Introducing the discovery case study: Brompton folding bikes


How do we deal with the challenge of student engagement in our business schools? With approximately only 20 per cent of business school students engaging with the pre-assigned pre-class reading, the pervasive influence of technology, media, and apps competing for students attention tutors and the problem of low social interaction in the learning space. Could a ‘discovery case study’ approach provide some clues to how this might be addressed?

Recent research (‘Introducing the discovery case study: Brompton folding bikes’, Journal of Applied Learning and Teaching) suggests situating a learning challenge in a real-world context, and using case-based pedagogies can help learners prepare for jobs that do not yet exist by developing versatile problem-solving skills and experience. Often written using an empathetically compelling story of a business conundrum, case-based dilemmas can uniquely be told through the lens of an individual, giving a reasonably realistic sense of management in practice.

A discovery case study is distinctive from a traditional case study in that students are confronted by the questions first (rather than last) and then introduced to a modest range of resources that may help them, working together as a cohesive team, address the set questions. Again, different from traditional case studies, where all the necessary information is included within the confines of the case documentation, successful groups need to collaboratively mine their information sources (and perhaps use their own initiative to find others) whilst simultaneously putting in practice effective group working skills to build a clear picture from their informational jigsaw pieces. In framing the problem initially in the form of questions, students can be motivated to research with purpose, and within their group benefit from rapid peer feedback during discussions. With the tutor able to provide feedback, observations on the group processes, along with hints and tips on how to overcome any hurdles, their interventions can satisfy any needs for instant gratification and encouragement.

One of the most important benefits of a case study-based pedagogy is that it develops the ability to absorb and analyse an array of informational elements in a more lifelike format and context. Working in groups, students also can develop their soft skills (e.g., listening, persuasion, negotiation, and team-working) that are often cited as major employability shortcomings from traditional university programmes. It is important to note that the ‘real-world’ does not usually, systematically, serve up bite-sized executive summaries that highlight all the salient information, with a clear problem statement and compelling solution. So, another happy path is needed, one that removes the roadblock of pre-reading, but retains the more profound benefits afforded by case learning pedagogies.

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