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Guest Post: Teaching Cases in Your Undergraduate OM Class

March 14, 2016

Matthew_Drake-1Today’s Guest Post comes from Dr. Matt Drake, who is Associate Professor at the Duquesne U. School of Business. 

Teaching cases have been a mainstay in the MBA classroom for decades. Cases possess several pedagogical benefits over the traditional lecture method: They do a good job simulating a complex decision environment, require students to separate relevant from irrelevant information, and require students to synthesize different concepts and analytical techniques to develop recommendations.

While case usage is ubiquitous for MBAs, they are somewhat less commonly employed in undergraduate classrooms. This is at least partially due to the fact that many OM undergraduate courses are designed to simply introduce concepts and techniques rather than to give the students much of a chance to apply them. That does not, however, mean that cases cannot be used effectively in any form at the undergraduate level. Your Heizer/Render OM text has over 80 1-2 page cases that are entirely appropriate for undergrads.

I have successfully introduced cases into my undergraduate courses in each of the following 3 ways:

Discussion only. Some cases do not require any sophisticated analysis and just ask students to consider the situation and generate and evaluate possible strategies. These are prime candidates to be used solely as a basis of class discussion.

Instructor presents model. Many cases require a substantial amount of modeling and analysis, but instructors may not want to allocate the class time that students need to complete the entire case analysis. In my class I ask them to summarize the decision scenario, and I lead them through the required decision analysis.

Students conduct full analysis. Some cases are so rich that I find it beneficial to have the students complete the entire case analysis as they would if they were MBAs. I assign these cases as out-of-class group homework that the students complete over 2 weeks or so. I spend anywhere from 20-60 minutes in class discussing some of the additional issues.

If an instructor is new to using cases in the classroom, I recommend that he or she start slow and introduce 1-2 cases at a time. It is not necessary to redesign a course completely.

Matt is editing a special issue of INFORMS Transactions on Education about innovative ways to use cases. He invites submissions to: http://pubsonline.informs.org/pb-assets/ITED%20Call%20for%20Papers%20-%20Cases%20-%20Final.pdf

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