Nowadays English language plays a lot of roles in the modern era of globalization. Regardless of how one views English as a second language, globally, a lot of people are interested in acquiring English proficiency.
One option for teaching English as a foreign language in technical university is using case study method. Unlike traditional lecture-based teaching where student participation in the classroom is minimal, the case study method is an active learning method, which requires participation and involvement from the student in the classroom. For students who have been exposed only to the traditional teaching methods, this calls for a major change in their approach to learning.
The majority of scholars affirm that students can learn more effectively when actively involved in the learning process [2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13]. The case study approach is one way in which such active learning strategies can be performed in technical universities.
There exist a number of definitions for the term «case study». As many researchers we define «case study» as student-centred activities based on description of an actual situation, commonly involving a decision, a challenge, an opportunity, a problem or an issue faced by a person or persons in an organization [1, 4, 5, 10, 14, 17]. An important point to be emphasized here is that a case is not a problem. A problem usually has a unique, correct solution. A decision-maker faced with the situation described in a case can choose between several alternative courses of action, and each of these alternatives may plausibly be supported by a logical argument.
Undoubtedly, case studies are an increasingly popular form of teaching and have an important role in developing skills and abilities in students. Some teachers shy away from using case studies in the classroom situation for a number of reasons. First of all, they may feel that they will be engulfed in the content aspect of the case study and lose face before their students. Secondly, they may not be comfortable with the role shift in their teaching – from teacher to facilitator. Finally, teachers who are used to a transmission style of teaching may feel that teaching is not really happening if they use simulations or case studies.
Nevertheless, there are numerous advantages to use cases while teaching a foreign language. Study cases help to:
1) develop and raise critical thinking (application/synthesis/evaluation) and reflective learning in the learner;
2) develop problem solving skills;
3) improve the student’s organizational skills – as case studies are sometimes very dense in information, the key is to condense this information into logical sections and organize them so that a clear picture of the problem/issue can be understood;
4) enhance communication skills – case studies can be used to improve the student’s written and oral communication. Non-verbal communication skills are also practised by using case studies;
5) train managerial communication skills such as holding a meeting, negotiating a contract, giving a presentation etc. Case studies force students into real-life situations to require them to get involved in managerial communication;
6) enhance the listening/cooperative learning skills;
7) encourage collaborative learning and team-working skills in the language learner;
8) get you thinking and brainstorming;
9) connect theory and practice;
10) allow students’ naive questions to precipitate profound change in approach;
11) teach students that there may not be one «right» answer, after all;
12) encourage attention to and self-consciousness about assumptions and conceptions;
13) reflect the contextual, situated, complex nature or knowledge;
14) build partnership/collegiality among learners and teacher;
15) get students to be active, not passive. Provide both possibilities for all learners to be successful and a variety of roles [1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17].
The case study method usually involves three stages:
- individual preparation;
- small group discussion;
- large group or class discussion.
While both the facilitator and the student start with the same information, their roles are dissimilar.
It is extremely important that the case studies should be well-prepared in advance so that each student knows what his role is. It is not sufficient just to give the case study to the student and hope that they will understand how to use it. This is the mistake made by many teachers unfamiliar with the case study method.
In contrast to lecture-based teaching, the case method requires intensive preparation by the students, before each class. The following case-based process can be used to help students use cases to their best:
1) determine the facts of the case. To grasp the situation described in a case study, it is necessary to read it several times. The first reading of the case can be a light one, to get a broad idea of the story. The subsequent readings must be more focused, to help the student become familiar with the facts of the case, and the issues that are important in the situation being described in the case – the who, what, where, why and how of the case;
2) define the presenting problem. The student must also acquire a thorough understanding of the case situation, through a detailed analysis of the case. During the case analysis process, he/she must attempt to identify the main protagonists in the case study (organizations, groups, or individuals described in the case) and their relationships. The student must also keep in mind that different kinds of information are presented in the case study There are facts, which are verifiable from several sources. There are inferences, which represent an individual’s judgment in a given situation. There are also assumptions, which cannot be verified, and are generated during case analysis or discussion. Clearly, all these different types of information are not equally valuable for managerial decision-making. Usually, the greater your reliance on facts (rather than speculation or assumptions), the better the logic and persuasiveness of your arguments and the quality of your decisions;
3) generate a possible course of action or generate, assess, and propose a number of possible solutions;
4) evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to each course of action;
5) make a decision regarding a satisfactory or at least workable plan of action [5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17].
