Teaching with Business Cases

What is the Case Study Method of Teaching?

The case study method (or case method) of teaching is a popular and effective way for students to learn and apply concepts to real-life situations, strategies, and dilemmas. The typical case study provides an overview and background information associated with an issue, an individual in the fashion industry, or a fashion brand, company or organization is facing. Background information for case studies is based on 1) public information about an actual company or situation (possibly including interviews) and/or 2) faculty expertise in an area for hypothetical (but realistic) situations or companies. Background information may also include additional outside readings or media; some faculty prefer to have the case study include all relevant information whereas others prefer students to conduct outside research. In the case study teaching method, students review and analyze the background material; evaluate multiple alternative solutions; recommend and justify an optimal solution for the individual, company, or organization; and predict outcomes of the solution.

Why Use Case Studies in Education?

As a teaching method, case studies provide students with opportunities to apply and practice critical thinking, analytic, evaluative, problem solving, and communication skills.

Learning Objectives of the Case Study Method

As a result of the Case Study Method, students will demonstrate their ability to:

  • Diagnose and articulate a problem or issue related to the fashion industry
  • Analyze and critically evaluate alternative solutions to the particular problem or issue
  • Present (in written, oral, and/or creative work formats) ideas/solutions and justifications for those ideas/solutions
  • Listen and express and defend thoughts to others
  • Think like a professional in the fashion industry

Video Guides: Teaching with Business Cases

Editor-in-Chief of Blomsbury Fashion Business Cases, Natascha Radcylffe-Thomas, discusses how to teach with business cases

Bethan Alexander, Regional Editor for Bloomsbury Fashion Business Cases, discusses teaching online with her case: John Smedley, Transforming a British Luxury Family Business

How Do I Use Case Studies?

Below are guidelines and suggestions for effective use of case studies in courses. The Teaching Notes associated with individual case studies provide additional guidance in teaching with specific cases.

Course Levels

Case studies can be integrated into course levels from first-year/introductory through graduate level courses. Case studies for introductory courses are generally short and focus on a single concept, topic, or issue. Introductory case studies typically have a “correct” answer or single most optimal solution. For example, a case study in an introductory product development course may introduce students to textile selection for a specific product category and ask students to evaluate textile/material options and recommend and justify the optimal textile/material for the product category. A case study in an introductory fashion merchandising course may introduce students to markdown calculations and ask students to evaluate different markdown percentages and recommend and justify the optimal percentage for the situation. Case studies for intermediate courses are generally longer and focus on the inter-relationships among concepts whereby students would need to integrate knowledge and applications. Intermediate case studies may have multiple “correct” or optimal solutions depending on the justification provided by the student. For example, a case study in an intermediate sourcing course may ask students to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of sourcing the production of a particular product category in several countries. Students would need to consider multiple factors in recommending and justifying the optimal country for sourcing production of a particular product category. Case studies for advanced courses include multi-faceted issues and topics that require students to assess internal and external factors associated with the issue or topic. Advanced cases are typically longer and may be used for term/semester-long assignments. Similar to intermediate cases, advanced cases would also have multiple “correct” or optimal solutions depending on the justification provided by the student. For example, a case study in an advanced retail management course may ask students to evaluate and justify strategic initiatives for a large retailer around corporate social responsibility. Students would need to evaluate initiatives with respect to the retailer’s mission, size, product design and development, sourcing, marketing, and distribution strategies.

Course Formats

Case studies can be effectively integrated into a variety of course formats including lecture, studio, laboratory, hybrid, and/or online courses. With any course format the learning objectives for the course will dictate how case studies will be integrated. For example, if a learning objective for an intermediate fashion retail merchandising course was to “analyze and apply merchandising principles to effective buying and selling of fashion-influenced merchandise at the retail level”, case studies could be used to achieve this learning objective regardless of course format. Studio and laboratory courses in fashion-related curricula are most often focused on theory and applications in design (studio) and physical/natural science (laboratory). As such, case studies integrated into these course formats provide students with opportunities to evaluate, justify, and communicate alternatives in the design or scientific processes required in projects in these courses.

Course Integration and Formats for Responses

All well-written case studies will require students to respond to the case study in some manner including responses to questions, role-playing assignments, and/or creative work. Students would be expected to respond to each of the questions, take the role of an industry professional, and/or provide a creative work as their response. Responses may require qualitative, quantitative, and/or a combination of data analyses. Responses could be completed either individually or in teams and presented in oral, written, creative work, or a combination of formats. These responses can be integrated into courses as out-of-class activities or in-class activities.

