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Lectures or Cases?

Our Tech Strategy class this term was my first experience of the popular 'Case' method of teaching. Harvard Professor Mary Tripsas was the teacher of this class and had an ingenious way of steering discussions towards a certain point. As expected, there was lesser lecture content and more discussions. I enjoyed this class and came up with the following pros and cons for this method of teaching.

The pros:

  • Cutting class could be fatal. A large portion of case oriented courses rests on classroom discussion.
  • One has to pay attention to participate with the discussion. A lapse in concentration can be costly.
  • It forces one to come up with a multitude of creative solutions to a real problem.
  • The 'Wisdom of Crowds' usually leads the discussion to an optimal solution.
  • It simulates real corporate scenerios.Mary, a member of numerous boards told us that our discussions bore a strong resemblance to board room meetings.
  • One learns over time to say the right things at the right time.(I'm still working on that one.) 50% of the grade for this class was based on participation. Mary convincingly argued that this was not that unfair, as we must all learn the skill of speaking out in meetings.
The cons

  • A lot of tools were taught in this class. However, many of them fell through the cracks. This is a shortcoming of the case methodology itself. During lectures, good lecturers emphasize the important stuff by repetition, voice modulation, etc.
  • I had a problem sorting the information I got into separate boxes. Maybe, that's just me/ my engineering mentality. Its also possible that the case method aims to break this compartamentalized thinking problem. (Luckily Vinay captured most of these point these and has put them all up in his blog. ) To Mary's credit, she did write down most of them
  • Prof. Tom Allen brought up this one. With the case method, how can one tell if a professor teaching in another 'lesser' university is of the same caliber as one from MIT/Harvard? I guess the good ones can direct the discussion to a certain end, but I must sample more of them.

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