Building Structure and Flexibility into Case Lesson Plans

    While spontaneity and fluidity are important hallmarks of case discussions, effective case discussion leaders always enter the classroom with a teaching plan. In this video, Julie Battilana discusses the key components of a case teaching plan and how to build flexibility into it. By structuring her plan around discussion blocks and key questions, she ensures that she can cover the most important concepts and issues in the case while letting students lead the conversation. 

    Using Boards to organize and structure class thinking

    Chalkboards may not be the most advanced instructional tool in today’s classroom, but they are very useful for tracking and organizing student comments on the fly. In this video, Julie Battilana describes how she enters each case discussion having already thought through how and where she will track her students’ comments on the nine chalkboards in her classroom. This planning reaps dividends for students who describe how they use notes on the boards to keep track of their classmates’ points of view and capture the key ideas and frameworks presented during class in...

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    Pressing students for accuracy and expanded reasoning

    When students share incorrect or unclear comments in discussion, instructors must tread carefully. Learning how to provide clear feedback without discouraging participants from contributing altogether can be something of a balancing act. In this video, Todd Rakoff employs a range of careful strategies like follow-up questioning, wait-time, and gentle clarifications when he gives students real-time feedback. Such responses aim to increase students’ learning and deepen their engagement.

    Intervening selectively in a student-led discussion

    Once students are in the habit of discussing ideas among themselves, a key question for a professor is when to jump in. When should we provide helpful context? When should we inject a probing question to encourage students to dig deeper? Is it good practice to always correct misinformation? In this video, Timothy Patrick McCarthy shares how he generally strives to hold back in discussion but will intervene when he notices that something “really crucial” to student understanding has not yet surfaced.

    Asserting political opinions in discussion

    An instructor’s personal or political opinions might be less relevant when it comes to some topics, but asserting your opinions on certain controversial issues may be crucial. In this video, Christina “V” Villarreal and Tim McCarthy reflect on when and why they choose to assert certain political positions or strongly held beliefs in a discussion, particularly when “a line is crossed” or when “stakes are high.”

    Continuing the teacher-student conversation through written feedback

    Invariably, not all good ideas will be heard during the course of a discussion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be heard at all. By requiring students to write responses to weekly readings before class, instructors can take a pulse on student thinking and use students’ written ideas to plan lectures and discussions. Through timely and detailed written feedback on such responses, Jane Mansbridge establishes an ongoing dialogue with students that extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.

    Encouraging students to respond to each other

    Exchanges that proceed from student to student without professor serving as mediator can be extremely valuable. As students hash out points of disagreement, the class hears multiple perspectives more constructively than they would during the traditional, professor-driven lecture. In this video, Todd Rakoff pivots between two student comments to encourage students to more actively respond to each other.

    Inviting students to take a stand and disagree

    Well-crafted discussion questions can carve out spaces for disagreement. They can even encourage it. But cultivating the type of respectful disagreement that helps students grow academically and personally is tricky, especially when students feel strongly about particular issues. In this video, Tim McCarthy models the verbal and nonverbal behaviors that help his students learn how to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

    Introducing frameworks to connect case specifics to broader concepts

    One reason students enjoy learning through the case method is that each case reads like a unique story. Cases typically present a case protagonist embedded in a complex environment and pressed to make a decision in the face of challenges and uncertainty. Though the details of the case give it depth and interest, instructors frequently introduce frameworks during case discussions. Frameworks build students’ understanding of the case at hand while helping them generalize case specifics into conceptual knowledge. In this video, Julie Battilana describes the “Agitator,...

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    Referring back to student comments as discussion touchstones

    Over the course of a 90-minute whole class discussion, it can be easy to forget what was said ten minutes ago, let alone an hour ago. In this video, Julie Battilana describes how she listens carefully to student comments and then refers back to them to highlight complementaries, acknowledge a disagreement, or emphasize a particularly insightful point. By strategically referring back to these discussion touchstones, Battilana helps students develop a mental model of the class conversation and its contours.

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    Engaging in extended dialogue with students

    Facilitating a strong case discussion involves not only asking students questions but carefully listening to their responses and following up. In this video, Julie Battilana describes how she frequently stays with a student after asking them a question and poses repeated follow-ups to ensure that both she and the rest of the class have fully understood the student’s thinking. Though being questioned by your professor may sound intimidating at first, Battilana uses this move to convey that she is deeply interested in and attentive to students’ ideas -- that she is “...