While preparing for the case discussion, the student can also make notes with respect to the key aspects of the situation and the case analysis. These could include the following points:
- which company (or companies) is being talked about? Which industry is referred to?;
- what are the products/services mentioned?;
- how/why did the company land in problems (or became successful)?;
- what decision issues/problems/challenges are the decision makers in the case faced with?
While choosing a case, the teacher should take into consideration the following steps:
- identify clear learning objectives;
- know his/her learners;
- understand how the concepts of the case fit into the overall concept map for the course or unit;
- choose the best strategy for using the case materials.
Additionally the following steps should be executed during the case study introduction class:
1) read the case study thoroughly with your students. Here the teacher can deal with any lexical or grammatical issues. You may also like to ask your students to represent the background information in a visual form;
2) provide the students with some input on how they should analyze the case study:
- read the case several times;
- define the main issues/problems;
- set out objectives;
- identify solutions;
- select the best solution;
- decide on how the solution should be implemented;
- draw up an action plan to implement the chosen solution.
3) pre-teach the language required to discuss the case study. Note that it is important to select the skill you would like to focus on and teach the specific language.
The standard procedure for using case study method at lessons involves the following aspects:
1) students need to come to class prepared to discuss the case (students will understand the case better, if they are given careful introductory directions);
2) unless there are specific pedagogical reasons, key facts should be introduced in the written case and not added during the discussion. The safest way to discuss a case is to be sure that everyone has a clear understanding of the facts;
3) cases need to be complete enough so that the problem can be defined;
4) the size of the group should allow for free exchange among all participants. Groups larger than 12 tend to exclude many members from participating (larger groups can be divided. Combined contributions of members of different discussion groups improve the learning experience). If a group of students is asked to analyze a case, they must ensure that they meet to discuss and analyze the case;
5) facilitators need to be objective without being emotionally invested in the case. They should be aware of the larger goals of the case. The facilitator has to make the classroom safe for conversations. This doesn’t happen right away. Students have to get to know each other and develop a certain level of trust;
6) facilitators should ask carefully designed questions. The first question that the teacher asks is crucial. The primary criterion is to get students to talk, preferably thoughtfully. If you start with a question that is too obtuse, too formidable, or looks like a trick question, no one will answer. Questions should not let the discussion get submerged in the details of the case, but rather ensure that discussion focuses on the ways to solve the problem The best opening questions are open-ended, where there are multiple reasonable answers, or where the question is neutral and simple to answer. The teacher should periodically try to paraphrase students’ points saying, «Jack, do I understand correctly....» The teacher should not make the discussion a glorified quiz show where he runs through a series of questions, saying «right» or «wrong». Nor is this discussion a lecture in disguise. The teacher must connect one student’s ideas with another. He should ask Jack how his ideas square with Vivian’s earlier point. The teacher should operate at several levels during the discussion. Firstly, he must be aware of the case material and how to get the content out. Secondly, he must be aware of the process, thinking about whom to call on next to spread the discussion about, how to resolve the conflict that has just exploded, how to stop the private conversation in the corner, how to move to engage the bored student sitting to his right, when to shift tempo. Thirdly, he is thinking of the bigger picture, how these people are doing in the course and how this case fits into the overall syllabus. He will be thinking how asking a particular question might affect a particular student; how to be encouraging to Isabella and yet skeptical of Nicholas; and how this will impact on their personal development. During the case, the teacher should write on the board. He has to move forward to listen seriously to a speaker or move to the side to let students engage one another;
7) role-playing can help clarify some concepts by engaging students in problem solving from the perspectives of different key players [1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17].
A classroom case discussion is usually guided by the facilitator. Students are expected to participate in the discussion and present their views. In some cases, the teacher may adopt a particular view, and challenge the students to respond. During the discussion, while a student presents his point of view, others may question or challenge him. Case facilitators usually encourage innovative ways of looking at and analyzing problems, and arriving at possible alternatives.
What is more, students shouldn’t seat in a row. Ideally, a U- or horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement for case study lesson. The open part of the U should face the blackboard. This permits the teacher to walk into the U with the blackboard at his back and the students at his front and sides. This arrangement permits all of the students to see one another.
The interaction among students, and between the students and the facilitator, must take place in a constructive and positive manner. Such interactions help to improve the analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills of the students [2, 3, 4, 10, 15].
During the controversy students must be careful that the contributions they make to the discussion are relevant, and based on a sound analysis of the information presented in the case.
