Sustainicum Collection

Consus The aim of the project is to establish a regional science-society network for sustainability innovations in Albania and Kosovo in order to strengthen the connection and collaboration of institutions in the field of higher education, research and practice.

Resource facts

  • Independent of the number of students
  • Up to 3 lecture units
    4-7 lecture units
    up to 1 semester
    more than 1 semester
  • Internet connection necessary
  • English

Resource Description

Case study teaching(Resource ID: 40)

Case study teaching is an appropriate method when you want your students to engage in real-life challenges but without directly involving external stakeholders. Case studies present stories of complex real situations or fictions which are likely to happen in reality. Case study teaching is a form of discussion-based learning. It is recommended to integrate case studies in classes where students already have theoretical knowledge on the topic, which they can then apply on a real case.

What is a case study?
A case study is either a story which is based on a real situation or it is composed of a series of events or fictive situations, which could take place in reality as well. A case study

  • presents an engaging and interesting story,
  • is based on a recent event,
  • provides a learning opportunity on a relevant topic,
  • is of relevance to the students,
  • manages uncertainty,
  • tackles a general problem, and
  • is decision-forcing (cp. Hamschmidt 2007).

It is important that case studies relate to the students’ knowledge and environment in order to address their emotions so that they demonstrate empathy with the case persons. Learning outcomes are more relevant when the case addresses a general problem because the students will be able to apply the outcomes in more contexts.

Why applying case study teaching?
Case studies are included in many university classes in order to confront students with complex and uncertain challenges of a real-world situation. Students will be involved into a concrete problem-solving process and puts them in a situation where there is not only one correct answer, but which requires thoughtful and creative decision-making in an uncertain context. Students are confronted with their values and skills as they need to prioritise which aspects of the case (facts, theories, emotions) they experience as most relevant. Thereby students can develop their strategic and systemic competences as well as interpersonal, teamwork and leadership skills.

How to teach with case studies?
Students will benefit most in a case method when they can apply their previously learned theoretical knowledge and methodological skills. Hence it is recommended to integrate cases in advanced stages of a course or study programme.
Preparations for the educator involve selecting appropriate case studies and formulating questions for the students. During class the educator needs to find the right balance between instructor and facilitator as students might need some guidance but should at the same time have enough freedom to discuss solutions on their own.

Following procedure is recommended:

  1. Students individually read the case study. They explore the problem and have time to sort out the important facts.
  2. The case is discussed in small groups of 3-5 students. The educator provides questions to the students.
  3. The students present their perspectives of the case and first conclusions to the audience.
  4. The results are commonly discussed.
  5. Students reflect the case and answer the questions in a written report (on the individual or group level).


As a further step students can be assigned roles in the case and they have to find and negotiate decisions from the different characters’ points of view.
Case studies can be applied independently from the group size, but classes with up to 25 students would be ideal. 

Note: If you prefer to directly engage your students in a real case, have a look at the “Transdisciplinary case study approach”.

Type of teaching method
  • case study
Preparation Efforts Description
Lecturers need to identify appropriate cases in advance.
Related Teaching Resources
No specific previous knowledge / related resources required
Necessary documents / materials

Lecturers need cases that fit to their specific teaching focus, provide up-to-date information and are interesting and well written. See “Sources and links” below for links to case collections.

Integration of stakeholders
Normally societal stakeholders are not directly involved in case study teaching but the different perspectives and roles of stakeholders are simulated through the different characters in the case. Hence students learn to perceive and assess information from different points of view.

If you like to directly involve stakeholders in your classes, you can go a step further of classic case study teaching. After students explore and discuss the case study in class, they could interview societal stakeholders who have been involved in particular case or who might have experienced similar situations.
Topics of sustainability
Case study teaching emerged in business studies but can be applied in various contexts, where students shall learn to cope with complex and uncertain situations. Beside business, this can involve law cases, urban planning processes, environmental assessment, social work, development studies, etc.
For case collections please refer to “Sources and links”.
Situations appropriate for this method
Strengths of the method
Case study teaching is a suitable method for science-society collaborations as it deals with real-world problems.
Students experience situations they can expect in their future professional life.
Students get to reflect their perspectives, values and skills.
Students are challenged in systemic thinking and applying their previous learned knowledge in practice.
High level of learning opportunities.
Case study teaching can easily be integrated into various courses.

Students learn to cope with complex and uncertain situations, which foster their systemic and critical thinking.
Students learn to apply theoretical knowledge to real world problems.
Students learn to work in teams and to commonly negotiate and discuss case decisions.
Case study teaching fosters students’ self-awareness and leadership capacities.
Weaknesses of the method
Societal stakeholders are not directly involved.
Assessment / evaluation
Case study teaching can be assessed through multiple assignments, such as presentations, project reports, or contributions to discussions.
Following questions will be of relevance:
- Have students understood the case challenges?
- Are students able to apply their learnings?
- Are students actively engaged in team work and can they successfully contribute to the decision-making?

Additionally a learning portfolio is recommended to better analyse if the students have understood the approach. The students hereby have to reflect their personal work and experience with the case study (i.e. what are the most important findings, what questions arise, are there difficulties in understanding and applying the approach, concluding reflection and resume). The learning portfolio is submitted at the end of the course. The lecturer can thus assess the learning process and learning success of the students.
Sources and Links

Hamschmidt, J. (2007) Case Studies in Sustainability Management and
Strategy: The oikos collection. Greenleaf Publishing Limited, UK.

Scholz, R.W., Lang, D.J., Wiek, A., Water, A.I., Stauffacher, M. (2006) Transdisciplinary case studies as a means for sustainability learning – Historical framework and theory. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 7(3), 226-251.

Scholz, R.W., Tietje, O. (2002) Embedded Case Study Methods, Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Knowledge. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, USA.

Steiner, G., Posch, A. (2006) Higher education for sustainability by means of transdisciplinary case studies: an innovative approach for solving complex, real-world problems. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14, 877-890.

Internet sources:
Case Method at Harvard Business School: www.hbs.edu/teaching/case-method-in-practice/, accesses December 2014 (comprehensive and informative website about the case method)

Cases Programme by oikos International: http://oikos-international.org/programmes/curricula-change/cases-program/, accessed December 2014 (case study competition and collection of international cases on social entrepreneurship, CSR and management)

The Case Centre: www.thecasecentre.org/, accessed January 2015 (comprehensive information about the case method and a collection of cases)

Funded by
This teaching resource, realised within the project ConSus, has been funded with the support of the TEMPUS of the European Union. The contents reflect the views of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Marlene Mader
This teaching resource is allocated to following University:
LEUPHANA - University of Lüneburg
Leuphana University of Lüneburg


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