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    Probing student disagreement to achieve deeper understanding

    Cases are designed so that students synthesize complex information, analyze potential paths forward, and then take a stand on what the protagonist should do next. Throughout this process, students will likely disagree with each other. Rather than glossing over student disagreement, Julie Battilana describes how she highlights differences in opinion and then pushes the class to do additional analysis so they better understand why they disagree. Digging into these disagreements rather than shying away from them ultimately provides, Battilana explains, “a wonderful...

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    Using movement to increase intimacy, energy, and visibility

    Keeping students engaged in a large, lengthy class is challenging for any instructor. To help her students stay interested and focused, Julie Battilana channels her vigorous and infectious enthusiasm into each class session. In this video, Battilana describes how she uses movement to keep the class energy high, to connect personally with students, and to ensure that no students stay off her radar in class. The result is a non-stop, energetic case session that flies by for her students.

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    Tracking student participation to ensure all students contribute

    In a fast-paced case discussion, it can be easy to lose track of the students who have not recently spoken up. In order to make sure that all students’ voices are heard in her classroom, Julie Battilana tracks student participation and then looks for the hands of students who have not spoken in the past three classes. To support students who may feel less confident speaking up in class, she also employs “warm calls,” giving students a heads up that she is going to call on them later in class. These strategies ensure that by the end of the course, all students have...

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    Using Simulations in the Case-Based Collaborative Learning Classroom

    In contrast to paper cases, simulations in the classroom push students to enact what they have learned. In Homeostasis I, instructors immerse groups of students in high-stress, realistic hospital scenarios. The exercise forces student groups to collectively come to a consensus about treatment and quickly, all the while navigating the stress that accompanies taking care of patients. From the instructors’ end, engineering such a learning space requires hitting what Richard Schwartzstein calls the “sweet spot,” in which students are agitated enough to make...

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    Designing a Simulation Session

    Simulation scenarios are carefully chosen in order to build on and complicate textbook concepts in realistic settings. In this way, Homeostasis I is a “flipped classroom”: students prepare and learn concepts independently while time in class presents opportunities to put those concepts into practice and synthesize them during simulation-inspired discussions. Richard Schwartzstein underscores this element of transfer as critical to simulation design. Accordingly, the concepts students confront in the learning exercise might be “foundationally the same” but presented...

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    Planning for Unpredictability in Simulations

    Teacher-driven lessons afford instructors the luxury (and limitations) of a predictable plan. By contrast, the learning that emerges out of simulations is evolving, spontaneous, and contingent on the specific set of individuals participating. For facilitators, these circumstances require being open to students’ thinking and flexible with lesson plans, without letting efficiency or structure go by the wayside. Richard Schwartzstein calls the “unscripted” nature of simulations the challenge and fun in their facilitation. Noting that “no two sessions are exactly the...

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    Normalizing Uncertainty Through Simulations

    Most fields, especially those that involve working with people, are not nearly as straightforward as textbooks might have students believe. However, many students find confronting uncertainty and not getting the “right answer” to be a discomforting experience. In Homeostasis I, Richard Schwartzstein and Jeffrey William see simulations as powerful exercises to get students used to navigating uncertainty. Through modeling, questioning, and devising scenarios without clear-cut answers, Schwartzstein and William emphasize to students the importance of “being okay with...

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    Engaging the Whole Class Through Strategic Role Assignment

    When a simulation or role play requires the direct involvement of only a small subset of students, the rest of the class may find themselves disconnected from the action. Even students within the subset of chief participants can become disengaged if their individual role is ill-defined. In this video, Richard Schwartzstein and Jeffrey William discuss how strategic role assignments can maintain engagement and “involve the crowd.” In this simulation specifically, the main actors in the simulation fulfill roles that mirror those on a hospital floor, while other...

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    Defining Strategic Roles for Simulation Facilitators

    As an expert in one’s field, it can be challenging for instructors to move to the periphery of the classroom and let students take the lead. Not doing so, however, can impede students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Fortunately, acting as a facilitator in simulations does not necessarily mean instructors stand idly by. In this video, Jeffrey William discusses how instructors in Homeostasis I find ways to guide students’ thinking without overpowering them by posing questions, issuing subtle hints, and purposefully walking away. Considering the role of...

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