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Facilitating Interactive Case Discussion

Jane Jackson
The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Much has been written about the artistry of case discussion leadership in North America (Barnes, Christensen and Hansen, 1994; Christensen, 1991; Erskine, Leenders and Maufette-Leenders, 1998; Welty, 1989). In second or foreign language settings, fully engaging students in case-based learning poses special challenges for case leaders. I

In Hong Kong, for example, I investigated the communication process in business (management) case discussions that took place in English (Jackson 2000, 2001a, 2001b, 2002a, 2002b). Triangulated data included: semi-structured interviews and a survey of case leaders and their students, observation and transcriptions of twenty-four case discussions, and a comparative discourse analysis of case discussions. Stylistic variations were found in the questioning and grouping techniques employed by the case leaders and the level of interaction and response from their students. As outlined below, the findings suggested certain strategies case leaders might try to draw reticent students into case discussions. 


Implications for Case Leaders
If your students……. you might …….
are new to this mode of learning and not sure of the role they should play in case discussions outline your expectations and reasons for using cases, stressing the practical benefits: enhanced communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills that should better prepare them for the competitive job market.
do not seem adequately prepared for the discussions require them come to class with a brief case report, outlining the key facts and their analysis. You might also ask them to prepare a few questions about the case that they could ask during the discussion.
have problems understanding the cultural nuances in cases that are set in an unfamiliar context provide background information when the cases are assigned and also encourage the students to relate the cases to contexts or companies that are more familiar to them.
are hesitant to express their views in class establish a safe, open environment and have students work in small groups before and possibly during the full-class case discussion;
do not volunteer responses in case discussions single out individual students for questions, preferably by name. (Or if students remain in small groups, call on group representatives).
prefer to say as only a few words when responding, to a question use probes to get them to expand on their first response. Move from closed questions to those that are more open-ended and cognitively challenging.
give a response that is unclear to you request clarification. (e.g. "Can you give me an example? Do you mean…?")
take a long time to respond expect a slower pace for discussions that take place in the students' second language; resist the temptation to jump in with your own answer or another question and, if necessary, rephrase the question so that it is more clear.
find it difficult to follow the discussion use explicit comprehension checks, reduce your rate of speech, and use visuals (e.g. board work, listing key headings and points).
regard you as the "expert" and do not value the comments of their classmates actively promote student-student exchanges and make it clear that their comments are valued.
limit themselves to the case reading and do not bring in outside information ask questions that encourage students to link the cases with other companies or situations.
like you to conclude the session by providing the one "best" solution to a case emphasize the value of different viewpoints and solutions when providing closure to the discussion.



Barnes, L., R. Christensen and A. Hansen, “Premises and Practices of Discussion Teaching.” In Barnes, L., R. Christensen and A. Hansen. Teaching and the Case Method. (Harvard Business School Press, 1994), pp. 23-33.

Christensen, C. R., “The discussion teacher in Action: Questioning, Listening, and Response.” In C. R. Christensen, D. Garvin and A. Sweet (Eds.). Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership. (Harvard Business School Press,  1991), pp. 153-172.

Erskine, J., M. Leenders, and L. Maufette-Leenders, Teaching with Cases (Richard Ivey School of Business, The University of Western Ontario, 1998).

Jackson, J. “The power of questions in second language case discussions.” In H. Klein (Ed.). Complex Demands on Teaching Require Innovation” Case Method and Other Techniques. (WACRA, 2000), pp. 277-291.

Jackson, J. “Cross-cultural case discussions in international business: Encouraging the nails to stick up.” Journal of Teaching in International Business. (Vol. 13, No. 1, 2001a), pp. 67-86.

Jackson, J. “Combating dead air in case discussions” In H. Klein (Ed.). Interactive Teaching Across Disciplines and Cultures: Case Method and Other Techniques. (WACRA, 2001b), pp. 227-240).

Jackson, J., “The L2 case discussion in business: An ethnographic investigation.” In J. Flowerdew (Ed.) Academic Discourse. (Longman, 2002a) pp. 286-286.

Jackson, J. “The China strategy: A tale of two case leaders.” English for Specific Purposes. 21 (3), (2002b), pp. 243-259.

Welty, W., “Discussion method teaching: How to make it work” Change, (July/ August 1989), pp. 41-49.