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A new case study

Business schools around the world are toying with new ideas to make the case study method of teaching more engaging

Abhilasha Ojha 

When Thomas Alexander, a professor with the Asian Institute of in Manila, wanted to make case studies in more exciting and meaningful for students, he decided to practise what he preached: to innovate. With the help of an illustrator, he made a graphic book of the case study to share with students instead of foisting a text book on them. When the day of the discussion arrived, Alexander noted that the attendance of students was 90 per cent - against roughly 70 per cent earlier.

That was three years ago. Looking at the student response to the illustrated case study, he decided to go one step further. He wrote to HBS entrepreneurial professor Noam Wasserman seeking permission to "convert" case studies into "illustrated" text. With Wasserman's approval - he was completely sold on the idea - Alexander tied up with an illustrator, who specialised in the Japanese Manga style, and presented Harvard's Apple Core case study in the form of a comic.

This isn't for the first time that Harvard Business Publishing, the not-for-profit, wholly owned subsidiary of Harvard University, was publishing comics-styled case studies. Five years ago, Robert Austin, a former HBS professor, released his first comics-style graphic novel depicting an IT security crisis at an online retailer. The comic sustains annual sales of 5,000 copies, according to Harvard Business Publishing.

According to Maureen Betses, vice-president of higher education at Harvard Business Publishing, graphic case study sales is a tiny fraction of the overall case study sales. But it is growing in popularity very fast. Ask experts on why works of scholarship might require such treatment and they'll tell you that the key reason is to keep students engaged. The introduction of the 'case study' format was driven by the need to be more engaging. Currently, Harvard case studies account for 80 per cent of the cases studied at business schools around the world, but experts reckon this mode of teaching will be difficult to sustain.

Columbia Business School has, in fact, reduced its dependence on case studies. While 40 per cent of class-time is devoted to cases, 40 per cent is on lectures and the rest is on hands-on experience and team projects. The school works on what it calls 'decision briefs' instead of full cases. Stanford's innovative teaching methodology includes students getting videotaped even as they act out simulations of real-world business problems for classes on 'leadership strategy'. It is awkward watching their own videos (subject to constructive criticism by teachers and classmates) but it's precisely getting rid of this awkwardness that is the first step to leadership strategy. Then there's Wharton School, which announced its partnership with SiriusXM, a satellite radio, for the launch of the Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Launched a few months ago, the 24/7 channel focuses on shows with executives, corporate leaders and experts. The satellite radio will also have audio case studies.

Clearly, teaching methodologies are also changing with the changing times. Back home, Bollywood films have made it to B-schools as case studies: there's 1920 Evil Returns, which is taken as an example of social media marketing (at IIM Bangalore; later published in Harvard Business Publishing); Chak De India (case study on leadership transformation at SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai); Three Idiots and Delhi Belly (as marketing success formula and business return case studies for Institute of Management Nirma University).

First Published: Mon, June 23 2014. 00:09 IST