Using Case Studies

Utilization of Case Studies

Case studies provide a framework for thought-provoking discussions relevant to industry specific situations. The best case studies feature real-world complex situations and create space for diverse perspectives. In this article, we provide advice on using case studies and why they are an essential learning tool.

Using Case Studies: Where and Why?

Graduate classrooms 

  • Facilitate dialogue among students
  • Help students comprehend material 
  • Enhance problem solving skills
  • Develop decision-making skills 
  • Connects theory to practice and fosters analytical thinking

Faculty-led programs/Faculty training

  • Introduce onsite student support needs
  • Examine administrative roles program leaders undertake
  • Spark conversations on topics new to faculty 
  • Help faculty anticipate and prepare for ambiguity
  • Develop crisis-management skills

Conference sessions 

  • Learn from real-world examples 
  • Explore best practice and also past failures
  • Showcase a range of perspectives and practices
  • Foster valuable networking opportunities

Professional development team trainings

  • Discuss values and guiding principles
  • Recognize diverse perspectives
  • Build team cohesion
  • Anticipate and prepare for potential future situations
  • Develop or test crisis management plans against case scenarios

Leading Discussions Through Case Studies 

  1. Give individuals time to read and reflect upon case study
  2. Split individuals into small groups for them to discuss perspectives
    1. Have groups identify at least three responses
    2. Discuss merits of each
    3. Select a best option
  3. Have each group present to the class on their recommended course of action 
  4. Ask questions that enable clarification and deeper discussion
    1. Unpack biases and assumptions
    2. Discuss similarities to participants’ experiences
    3. Ask how specific changes in the scenario would affect recommended responses
    4. Ask participants what they learned from the case study exercise 
  5. Summarize the issues raised and future implications

Beyond classic discussion formats, case studies can be used for debates in which individuals or teams argue for or against a course of action. Digital annotation tools can allow participants to engage virtually and asynchronously, commenting on the case study as well as reacting to each others’ comments. You could have participants role play the scenarios, performing the case as written and then continuing to act out what they imagine comes next, followed by a discussion of the outcomes.

You may also consider asking participants in any of the contexts above to write and contribute their own case studies for discussion in your training or classroom. Feel free to share the CSIE template and review criteria as a structure. As a bonus, they could later submit the case to CSIE!

Case studies can be used in a myriad of ways and provide valuable learning opportunities for students and professionals at all levels. CSIE provides quality case studies in international education to foster growth and development within the field. We hope a multitude of professionals will take advantage of our open-access resource so that we can continue to support shared learning within the community. 

Further reading

Case Studies [Carnegie Mellon University]

Case Study Questions [Case Studies in Intercultural Communication]

The Case for Case Studies in Higher Ed [Gutenberg Technology] 

Using Case Studies to Teach [Boston University]

Digital Annotation Tools [Common Sense Education]