Why are we spending so much of class time in case discussions?
Most of the key value-creating decisions in marketing strategy are ones where the value of an action depends on its fit with a specific context. They tend to be pretty messy, with lots of perspectives to consider, with data that is at best noisy and at worst doesn’t exist. Experiencing, analyzing, and comparing decisions made in different contexts has been shown to be a very useful way to learn to make better decisions like this.
We have three key high-level learning objectives for each case discussion:
- To build your practical knowledge of how marketing concepts are applied to marketing decisions.
- To improve your ability to think and act critically and experimentally in messier, more uncertain contexts, where you may not have all the data you would like, and where the important aspects of situations, or steps to take to resolve problems are not clearly laid out in advance.
- To improve your ability to verbally argue for your point of view while simultaneously remaining open to others’ points of view, in order to make decisions that take into account and integrate the best information from multiple perspectives.
If you are used to lecture classes, you may find this type of learning initially frustrating. Please know that most of my former students have said case discussions were the part of the course where they learned the most— and that they ultimately enjoyed the most.
What will we be doing?
Each business case we use in class will involve four activities:
- Individual preparation
- Small group discussion
- Large group discussion
- Individual reflection
We will collaborate together, to understand the context of the decision to be made, and explore the fit of different approaches to the situation. We’ll compare your points of view, explore and challenge the logic and evidence that supports them, and learn from how they align and differ. And then, having come to some conclusions about how you might choose what to do in this situation, you will spend some time thinking about how your approach and conclusions might apply to other situations.
How should I prepare?
- At a minimum, skim any other assigned readings prior to reading the case. If you are pressed for time, focus on the case rather than the readings.
- Set aside 90 minutes on your calendar to read, make notes and come to some conclusions on the case. Review the preparation questions to guide your reading. Use the constraint of the time deadline to stay focused on your
- Begin with your end goal in mind. When you have finished your 90 minutes of preparation you want to
- be familiar with the information in the case
- have notes about what you think are the key issues, decisions, and decision criteria,
- be prepared to declare what your course of action would be, supported by data and analysis from the case, and to-be prepared to discuss the sensitivity of your conclusions to assumptions you had to make, and how you might add actions to test these assumptions to your action plan.
- Imagine yourself in the situation. Resist the urge to be a consultant for the people in the case. Instead approach the case as you were in this situation at this point in time, with this data only, having to make this decision yourself. Try to keep yourself in the time frame of the case. “Hindsight is 20/20”: things that are familiar or available now may not have been familiar or available then.
- Challenge your conclusions with yourself. It’s easy to fall in love with your initial decision. Research suggests that we all will focus on data and analysis that support our choices and ignore data that contradicts it. Improve your ability to overcome this cognitive trap by reading the case again, specifically looking for support for an alternative decision. What decision criteria are common to both decisions? What new criteria come up when you try to support an alternative decision?
- Do NOT look for information about the situation outside the case! You are practicing the difficult and critical managerial skill of making decisions now with the information you have, and avoiding “paralysis by analysis”. Resist the urge to pop open a search engine. Instead focus on
- making documented, testable assumptions about information you wish you had, using what you know right now (we will refer to these as hypotheses, and over time your comfort level with them will increase.)
- considering how sensitive your decisions are to whether you are right. Another way of saying this: how wrong would your assumption have to be in order to change your decision?
Why are we asked to submit our reflections after case discussions?
The ability to be self-reflective is a distinguishing capability of management professionals, and is improved through practice. Research on learning has also found this to be an important way of crystallizing new knowledge.
Your primary goal in the case discussions is to say things that contribute to your classmates’ learning. Here are factors to strive for in your discussion contributions, based on research on improving group learning through case discussions in marketing classes.1 Any one contribution may be effective without hitting all of these factors. Work to improve over time by recognizing these factors in others’ contributions and reflecting on your own.
|Quality of Contributions|
|Talks loosely, sometimes pulling facts from the case, conceptual content, and relevant experience, and sometimes not. Logic sometimes lacking.||Comments grounded in supporting data: facts of the case, conceptual content or relevant experience. Plausible logic connecting supporting data with points of view.||Comments grounded in supporting data: facts of the case, conceptual content or relevant experience. Strong logic connecting supporting data with points of view.|
|Contributes facts, but no analysis to the discussion.||Contributes primarily qualitative analysis to the case discussion.||Contributes both strong qualitative and quantitative analysis to the discussion.|
|Does not take a point of view or make recommendations.||Makes recommendations, but analysis is sometimes lacking.||Frequently takes a point of view or makes recommendations backed up by analysis.|
|Never takes and defends positions that are different from the positions of others.||Takes and defends positions that are different from the positions of others in the class, analysis is sometimes lacking||Takes and defends positions that are different from the positions of others, backed up by relevant analysis.|
|Quality of Integration of Contributions into Discussion|
|Contributions never build upon, synthesize, or otherwise recognize the comments of others.||Contributions sometimes build upon, synthesize or otherwise recognize the comments of others.||Contributions nearly always build upon, synthesize or otherwise recognize the comments of others.|
|Repeats perspectives already discussed and/or is unnecessarily long-winded.||Contributions are sometimes new, sometimes repetitive, sometimes succinct sometimes long-winded.||Contributions usually contribute new perspectives or insights; keeps comments to the point and succinct.|
|Talks down to people or speaks disrespectfully.||Talks with some hesitation and uncertainty.||Speaks in a collegial tone but with authority.|
|Is not able to respectfully disagree with others or does so in a non-constructive manner.||When disagreeing with others, often does so respectfully in a constructive manner.||When disagreeing with others, usually does so respectfully in a constructive manner.|
|Quality of Engagement|
|Rarely/never speaks OR dominates the discussion.||Talks sometimes||Speaks frequently but does not dominate the conversation.|
|Appears disconnected from the conversation, engages in class-unrelated activities or leaves the room during discussion.||Engagement ranges from active to inactive but present.||Actively attentive and involved throughout the class.|
- Rubric and research findings: Avery, Jill. “Leveraging Crowdsourced Peer-to-Peer Assessments to Enhance the Case Method of Learning.” Journal for Advancement of Marketing Education 22, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 1–15 ↩︎
How will you assess case discussion participation?
After each case discussion I will review my notes supported by a taped transcript of the discussion. I will use the rubric above to assess your overall participation that day as absent, novice, mastery or exemplary. If you were present and didn’t speak I will categorize your contribution as novice. At the end of the semester I will look across all 9 case discussions (including your written recommendation) and score based on you meeting the following thresholds. You must meet all three thresholds to receive the associated score:
|Fall 2019 Scoring Rubric (9 cases, 40 students)||Novice (75/100)||Mastery (85/100)||Exemplary (95/100)|
|Minimum discussions with exemplary contribution||0||2||3|
|Minimum discussions with mastery or higher contribution||2||4||6|
|Minimum discussions with novice or higher contribution||6||7||7|
I reserve the right to adjust your points score based on your overall pattern of contributions.