The facilitator may ask questions to the class at random about the case study itself or about the views put forward by an individual student. If a student has some new insights about the issues at hand, he/she is usually encouraged to share them with the class.
Students must respond when the facilitator asks some appropriate questions. The importance of preparing beforehand cannot be emphasized enough – a student will be able to participate meaningfully in the case discussion only if he is knowledgeable about the facts of the case, and has done a systematic case analysis. A case discussion may end with the facilitator (or a student) summarizing the key learning points (or «takeaways») of the session.
Student performance in case discussions is usually assessed. The extent of participation is never the sole criterion in the assessment – the quality of the participation is an equally (or more) important criterion. There are many opportunities to assess students’ performances when they are using case-based learning approaches. Here are some assessable activities students might engage in as they work on their investigations:
- their participation (quality and extent of participation) and contribution to work in groups;
- the kinds of issues they identify;
- the questions they develop;
- the investigations they propose;
- where and how they locate resources;
- how they conduct investigations (communication skills, logical flow and structuring of the content, quality of analysis and recommendations, etc.);
- the presentations they make;
- written case analyses (logical flow and structuring of the content, language and presentation, quality of analysis and recommendations, etc.).
Discussions can often leave students and facilitator with an unsatisfied feeling. Both may wonder what they have really accomplished. Board work isn’t always enough. Giving the students a follow-up assignment usually does the trick. Have them write up a summary of the case, write a letter to the company head or develop a strategic plan. These are all good homework exercises. You don’t have to have each student hand in a paper for each case. They might write up something for say half or a third of the cases. This approach makes the workload more manageable for everyone.
In addition, a written analysis of the case may be a part of the internal assessment process. When a written analysis of a case is required, the student must ensure that the analysis is properly structured. The facilitator may provide specific guidelines about how the analysis is to be structured.
However, when submitting an analysis, the student must ensure that it is neat and free from any factual, language and grammar errors. In fact, this is a requirement for any report that a student may submit – not just a case analysis [1, 7, 12, 13].
1) allows students to learn by doing. Case study permits students to step into the shoes of decision-makers in real organizations, and deal with the issues managers face, with no risk to themselves or the organization involved;
2) improves the students ability to ask the right questions, in a given problem situation;
3) exposes students to a wide range of industries, organizations, functions and responsibility levels. This provides students the flexibility and confidence to deal with a variety of tasks and responsibilities in their careers. It also helps students to make more informed decisions about their career choices;
4) strengthens the student’s grasp of management theory, by providing real-life examples of the underlying theoretical concepts. By providing rich, interesting information about real business situations, they breathe life into conceptual discussions;
5) provides students with an exposure to the actual working of business and other organizations in the real world;
6) reflects the reality of managerial decision-making in the real world, in that students must make decisions based on insufficient information. Cases reflect the ambiguity and complexity that accompany most management issues;
7) helps to understand and deal with different viewpoints and perspectives of the other members in their team. Unquestionably, this serves to improve students communication and interpersonal skills;
8) provides an integrated view of management. Managerial decision-making involves integration of theories and concepts learnt in different functional areas such as marketing and finance. The case method exposes students to this reality of management [1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 16, 17].
It should be acknowledged that styles and modes of learning vary from student to student. In other words, case studies may not be suited to everyone. Some students may work more efficiently in a formal and time-constrained setting, such as an examination. Although this may not be the better mode of learning, it is one to which they have become thoroughly accustomed to at school. One possible solution to this problem is combination of case studies and exam assessment. It provides a balance in learning styles. Moreover, it enables students to develop a range of skills and no student should be unfairly disadvantaged compared to another.
Case-based approach is a useful method to develop the following skills:
- group working;
- individual study skills;
- information gathering and analysis;
- time management;
- presentation skills;
- practical skills [4, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17].
Further to the practical application and testing of scholarly knowledge, case study method can also help students prepare for real-world problems, situations and crises by providing an approximation of various professional environments (i.e. classroom, board room, courtroom, or hospital). Thus, through the examination of specific cases, students are given the opportunity to work out their own professional issues through the trials, experiences and research findings of others. An obvious advantage of this method is that it allows students the exposure to settings and contexts that they might not otherwise experience. The case study method also incorporates the idea that students can learn from one another by disputing with each other, by asserting something and then having it questioned.
On the whole, it should be said that advance preparation by the teacher, suitability of the course syllabus, students’ motivation, authenticity of materials and activities in which the learners are involved, as well as adequacy of the assessment measures and objectives pursued in the case, provide the key to the success of the Case Method.
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