01 Dec 2011

The Evolving Case Method


Simulations and role-plays complement and reinforce the power of traditional case method instruction and have become fixtures of several courses. Professor David Garvin explains how this has worked in Leadership and Corporate Accountability, a first-year required course. After discussing a case about leaders who failed to rise to moral challenges, the professor would hand out an exercise worksheet. “We asked students to reflect on a time when they failed to rise to a moral challenge,” recounts Garvin. “What were the circumstances? What pressures did you feel? Why did you behave the way you did?” The students were then asked to share what they wrote with the person next to them.

Afterward, the entire class engaged in a discussion about what makes responding to moral challenges so difficult. “This is an exercise that HBS professor Joshua Margolis devised, and it’s very powerful,” says Garvin. “Keep in mind, the exercise was preceded by a 50-minute case discussion about moral challenges. And if you asked me, would the exercise have worked without first having the case discussion, I would say, ‘Absolutely not.’ The case discussion gives you context and grounding; it provides a point of comparison. But if you asked me, was the case more powerful with the reflective exercise, I’d say, ‘Absolutely, yes.’ ”


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