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Teaching & The Case Method

teaching & the case method

Teaching & The Case Method: Quote

The discussion teacher is planner, host, moderator, devil’s advocate, fellow-student, and judge. . . . Discussion teaching is the art of managing spontaneity.

C. Roland Christensen, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Education for Judgment, 1991.19


HBS cases average 10 to 20 pages of text followed by supporting exhibits of tables and illustrations. Students break into small groups to study cases and practice presenting their analyses. In the classroom, instructors help students imagine themselves in the decision-maker’s role, guiding them in critical thinking, presenting a persuasive argument, and taking decisive action, all within the context of changing conditions, incomplete information, and time-sensitive situations. 


Instructors not only “prepare as much as students do,” wrote HBS Professor David A. Garvin, “but they attend equally to orchestrating class discussion most effectively.”20  Seating charts with the faces and names of students enabled instructors to better facilitate class discussions. After a preliminary introduction, professors often begin the class by calling on a student at random to open the discussion. The “cold call” provides an opportunity for students to articulate their point of view, respond to difficult questions in real time, and contribute to the collective learning of the group. Teaching notes for instructors can include suggested questions to guide students to important points of learning as well as an outline on how to best organize students’ comments on multiple classroom blackboards.


Seating chart for Aldrich Hall classroom with each student represented by black and white headshots.

Aldrich Hall Seating Chart, 1957. William J. Riley papers (DC 1957.1).

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HBS faculty have contributed groundbreaking research on the art of teaching with the case method. The Case Method at Harvard Business School, published in 1954, includes reflections by HBS faculty and staff on the previous 30 years of case method instruction at HBS. Topics encompass the genesis of the case method, role of the instructor, and use of case material in the classroom. In his 1984 “Hints for Case Teaching,” HBS Professor Benson P. Shapiro observed that, “The case discussion process depends upon a delicate set of relationships: teacher-to-student, student-to-student, and class-to-material. . . . Because of the delicacy and power, it is important to nurture the discussion process.” 21


Teaching & The Case Method: Slider

Case Method at HBS Teaching Notes Teaching and the Case Method Hints cover Hints inside

Malcolm P. McNair, ed. The Case Method at the Harvard Business School:
Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff,

James E. Austin.
“Teaching Notes: Communicating the Teacher’s Wisdom.”
HBS No. 793-105. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1993.

Download page 1 of 'Teaching Notes: Communicating the Teacher's Wisdom.'

Louis B. Barnes, C. Roland Christensen and Abby J. Hansen. 
Teaching and the Case Method : Text, Cases, and Readings, 3rd ed. [1994].

Hints for Case Teaching, cover.
HBS Archives Vertical File Collection (CC2.1).

Hints for Case Teaching, interior with woman teaching.
HBS Archives Vertical File Collection (CC2.1).

Download interior spread of Hints for Case Teaching.

Teaching & The Case Method: Body 2

In 1968, C. Roland Christensen led a multi-year initiative to research case method instruction and participant-centered learning. Teaching and the Case Method, authored by Christensen, Louis B. Barnes, and Abby J. Hansen, remains a seminal publication focusing on teaching with the case method in business, medicine, education, and government. Christensen was well respected for his artful combination of class preparation and intuition for guiding classroom discussions. In 1984, he was named a University Professor at Harvard, the first HBS faculty member to receive that honor, in recognition of his research on discussion-based learning and contributions to the teaching community. Established in 2004, the C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning conducts applied research on and provides resources and programs to strengthen faculty skills in case method instruction.


Black and white photograph of HBS Professor Clayton Christensen gesturing toward a student while teaching.

C. Roland Christensen teaching in classroom, 1960. HBS Archives Photograph Collection (olvwork377909).

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Teaching & The Case Method: Footnotes

19C. Roland Christensen, “Premises and Practices of Discussion Teaching,” Education for Judgment. (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991), 16.

20David A. Garvin, “Making the Case: Professional Education for the World of Practice,” Harvard Magazine, September-October 2003, 61.

21Benson P. Shapiro, “Hints for Case Teaching,” Harvard Business School, 1984, 8. HBS Archives Vertical File Collection (CC2.1).

Title image: Janice McCormick. HBS Archives Photograph Collection. 

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