribution of cases, reviewers hold case writers accountable for explicitly linking the happenings in the case to relevant and current theories. Case writers gain important practice in making the linkage between theory and practice and can facilitate case discussion to enable students to realize that connection. In my experience, the best case writers have often won awards for effective teaching. I am not sure of the causality, but suspect that focusing on case pedagogy when writing an instructor’s manual inspires good teaching in the classroom.

JIC: You are the Editor of The CASE Journal. Tell us about your Journal? What role does Journals such as the TCJ play in management education?

Rebecca Morris: The CASE Journal (TCJ) is the official journal of The CASE Association and is published by Emerald Publishing Group in the UK. Started in 2004 as an online journal, The CASE Journal publishes six issues each year. We publish teaching cases in both traditional (like Harvard style cases), Compact Cases (short cases of 1,000 words or less) forms. We also publish industry notes and articles about case research, case writing or case teaching. We use a double-blind, peer review process that is developmental. This means that we work with an author through several rounds of revisions to bring the case and instructor’s manual up to our standards rather than to summarily reject it. The CASE Journal is indexed in Scopus and is one of the few case journals to be included in this index.

The value proposition for TCJ can be summed up as “TCJ publishes high quality peer-reviewed and classroom-tested teaching cases that provide superior support for instructors.” TCJ is distinguished from other case journals in that 100% of all published cases include an instructor’s manual that enable adopting instructors to teach a TCJ case as effectively as the case authors.

Our editorial policies have changed to meet the needs of contemporary instructors and students. We understand that many institutions are utilizing more adjunct instructors who are new to case pedagogy. Teaching tips, background readings, videoclips and sound teaching plans in TCJ instructor’s manuals prepare those new to case teaching to facilitate effective case discussions whether online or in face to face classes. Our Compact Cases are designed to promote active student engagement in case discussions. Designed to be read in only 15 minutes, Compact Cases ensure that students come to class prepared to discuss the issues and challenges described in the case. While this helps the instructor significantly, it also improves student learning substantially. Well prepared students can debate case issues and develop creative solutions where unprepared students cannot contribute to either analysis or discussion.

JIC: What role does cases in new innovative formats (graphic novel, video, etc. as compared to the more regular text-heavy Harvard style cases) play in Management Education? How can they improve case teaching effectiveness?

Rebecca Morris: Cases have not changed much since the Harvard Business School first began using them almost 100 years ago. Our students, however, have changed significantly in the last 100 years. Many instructors report that it is becoming more difficult to use cases in their teaching because many students come to class unprepared. Unprepared students cannot contribute to case discussion and often do not achieve the desired learning outcomes. Accustomed to television shows, social media and video games, many contemporary students have attention spans that do not last more than 10 to 20 minutes. Students find traditional cases a burdensome chore to read and become disengaged with the case method. Case pedagogy does not achieve the desired learning objectives if students do not read the cases or engage in the analysis and debate of case issues.

If case writers care about our students’ learning, we must find ways to make cases more compelling for our students. Shorter cases and new case forms such as graphic novels are some of the ways case writers are trying to make cases more exciting and engaging for students in 2020. Innovations in case formats may better meet the needs of our students and provide for better learning outcomes. As with most advances, some of our experiments with case formats will prove extremely successful while others will fail. It is important that we try to continuously improve upon case pedagogy—keeping those parts that add value and discarding conventions that no longer serve our students well.

Technological innovations have also changed the way students engage with learning materials. Online case materials can include color photographs, embedded video clips or other multimedia materials that enrich and enliven the case for visual learners. Video interviews with case protagonists can reveal more about her personality, priorities and interests than we might get from reading a printed quote. Dynamic maps and interactive graphics allow students to dig deeper into case data to develop essential insights into case issues. Well designed case exhibits provide students with exemplars in effectively presenting data that can be valuable in their careers. We no longer expect students to read from parchment scrolls or perform calculations by scratching figures in the dirt. It is time to embrace new technologies to find ways to present case information that is more compelling and engaging for students.

Prof. Rebecca on IBS Case Research Center
I am impressed with the case writing resources provided by the IBS Case Research Center and the search capabilities of the website. The IBS Case Research Center makes it easy for adopting instructors to quickly locate cases through searches by course, type or language.  What a great resource!

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