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Educator Community

Using Your Harvard Law Case Study

Case studies are used in undergraduate, graduate, executive education, and professional development courses, workshops, and seminars. Instructors may assign questions prior to class to focus students on the particular issues they plan to address in the class session. A class session can include exercises, role plays, debates, and summarizing lectures. One of the hallmarks of a case discussion is the dynamic interaction between students, who engage in lively debate and ad hoc role plays. Instructors identify students who hold opposing views and ask questions designed to stimulate debate; they encourage input from others on both sides of the issue until the students uncover most or all of the learning points identified in advance by the instructor. Instructors will lead students to experience an “aha” moment during which conventional wisdom is trumped by deeper, more seasoned insights.

Case studies are often accompanied by teaching manuals or notes, which outline the basic premise of the case study, how it can be used within a course, learning objectives, assignment questions, a typical class discussion flow, and key takeaways. Teaching notes will often provide board plans, informational slides, exercises, and updates or epilogues to the case study.  Faculty authors may also provide supplemental materials, such as “what happened next” cases, role play instructions and exercises, videos, or suggested readings. For more information or to obtain up to date copies of teaching notes, contact The Case Studies program at 617-495-8689 or HLSCasestudies@law.harvard.edu.

A case study discussion typically requires at least one class session to fully implement. Some multi-part cases or multi-player role plays will require more time. Problem solving workshop cases, for example, often employ four-day teaching plans.