Planning a Class Session

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." — Seneca, 1st century AD

The spontaneous and "in-the-moment" dynamics of successful case discussions mask the considerable planning that instructors carry out prior to each class session. Paradoxically, it is the very thoroughness of the preparation of class content and process that enables greater flexibility in the discussion. Preparation should begin with the identification of a small number of core learning objectives for the session, which frame the development of a teaching plan. "Elements of Effective Class Preparation" presents a systematic approach for planning the process side of the class discussion. This includes planning for the structure, sequencing, and timing of discussion segments ("pastures"), as well as the types of questions, organization of boards, transitions, and other discussion leadership elements that help the instructor guide students toward discovery and learning. Planning also entails knowing your audience and anticipating their needs, interests, and ability to contribute. Reviewing student backgrounds in relation to the specific class session is an important, and sometimes overlooked, component of preparation. (See Knowing Your Students.)

In planning for a specific case session, instructors may be able to draw on published teaching notes and on teaching plans previously developed by others or themselves. They may also enjoy the support of teaching groups and individual colleagues. These resources can help instructors identify teaching opportunities, such as points of tension or "fighting issues" that can be leveraged to generate engagement, debate, and deeper learning. They also can highlight teaching challenges, including aspects of the case content, conceptual material, or analytics that students may find particularly complex or confusing.

Experienced instructors take care to ensure that detailed planning does not lead to a class session that becomes bogged down in minutiae at the expense of core learning objectives. During the planning process it is useful for instructors to keep in mind questions such as: Why should students care about this case and this class session? Is this case representative of a more general phenomenon—is it an archetype? What is the underlying "theory of the case"? How does the case relate to other cases in the course module and other real world examples? By answering these questions, the instructor will be better positioned to design and execute a plan that allows the "forest" to emerge from the "trees" of the class discussion.