Out-of-class activities

Students may be assigned questions, role-playing assignments, and/or creative work as an out-of-class activity response to case studies. For these responses students would be expected to research and respond to each of the questions or the role-playing assignment in writing and/or produce a creative work along with a written narrative. Written papers will vary in length and complexity depending on the number and type of questions/activities assigned. Grading of out-of-class activities would be based on the quality and completeness of the responses along with appropriate justification and citations. The out-of-class activities could also be used as the basis for in-class small group or full class discussion.

In-class activities

Questions, role-playing, and/or creative work may be assigned during class as:

  • Individual writing during class – give students 5-10 minutes to write answers to one or more of the business questions and then use their responses as the basis for small group and/or full class discussion
  • Design charrette – give the students 15-20 minutes to create a design solution as a response to the case study
  • As the basis for small group discussion and/or full class discussion

If the case study lends itself to debates, students can be divided into two groups related to advice/recommendation provided around the situation or topic. Each group would form an argument for their advice/recommendation and present it to the class.

The case study could serve as a prompt to larger discussions around the topic presented in the case study. For example, an introductory case study related to environmentally responsible material selection could serve as a basis for a larger discussion of the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

At the end of the class, allow 5-10 minutes for students to reflect on and write what they learned from the case study and what additional questions they have. Questions can be addressed at the end of class, at the beginning of the following class, or online.

Term/Semester Long Case Studies

Longer and multi-faceted case studies can also be used for term/semester-long assignments. For example, general background about a fashion brand/company could be provided to students at the beginning of the term/semester. This fashion brand/ company could then be the basis for a series of cases studies that correspond with the topics of the course.

How Do I Choose the Right Case Study and Engage Students

Choosing the right case study for your course is based on:

  1. Level of course: introductory, intermediate, advanced
  2. Learning objectives of the course
  3. Reviewing possible case studies relevant to achieving the learning objectives
  4. Once the case study is selected, determining the type of assignment you want to use to achieve the learning objectives

Engaging Students

By applying concepts to real-life situations, strategies, and dilemmas, students learn to think like professionals in the fashion industry. In addition, case studies will heighten their awareness of the complexities of issues fashion industry professionals address. Including case studies that challenge their preconceptions and push them beyond their comfort zones is integral to the success of case studies. However, it is imperative that students are empowered to justify their recommended solutions in a safe and supportive classroom environment. This is particularly important when in-class discussions are included.

Guidelines for Students in Discussing Case Studies

There is generally more than one “correct” answer to the case study issues, problems, and questions. This can/should result in lively discussion. However, to get the most out of these discussions, we recommend the following guidelines are put in place for students:

  1. No one will be humiliated for anything they say – personal attacks will not be tolerated. However, if you are not prepared, your comments are careless, or your thoughts are not clear, you may feel embarrassed. Embarrassment and humiliation are not the same thing
  2. Rude or offensive comments or class behavior, including bigotry of any kind, will not be tolerated. Your discussions are to be civil, with every student showing proper respect for the beliefs and the dignity of every other student

Grading Criteria for Case Studies

Case Studies are generally evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Care with which facts and background knowledge are used
  • Demonstration of the ability to clearly identify and state problems and issues
  • Use of appropriate analytic techniques in identifying feasible solutions/plans of action
  • Evidence of sound logic/argument
  • Consistency between analysis and recommendations
  • Ability to formulate reasonable and feasible recommendations for action

Avoiding Pitfalls

Using the case study method of teaching can result in an engaging and effective learning environment for students. To ensure cases are used to their full potential, instructors must incorporate and present case studies with clear expectations and relevancy to the learning objectives of the course.

  • Select case studies and assignments based on the learning objectives of the course and the textbook/resources being used for the course
  • Be prepared in presenting the case study: read the case study and all questions and assignments; review background information and additional readings or resources associated with the case
  • Be clear with student expectations: provide clear instructions for students in the type, format, timeframe, and level of response you expect of them. Grading rubrics or explanations should be provided to students so they understand what is expected for earning particular grades
  • Determine and devote necessary time in class to review the case study assignment and for students to present

Any questions? If you would like us to create further faculty resources to support the case study method of teaching in fashion please contact Holly Shore.