Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title The Use of Case Studies: The Teaching and the Learning of Economic Theory
Originator Clive Agnew
Department Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK
Tel. +44 (0)171 504 4271
Fax +44 (0)171 380 7565

This case study is based upon ideas from Carlson & Schodt (1995)


Students need to be provided with increased opportunities to apply their knowledge, in the context of this example to 'think like economists', and the case study is one technique for achieving this aim.


Case studies provide information and realistic examples of the need for problem solving but not the analysis. Students then have to frame pertinent questions, decide which analytical tools and principles apply and search for additional information. The emphasis is then upon 'doing' and developing creative skills. Although the case may be prepared individually or collectively the 'problem' is solved through class discussion with only guidance provided by the lecturer. This approach is then based on class group work and this has been employed with class sizes in excess of one hundred students.


Students are required to prepare a case study and to bring this to the class. This may involve a written analysis. In the in-class discussion can employ a range of strategies including role playing, courts of inquiry and so on (see Gibbs & Jenkins, 1992). It is important that the students be allowed the freedom to determine their own solution although the lecturer retains responsibility for involving all students and for ensuring important factual or analytical issues are addressed. Two examples are provided here:
  1. A course on 'Development Economics', with junior and senior majors in economics, 20 to 25 students attending 60 minute classes held three times a week for 38 sessions. Six cases were used over ten sessions; topics included on economic growth of Brazil and development strategy in Singapore. Prior to each case all students wrote a four page response to a series of questions which, along with class discussions, accounted for 30% of the course assessment.
  2. A course on 'International Monetary Problems', with senior economics majors and graduate students, 15 to 25 students, attending 75 minute classes two times a week for 30 sessions. Eight class sessions were devoted to cases. Most cases, such as how the EU should proceed to monetary union, were preceded by a written exercise handed in on the day the case was discussed.

In both examples lectures remained an important aspect of teaching but no longer dominated the instruction.


Student evaluations showed that they believed the use of cases had contributed to their learning and none felt they should be replaced by lectures. Students noted in particular that cases helped to:

Case studies also avoid the artificiality often found with the use of problem sets. There are however some issues that need to be acknowledged. In the teaching of economic theory case studies illustrate and challenge but they do not provide the theory or models that need to be understood. Lectures remain then an important aspect of this strategy. There is also a need to give up topics to make way for the case studies while it takes time to prepare each new case study although this may not be more than for a new lecture. Carlson & Schodt believe that the use of case studies is worth the effort, it is highly rewarding for both student and teacher and does much more than stimulate lively discussion. This approach is supported for teaching geography students by Grant (1997) who lists sources for a number of available cases (see table below).


Sources of available WWW case studies (from Grant, 1997)

Organisation URL Topics

CaseNet Development, environment, foreign policy, history, international political economy, international trade and economics
The CHANCE Project Statistics, probability
Clearing House for Decision Case Education Sustainable agriculture, education technologies, extension education
The European Case Clearing House Accounting, control and business environment, finance, policy and general management, human resources and organisational behaviour, marketing, production and operation management
Harvard Business School Business, government and the international economy, competition and strategy, information organisation and control systems, management policy, managerial accounting, marketing, organisational behaviour, technology and operations management


Carlson, J.A. & Schodt, D.W. (1995) Beyond the lecture: case teaching and the learning of economic theory, Journal of Economic Education (winter), pp.17-28.

Gibbs, G. & Jenkins, A. (Eds) (1992) Teaching Large Classes in Higher Education, (London: Kogan Page).

Grant, R. (1997) A claim for the case method in the teaching of geography, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 21(2), pp.171-185.


Case studies
Creative skills
Group work
Problem solving

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Lecturing in Geography"

Keywords can be used to search for specific topics
Abstracts are also listed by Originator

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Page created 2 October 1999
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