Case Studies in Teaching Practice: Use Real-Life Contexts

Do you want your students to connect theory with practice? Then try out case studies where students study real-life situations. 

What are Case Studies? 

The case study is a teaching method whereby students first analyse a specific case individually or in groups. The case is then discussed by the whole class. A case study describes a real-life challenging situation, event or problem that students may face in their later professional careers. 

You can choose this teaching method when you want your students to apply acquired theoretical knowledge to a practical example. In addition, case studies contribute to the development of  competencies such as collaboration and communication, problem-solving, critical reflection and creative thinking, and judgement. 

How to Use Case Studies in Teaching Practice?   

There are two steps, the case analysis and the case discussion: 

  • case analysis (individually or in a small group) 
    • the students analyse the case, individually or in groups, and think about possible solutions or decisions. This step will often require them to note down their problem-solving process as well as their ideas for possible solutions; 
    • it is important that the case contains all the information required to make analysis possible, including e.g. tables with figures on interviews or research reports. That is not to say that students should be prevented from looking up additional information in the course of their problem-solving process. 
  • case discussion (whole-class) 
    • the students have a class discussion about the case’s issues. They exchange analyses and decisions with each other, and together, they create a solution by discussing and building on each other’s ideas. A more complicated case may lead to different types of solutions, or a combination of conclusions and further questions; 
    • as a lecturer, you should adopt the role of facilitator, to moderate and structure the discussion. 

Case Studies in Teaching Practice: What Key Points to Remember? 

Choose an Authentic Case 

  • find inspiration in real-life situations. For example, look at your own practice (a patient’s file, a court order or a current political issue), or ask organisations or companies for cases. 
  • take into account the following characteristics. The case should: 
  • contain elements that link with the student's experiential world; 
  • draw students’ attention through an interesting story; 
  • be topical and of current interest; 
  • allow students to relate to the main character; 
  • contain additional quotes; 
  • include controversial topics; 
  • be widely applicable; 
  • be written from the viewpoint of one of the persons involved; 
  • contain no interpretations. 

Take the into Account the Case’s Complexity 

  • as a lecturer, it is important to you take your students’ prior knowledge into account, so build up the complexity of your cases gradually; 
  • use the guidelines below to determine the complexity of a case study: 
      1. the information available in the case study
        • consider which obstacles the students will most likely face and prepare for them in advance: what questions will likely be raised? How will I answer them? Will I offer the students additional literature? 
        • start with cases that contain a lot of information and progress from there to more complex cases that are less straightforward;  
      2. the available sources
        • look up background information yourself. This will give you a clear picture of the information that is available, and it will allow you to guide your students in their search for information; 
        • bring together the information, for example, in a case file; 
      3. possible solutions 
        • a case that leads to one standard answer usually is a straightforwards case; 
        • a case that is open-ended and leads to severeal possible answers is more complex. 

Provide your Students With Clear Guidelines  

Prepare the Case Discussion Properly 

  • prepare discussion questions that build on each other. During the discussion, frequently ask for observations, contrasts, comparisons, etc; 
  • make sure not to judge or give clues that may lead to one particular answer; 
  • allow students to exchange viewpoints, and give them the opportunity to come up with an answer by themselves. If necessary, schematically write down their ideas on the (black)board. 

Want to Know More? 

  • BV-databank. (2015). Casussen en de casemethode. Geraadpleegd op 18/07/2019 via
  • Expertisecentrum Hoger Onderwijs. (2013) Vijftig onderwijstips. Garant, Antwerpen 
  • Lkoundi, A. & van Woerden, W. (1997). Ontwerpen van cases. Leren van praktijkgevallen. Hoger Onderwijs Reeks. Groningen, Wolters-Noordhoff. 

UGent Practices

Last modified Sept. 1, 2021, 3:54 p.m.