Case Studies

Basic Anatomy of a case

Real-Word Scenario - Cases are based on real world situations, although some facts may be changed to simplify the scenario or "protect the innocent."
Supporting Data and Documents - Compelling cases assignments typically provide real world artifacts for students to analyze. These can be simple data tables, links to real U R L 's, quoted statements or testimony, supporting documents, images, video, audio, or any appropriate material.
Open-Ended Problem - Most case assignments require students to answer an open-ended question or develop a solution to an open-ended problem with multiple potential solutions. Requirements can range from a one-paragraph response to a fully developed group action plan, proposal or decision.

Benefits of Case Studies

Many courses use case studies in their curriculum to teach content, involve students with real life data or provide opportunities for students to put themselves in the decision maker's shoes. Some of the primary benefits include:

Real World Context - Not only do students see how the course material applies to the world outside the classroom, but they get to see how data is often ambiguous or not clearly defined in many situations.
Explore Multiple Perspectives - Cases in which a decision is required can be used to expose students to viewpoints from multiple sources and see why people may want different outcomes. Students can also see how a decision will impact different participants, both positively and negatively.
Requires Critical Thinking and Analysis - Cases usually require students to analyze data to reach a conclusion. Since many assignments are open-ended, students can practice choosing appropriate analytic techniques as well.
Students Synthesize Course Content - Many cases require students to pull in different analytic techniques and information from various areas of the course to provide an effective solution to the problem. Also, a case assignment can require an initial statement of the facts and techniques used to reach the conclusion.

Some styles and strategies for using case studies

Basic Case Structure

A basic case should contain:

a. scenario - some story or article that sets up the background for the issue that will need solving

b. a statement of the issue or problem - state what it is that you want students to solve.

c. require assignment - how do you want them to state their solution? Do you want students to create a proposal, in depth essay, or do you want them to keep it brief.

Role Play

In this type of case study, the instructor assigns roles to students and has them play out these roles to familiarize themselves with the problem. When students assume these roles, they may feel more connected to the issue. This is also a great way for students to experience the dilemma in a safe environment.


A popular type of assignment in which students need to identify authentic website and synthesize the content on these sites to solve a stated problem. Some examples of websites you may want to push students to explore are sites that contain official data, and official government documents. You may even want to provide your students with some crucial documents, and then have them find other sites that complement or reinforce the data found in the crucial documents.

Diagnose a Problem

In these cases, students need to diagnose the underlying problem when provided with case data. These types of cases are complex, because the students need to sift through the data to determine the problem first, and then synthesize the data to find a solution.

Team Cases

Team cases are a great way to implement group work and case studies in your class. In some cases, there are multiple problems that can be solved to find an overall solution to the dilemma. Have students work individually or in small groups to find research and data to solve one of the minor problems. Have them come back to a larger group and piece the smaller solutions together. This process will help identify all the minor pieces of the larger dilemma?

Current Event Cases

In this type of case you and your students follow an event that is currently in the news. Study the problem with the students by reading a news article or watching a news video. Have the students identify possible problems and discuss some potential solutions. In most cases decisions on the current event will be made by the people who are wrestling with the dilemma. A comparison of decisions made can be compared with decisions discussed in class.

References and Resources