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learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

EXPERIENCES TO GO: TEACHING WITH

INTELLIGENCE CASE STUDIES

Thomas W. Shreeve

(Originally published in JMIC Discussion Paper Number Twelve, Experiences to Go:

Teaching with Intelligence Case Studies, September 2004.)

LEARNING BY THE CASE METHOD

The cases and case studies that make up the Intelligence Community Case Method

Program are fundamentally accurate descriptions of real historical events or dilemmas.

While the names of the people involved and sometimes a few other details have been

changed in some of the cases — mostly out of respect for personal privacy or concerns

about security — the descriptions are basically true. (At the bottom of the first page of a

case, in what is called the “users’ note,” the case writer outlines where he or she may have

departed from the literal truth.) Most of the cases involve an individual or a small group

that must try to analyze a problem and propose a workable solution, or “plan of action” as

it is called in case method teaching. The case writer has included in summary form the

same basic information available to the person or group that had to make the decision.

The Educational Purpose of Cases

In the low-risk environment of a classroom, students get opportunities using this

method to practice analyzing tough problems and proposing realistic solutions. Cases

help students sharpen their analytic skills when they confront the need to identify the

problems facing the characters in the case and their decision-making skills when they

propose solutions to resolve the problems they have identified. The process is highly

interactive and demanding, since students using this technique are challenged by the

instructor and their peers to use evidence from the case — together with their own

experience and common sense — to defend their arguments and recommendations.

Effects on students include a heightened ability to think and reason rigorously, skills

that are highly valued wherever decisions must be made under ambiguous or uncertain

conditions. Many students using the case method also find that they have improved their

ability to express their analyses and recommendations articulately, and to defend them

against constructive criticism.

How to Prepare a Case

Use of the case method requires that students read the case carefully and think critically

about the problems it presents, as well as to be prepared to propose solutions. After

preparing a case, students meet in class under the guidance of a trained instructor to discuss

it and to test their analyses and recommended action plans against those of their

peers, who have different backgrounds and experience and may have arrived at quite dif-

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