Student performance in a case method course may be assessed along a variety of dimensions including class participation, individual written work on papers and exams, and group activities such as projects and presentations. Our focus here is on class participation, which is integral to the case method and often accounts for a significant portion of a student's grade (typically 50% at HBS—see Participation).
Experienced case instructors evaluate class participation based on a student's contribution to the collective learning during class discussions. Establishing objective assessments of these contributions can be challenging. The quality of individual contributions relates not only to the content, but also the delivery and timing of comments within the flow of the class discussion. More frequent participation is often a positive factor, although excessive attempts to comment may lead to lower quality contributions and may reflect a bias toward speaking over listening. In assessing participation, instructors should be aware of the critical role they play in shaping student performance through calling patterns and the types of questions and follow-ups they use with individual students. Also, the quality of the instructor's participation tracking system may significantly affect the reliability of the overall performance evaluation.
From a student perspective, the participant-centered nature of the case method generates greater expectations and opportunities for feedback as compared to lecture-based pedagogies. As students participate in class discussions, they receive immediate feedback in the form of instructor and student responses to their contributions. This type of feedback, however, may be ambiguous and indirect, leaving students uncertain as to the impact of their participation and how they might enhance their effectiveness. To some extent, this is not a bad thing, since it encourages students to develop their own capabilities for reflection and self-assessment. Students may actively seek additional feedback from peers and the instructor outside of class. Ideally, instructors will be able to provide both evaluative and developmental feedback in a manner that helps students discover further insights regarding their strengths and opportunities for improvement.