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Case Studies

Teaching with Case Studies

A case study is a real-world scenario that has been recorded or invented to serve a teaching and learning purpose, e.g., to investigate or apply course concepts. According to Cox (2009, p. 6), "A simple case study consists of a scenario (the context), a statement of the issues (the focus of the case), the task (the open problem) and any resources needed for the task." Case studies can range in length from a paragraph to dozens of pages and supporting materials. Depending on your goals, case studies can engage students in a wide variety of active learning and/or problem based learning tasks, such as small group discussion, role play, quantitative reasoning, analysis, writing, critical thinking, or student presentations. You may also use case studies as part of the assessment process.

Using Case Studies as a Teaching and Learning Tool

1.  Find or create a case

  • Find: Using a search engine or one of the databases listed below, search for a case that relates to a learning outcome from your class. Here are a few sources to consider:
  • Create: Consider referring to a set of guiding questions and/or case writing guidelines before you begin (see some guiding questions here).

2.  Facilitate learning with the case

  • Identify what you want students to be able to do after their interaction with the case.
  • Provide individuals or small groups with specific learning tasks related to the case.
  • Facilitate in-class or online discussions to maintain focus on specific questions or aspects of the case.
  • Ask students to create a concept map to diagram relationships among the key issues, case characters, or potential decisions based on the central problem; a timeline to list case events chronologically; and/or a document or student presentation to propose solutions with support from the case, related materials you provide or additional research.
  • Consider trying a jigsaw approach to the case. To facilitate a jigsaw discussion activity around a case study, break the class into groups and assign roles (e.g., different stakeholder perspectives in the real-world scenario) or responsibilities (e.g., become an expert on one of four supporting materials from the case study). First, students work with peers who have the same role or responsibility to determine together what to share with their groups—e.g., what perspective their role would have about the case study scenario or what information from the supporting materials pertains to solving a problem in the case. Then, students return to their groups and engage in discussions or debates based on your goals for using the case study.

3.  Review the case study experience

  • Using as many student-generated ideas as possible, pull everything together to make sure that students see what you wanted them to get out of the experience. Be sure to acknowledge when they reach your goals.

References and Additional Resources

Cox, S. (2009, April). Case studies for active learning. Learning and Teaching Guides. Higher Education Academy Network for Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism. 

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. (n.d.). Case studies. Carnegie Mellon University.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.) Case teaching. Instructional Moves.

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. (n.d.). Case studies.


Page author:
Dr. Kevin Kelly, Lecturer at San Francisco State University

Last updated:
May 14, 2024