Timing

Case method teaching involves a delicate balance between organization and guidance on the one hand, and flexibility and responsiveness on the other. For each class session, experienced case instructors typically develop a detailed teaching plan that includes the structure, sequencing, and timing of individual discussion segments ("pastures"). (See Planning a Class Session.) Yet in real time, some discussion pastures develop more or less quickly than anticipated in the plan, and student contributions may lead the discussion in unforeseen directions. This organic nature of case discussions can create challenges for time management throughout the class session.

In the face of timing challenges, instructors should avoid the extremes of leading with an iron fist or giving unbridled free rein to the participants. A discussion that is managed too tightly may feel stilted or rushed and turn into a forced march through the case, fueled more by the desire to implement the teaching plan than to support student learning. Conversely, inadequate pacing may lead the discussion to feel directionless, resulting in a class with limited student discovery and inadequate fulfillment of key learning objectives.

Most experienced case instructors pursue an intermediate strategy: instead of micromanaging the timing of each pasture, they choose 2-3 checkpoints around which to anchor their pacing of the discussion. If they reach a checkpoint sooner than anticipated, they can use the extra time to go into more depth in the following segments or pursue additional topics. If the discussion has proceeded more slowly than expected, they can draw on questioning, listening and responding techniques to speed up the discussion without giving short shrift to the learning objectives. This type of flexibility does not negate the usefulness of planning. Indeed, it requires planning, so that real time choices can be made in the moment with an informed assessment of the tradeoffs involved.