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Case Studies

by Daryl Taylor djtaylor@paccd.cc.ca.us

cartoon of Sherlock HolmesCase studies are examination, analysis and study of one problem or issue through extended scenarios and examples.  Their purpose is the application of class topics and text concepts to real world settings through the use of case studies.


  • Students become the center of the class activity
  • The Instructor steps out of the way to observe and assist
  • Students become actors
  • Students process and synthesize topics and ideas
  • Sparks a more open and eased class environment
  • Students develop presentation, oral, interpersonal, and negotiation skills
  • Students enjoy interacting with each other.

drawing of business people gathering around a computer

Methods of Implementation:

Establish Groups:  Before the case study activity begins, a group activity should be completed in order to get the class comfortable working in groups and to assist the instructor in establishing group member roles and expected group performance.

Sample activity

Objective - Learn name, birthplace and favorite cartoon character of each member of your group.

  • Divide class into groups of four
  • Have group appoint a recorder to write down the information
  • Have group appoint a presenter to present the information to the class
  • Have group appoint a timer for the activity
  • Set ten minutes for duration of the activity
  • Make sure class is clear on the objectives
  • Walk around the class to observe the activity and answer questions.


  • Students are more familiar with one another
  • A group activity has been performed
  • Basics of group member roles are being set up
  • Groups learn to perform under time constraints.

Establish Group Activity: 

    • Ground Rules:  To reduce confusion, have the activity clearly defined
    • Objective: State the goal of the activity
    • Outcome:  State the expected outcome of the activity
    • Group size: Establish group size
    • Duration:  Establish time duration of activity.  The time may be a few minutes of class, or a project of a few weeks
    • Member Roles: Set up the role responsibilities of the group members
    • Availability: Be available for student questions.

Group Size/Composition

Group Size can vary from the entire class to groups of two.  The whole class can have the objective of solving one problem during one class meeting.  I have found groups of 3-6 students perform best for case studies. Larger groups allow some students to kick back and skate. Smaller groups don’t allow for good group dynamics.

For case activities of longer duration, be aware of larger groups because there is a risk of students dropping the class. Groups of 3 or 4 may work better.

Group Composition can be used as a tool for experimenting with group diversity and group homogeneity. It is interesting to see how groups of the same gender, ethnicity, language, or culture approach problems as compared to more diverse groups.

Sample activity

  • Establish an all male group, an all female group and some mixed groups to solve a case.
  • Observe the differences in the responses from the various groups.

Group Member Responsibilities: To assist in group member participation, it is wise to assign responsibilities to members so they are more active and involved.  Examples of member roles:

  • Recorder - writes notes of activity
  • Graphics - draws/sketches ideas of group
  • Presenter - presents ideas of group to the class
  • Timer - observes time limits of assignment
  • Leader - directs and keeps group on task.

Group Activities

In order to keep the interest of the class, some variations of the group activity should be used. A few examples are:

  • Have groups name themselves
  • Have groups reorganize with different class members in order to observe changes in group dynamics
  • Have groups take opposite positions on a topic or case
  • Have groups compete to solve a problem
  • Have groups work on a case where each group must rely on another group to complete the overall task
  • Have groups attempt to solve a case before concepts are studied, then compare the group response after concepts are studied
  • Based on established criteria (i.e. member participation, creativity, visual aids, answering points of the assignment, etc.), have group create a quiz based on concepts of the case.

    Sample Group Outcomes

    • Solve a problem
    • Avoid a problem
    • Design a new approach
    • Compete with other groups
    • Critique a case
    • Survive a hypothetical situation
    • Become expert in a concept or issue from a case
    • The experts then share this knowledge with the class
    • Have case presentation reviewed by classmates.


"case study" graphic

Types of Cases:

Find good cases. A dry, boring case can doom a well-planned case activity.  Look for the following:

  • Characters
  • Big mistakes
  • Financial loss or gain
  • Survival stories
  • Endurance stories
  • Well-known, unknown
  • Local, domestic, foreign
  • Current, or old.

Start with a simple case so the class can get accustomed to the process of case studies. Don’t have too many facts because it becomes too confusing, but you do need enough information to keep the group interested.  As you and the class become more comfortable with the activity, increase the complexity of the cases.

Sources of Cases

A variety of sources exist for case study information.  A few areas are:

  • Text
  • Newspaper
  • Internet
  • Magazines
  • Personal Experience
  • Class Experience
  • Campus Events
  • Best selling Books
  • Movies

These and other areas provide a rich resource for scenarios and cases to use and adapt to your class.

Closing Points

I have found case studies to be insightful, challenging, creative, fun and an effective learning tool.  Start simple for the class and your own learning development.  Understand that some students will see this as a way to skate by. So challenge them to get involved.  You can learn a lot about your students from these exercises. 

Some of your case study projects can be of benefit to your students as they interview and step into the real world.  Share your case study experiences with others in your division and around campus. These cases are interesting, enlightening and motivating to others.  Sometimes get in a group and work on a case with your students.  Challenge your students, grow, learn and have fun.


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