The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

5.3 Case studies and group debates

Case studies and debates are additional activities that can be used in seminars to keep students motivated and encourage them to engage with the material learned. These exercises also encourage students to develop further key skills in the areas of communication, critical analysis and teamwork. Case studies and debates come in many forms and can be adapted to suit any type of seminar topic.

One possible example of a case study format might involve a description of an organisation or task group that has enough money to fund one project. Students are provided with information about each of the possible projects that could be funded by the organisation and they have to decide, in groups, which of these projects would be the most appropriate. Students might also be required to rank all projects in order of their acceptability. This encourages debate and reasoning amongst the members of each group. Students might also be required to write some notes explaining the criteria that have allowed them to accept/reject/rank each of the projects. One of the group members might then be expected to present their decisions to the whole class and field questions from the other groups about their decision.

Again the process of each group presenting their decision creates debate and requires students to consider carefully the reasoning behind their choices. Overall, the case study and debate seminar format introduces students to the concept of group work and enables students to express opinions and, through discussion, reach a consensus on the most appropriate courses of action within a relatively short time period. The exercise also serves to introduce students to the economic problem of selecting a ‘correct’ answer given competing ends, and encourages students to evaluate the opportunity costs of making particular decisions.

Students generally respond well to the case study and debate format for seminars. Occasionally, the seminar leader needs to redress the balance of a particular group where one member is significantly more opinionated or domineering than other group members. In addition, where there is no ‘right’ answer to the exercise, students can sometimes become despondent as they don’t feel that they can work through the process and necessarily reach a natural end. These points are minor, though, and can be tackled by the seminar leader encouraging the students to work through a given scenario in a different way if and when it is felt that the motivation of any given group is waning.