Valerie Mendonca has over 15 years of experience in corporate, research and academics. She has worked at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) as an Academic Associate where she has closely assisted Faculty on the case teaching method. At CIIE.CO, she leads case writing in entrepreneurship. Her case studies focus mainly on early-stage founders and startups. Her areas of research are entrepreneurship, gendered voices, storytelling and inclusion. Her skills include qualitative analysis and research writing. She has co-authored over 10 case studies, published by the IIMA Case Centre and has contributed to other forms of publication such as articles, book reviews and book chapters. Valerie strongly believes in the potential of the case method to facilitate classroom learning.
Undergraduate education generally adheres to the traditional or conventional method of teaching, which is predominantly the lecture method. As such, the lecture method is great for explaining complex concepts and theories to students, but the drawback is that it does not render itself a hands-on learning experience. Experiential learning or ‘learning-by-doing’ is a great way of learning entrepreneurship but learning to start and run a business, while desirable is not always feasible in undergraduate education at the university level for practical reasons. This makes case studies a highly recommended learning tool for undergraduate students of entrepreneurship as cases are based on real-world problems in the business world.
The Need for Case Teaching at the Undergraduate Level
Case studies are fast emerging as an alternative teaching method to facilitate learning in classrooms. While there are different kinds of case studies, teaching cases have become a widely accepted method of learning at the post-graduate level. Many of the top MBA colleges in the world use the case study method for teaching post-graduate courses. However, case studies are still not used very frequently for teaching at the undergraduate level. The world around us is changing at a rapid pace and keeping up with changes in technology and trends means making striding changes in the way we teach at the undergraduate level. The students graduating today are less equipped to make their way into the workforce. For instance, in 2021, only 45% of graduates of B Tech in India had skills that make them employable. This figure was lower – 22%, for graduates of polytechnic courses. One of the objectives of university education is to prepare students for the real world and case studies are a learning tool that brings the real world into the classroom. While case studies might not help in learning specific technical skills, they can certainly equip students with analytical skills that are key to the learning process.
What is a Teaching Case?
Case studies are of many types – one of them is the teaching case. Teaching cases are real or fictional events or situations that are used in teaching different concepts at the school or university level. Case studies can be taught over a wide range of topics such as marketing, finance, organizational behaviour, or entrepreneurship. Case studies in entrepreneurship typically trace the journey of a founder or a startup with a focus on the challenges faced by the entrepreneur. Usually, a teaching case ends with a question or dilemma for the students to analyse and is accompanied by a teaching note that serves as an instructional guide to the educator for conducting the classroom session.
Benefits of Using Cases for Teaching Entrepreneurship in Undergraduate Classrooms
Analysing case studies in a guided classroom session can help students enhance their problem-solving skills. Since cases end with a dilemma of choices, students need to use the case facts to make assumptions and arrive at decisions that they can justify. Thus, they get introduced to decision-making – which is a constant activity in entrepreneurship.
Solving case studies greatly enhances classroom engagement. Students are required to prepare case studies ahead of the class to be able to indulge in a meaningful and transformative learning experience. In this way, the case method puts some of the onus of learning on students. More often, case discussions in class are centered around a dilemma. Students invariably get drawn into the discussion while presenting opposite points of view in the classroom. This helps them to appreciate, build and accept different perspectives making them more open to decision-making in a dynamic business environment.
Case teaching facilitates collaboration. Instructors or educators can facilitate group learning by dividing students into groups during case study sessions. Exchanging ideas and decision points and arriving at a consensus equips students with skills for mutual and inclusive decision-making.
The most essential benefit is that case discussions in class provide real-world context to students and give them a glimpse of problems or challenges they are likely to encounter when they start their own entrepreneurial careers.
Case Studies for Teaching Entrepreneurship
There is no doubt that entrepreneurship education is important to churn out business leaders. Entrepreneurship education equips aspirational venture creators with skills and concepts they’d need to pursue and launch successful ideas. Case studies are a crucial tool for developing an in-depth understanding of entrepreneurial concepts. Case studies can cover a wide range of topics within entrepreneurship such as testing an idea, researching the market, creating a prototype, coming up with a go-to-market strategy, creating a brand, managing people and culture, the dynamics of pitching, funding options, and strategies, etc. Teaching cases highlight real-world problems of choice and their consequences for founders and some of these choices can either make or break the startup. Case discussions in class provide a safe space for aspirational entrepreneurs to test their understanding of entrepreneurial concepts.
Recommendations for Teaching with Cases at the Undergraduate Level
Educators at the undergraduate level rarely use case studies and therefore there is merit for them to get trained on the case method of teaching. A few things need to be considered by an educator before teaching a case study in class. Case studies for undergraduates need to be carefully curated. The length of the case study is important – too long and students lose interest, too short and they are not challenging. The educator could go for shorter cases of about 6-11 pages which can work well for the ever-shortening attention spans of today’s undergraduate students.
Educators in entrepreneurship can make use of case studies to create courses or pick and choose individual case studies to teach specific concepts.
Educators should try to make the selection of cases more relatable to the wider student audience. For instance, they could choose cases on local or regional startups, reputed family businesses, or founders and brands that are widely familiar. Case scenarios are another way of introducing the case method to first-time users and making a lecture more interesting and participative. Case scenarios are shorter versions; snapshots of a case study are presented within one to four pages and end with a dilemma. However, the drawback with case scenarios is that the educator needs to allow the class a lot of assumptions within which to discuss the case scenario and arrive at decisions. Also, as data is limited and the case is a short read only, case scenarios are not suitable for structuring an entire session around them.
The key to case learning is to deliver students with a transformative learning experience that will challenge their mental models and make them feel more responsible for their learning. Aspirational entrepreneurs in a classroom setting can journey in the footsteps of other founders and get a second-hand experience of what it takes to start and run a business enterprise. Case studies are a great learning tool that can introduce students to the challenges and dilemmas that real entrepreneurs face on an ongoing basis.