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.

Timing with a Case Example

Professor Garvin says timing can be a "tricky business," and he reveals how he managed the R.R. Donnelley and Sons case discussion.

Making Real Time Adjustments

While it's important to allocate time for each segment of a discussion, Professor Garvin explains the value of remaining flexible when leading a class.

Reins of Control

Ashish Nanda
Professor Nanda often creates teaching plans as long as seven pages. Yet rarely do his classes adhere strictly to a plan. Here he discusses loosening the reins of control in the classroom.

Adjusting timing during a Case Discussion

Ashish Nanda
Professor Nanda debriefs his class on how the Andersen vs. Andersen case discussion varied from his teaching plan.

Agenda on the Board

Professor DeLong shares his ideas on how and when he uses the blackboard to set an agenda.