At a superficial level, it might appear that student engagement in a case discussion is primarily a function of instructor style. Yet a charismatic personality is neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure a consistently engaging learning environment. Many case instructors use their Openings to frame the class in a way that engages students from the first moments of the session. The instructor's choice of questions throughout the class may also significantly impact engagement. Questions that call for a decision, evaluation or diagnosis are typically more engaging than those asking for case facts or general impressions. The use of challenging follow-up questions as well as cold-calling at multiple points during the class discussion also tends to heighten engagement.

A number of additional techniques can enhance student engagement during the discussion. One is the use of votes that compel students to commit publically to a specific position. Voting creates a sense of ownership, changes the pace of the discussion, and often produces debates that lead students to become invested at a more emotional level. Another technique is the use of role play, which allows students to experience dilemmas through the eyes of case protagonists and related parties. Instructors can raise individual student engagement by calling on students by name, referring to students' previous comments or relevant experience, and asking them to reflect personally on difficult issues raised by the case. Instructors also may employ vocal modulation, eye contact, humor, and movement around the classroom to enhance student engagement.

It is important to recognize that instructors do not need to generate high levels of energy throughout the entire class discussion to maintain engagement. Engagement can also be achieved during periods of thoughtful intensity and even silence, when moments of reflection may lead to deeper learning than that achieved in the context of heated debates.

Learning at the Extremes

Professor Frei discusses how pushing students to make decisions and defend their positions creates an engaging environment for learning.

Using a Vote to Engage the Class

Professor Garvin describes how the use of voting can help students become more engaged in the class discussion.

The Visceral Power of Role Play

Professor DeLong explains how the use of role play can create a more powerful learning experience.

Structuring Multiple-Student Role Play

Professor Garvin describes his use of role play to create natural debate.

The Quiet Moments

Ashish Nanda
Teachers may be more comfortable when the class energy is high. Professor Nanda notes, however, that good things can happen during the quiet moments.