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learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

you have developed some rapport, you may then steer the discussion toward the substantive

issues of your research. In those cases that are about successful outcomes, it is usually

easy to get people to talk: everybody likes to talk about success. But if your story

involves failure or bad judgment, as many of our cases do, be especially alert to the need

for sensitive listening. It is helpful, of course, to have in mind the main questions you are

going to ask before you begin. Others will come up during the conversation.

I have never used a tape recorder, although I know some case writers who do. In my

experience, as soon as the subject of the interview sees the recorder, he or she slips immediately

into a form of “legalese.” I just take notes, writing as fast as I can, and then hurry

back to my computer to transcribe my notes into a readable form. If a source is a major

contributor to your story, it may be appropriate to send your transcribed notes of the discussion

back to that individual to check for errors or misunderstandings.

Writing and Editing the Case

Good cases require room for disagreement among equally well informed and intelligent

readers as to what the main characters should do in the dilemma you have described.

Indeed, constructive conflict is the engine that drives this method of teaching, so be sure

that your case encourages the discussion process by allowing room for dispute. The

reader should have all the basic data that the protagonist had when the need for decision

or action arose, but if it is obvious what the protagonist should or should not do, the discussion

is not likely to be very interesting.

Write in the past tense, just as if you were telling a story (which you are). I have found

also that students can more readily identify with the characters in the case if the characters

have personal names and some descriptive data — if they can be accepted as real people.

Further, I think that students can identify better with the main decision-maker in the case

if they have something in common with that characters, such as age, experience, type of

assignment, and so on. This isn’t absolutely necessary, and sometimes it doesn’t matter at

all, but it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you are dealing with a readership that

is very narrowly focused.

Cases should be clear and concise. This does NOT mean that the dilemma described in

the case should be unambiguous (indeed, requiring students to untangle ambiguity is part

of the point to the case method), but that the reader should have no difficulty understanding

what was ambiguous, and why. It is very difficult to edit one’s own material, so if you

do not have access to a professional editor, it is helpful to have other people, including

colleagues or supervisors review your case before you use it in the classroom. Also, most

case writers like to “pilot” a new case with a group of colleagues before roll-out; this is a

good way to identify gaps and errors, and to get an idea of the classroom dynamics that

the case is likely to create.

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