The case for undergraduates

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Participants on what teaching excellence should deliver: connection with real life, contextualise theory

We take a lot for granted. In any typical British summer it will rain tomorrow. Our sports team will, in the end, disappoint us. Teaching undergraduates using the case method is just impossible.

And yet the sun does shine, even in the UK. Some sports teams do win. 18% percent of our case distribution is to university teachers teaching undergrads.

Which is why we recently held a one-day event in London at Friends House exploring the use of cases at undergraduate level. The day was hosted by one of our most experienced workshop tutors, Dr Scott Andrews, and we had three wonderful speakers who dismantled three core beliefs taken for granted as reasons not to adopt the case approach in an undergraduate classroom: the case method is not accepted pedagogy; undergraduates are too inexperienced and classes too large to teach other than by lecturing; if I did use cases, I wouldn’t be rewarded.

Professor Mark Schofield is SOLTICE Academic Director and Dean of Learning and Teaching at Edge Hill University. Mark’s presentation outlined his perspective on pedagogy and possibilities for practice, and demonstrated clear and solid links between the case method and leading research into learning styles and student engagement. He saw case-based approaches giving students opportunities to apply and integrate discipline based knowledge and skills in authentic and meaningful ways. For Mark, case studies support and encourage personalisation, engagement and making connections with research and professional practice – key components of university education.


Friends House

Dr Chris Williams is Associate Professor in Management at Durham University Business School, and an experienced case teacher and author. Chris shared his experience of using cases with undergraduate students to cover themes such as classroom management, student motivation, and managing larger groups in working with less experienced students.

Finally, Dr Ben Brabon, Academic Lead for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the UK’s Higher Education Academy, explored the relationship between case-based practice and UK policy agendas around teaching excellence. In other words, how to use teaching with cases as evidence supporting excellence in teaching. Ben established routes leading from case teaching to rewards via national teaching excellence frameworks.

I have to say the day was really successful. The room was full and we had some great feedback from delegates.

I certainly got a lot out of attending and left for home convinced that there is a lot more we can do to support you in your undergraduate case teaching.

Not least through the introduction of our new Undergraduate Case Teaching Licence.

We’d like to run more of these days and are already planning next year’s. If you would like to see a particular aspect of undergraduate teaching covered in next year’s event, please drop me a line via


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Case author relationships under the microscope


Times Higher Education (1-7 June) investigated persistent claims from PhD students of ill treatment at the hands of their supervisors.

The feature reports claims of sexism, institutionalised bullying through an imbalanced relationship between supervisor and those being supervised, and PhD students being seen widely as a cheap workforce.

Kathleen Barker, an experienced supervisor and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health, identifies authorship as one area in which good supervisors seek to establish clarity as early as possible: “Who writes the papers? How is authorship decided? Will you protect your people in authorship disputes with collaborating groups, or will you sacrifice a trainee to keep last authorship for yourself?”

woman writing her notebookI meet many PhD or Masters student authors in the course of presenting our annual awards for case writing. I have been impressed by the regard in which they are held and by how senior lead authors have been at pains to make sure that student authors and collaborators are acknowledged properly.

But I wonder how often PhD students contribute to researching or writing cases without being given proper recognition as a co-author?

In another Times Higher Education article – this time from the edition 18-24 May – by Mark Hayter and Roger Watson of the Faculty of Health Science at the University of Hull, explores the question of whether or not it is right for PhD supervisors to publish with their students.

While recognising that some academics, particularly in the social sciences, see supervisors publishing with students, as predatory, Hayter and Watson do not. They argue strongly in favour of publishing jointly authored works as a supervisor’s ‘moral responsibility’ to help their students publish.

Where do you stand?

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