SAGE Author Profile: Deborah de Lange, Ryerson University

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Case from Deborah on SAGE Business Cases

About Deborah

Deborah de Lange, PhD (Strategic Management, University of Toronto) is Faculty at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada and in Ryerson's Environmental Applied Science and Management graduate program. She has published in journals such as the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Journal of Business Ethics, the Journal of International Management, and Business & Society. She has published three books including: 1) Cliques and Capitalism: A modern Network Theory of the Firm, 2) Research Companion to Green International Studies, and 3) Power and Influence: The Embeddedness of Nations. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the North America Chapter of UN PRME and Program Chair for the Public and Non-Profit Division of Academy of Management.

Q & A with Deborah

Q: How do you integrate cases into your classes?

A: Cases can be integrated in a variety of ways. I teach case courses most often so the core materials for the courses are the cases. Students learn how to analyze cases the Harvard way. Over a couple of classes, I teach theoretical concepts first and then facilitate students' analyses and development of solutions for a case related to the theory. In other non-case courses, very brief cases are used to illustrate concepts and motivate class discussion. Cases are used as assignments and for case exams, depending on the level of the course and student capabilities. 

Q: How do students respond to the cases?

A: Cases are challenging at first for students who have not done case analysis. I use students' early responses to adjust my teaching style so that they do not become too overwhelmed and discouraged. Often, students not used to rigorous analysis will discuss cases on a superficial level and without comprehensively considering all of the case facts. A challenge for the professor is to dig deeper and use facts to present logical options, analyses, and recommendations that address the case issues. When students are finding difficulty making sense of the ambiguity they face with cases, I ask them directed questions which forces them to dig up and integrate specific facts. They demonstrate progression as they learn to solve a case in a more systematic, complete, and holistic way such that I become more of a facilitator for their work on the solutions.

Q: Do you have any tips for those who are new to cases and want to use them in courses?

A: At the beginning of a case course, a professor should teach students the steps to case analysis along with the rationale for it and expectations. A very good guide can be found online called A Guide to Case Analysis - McGraw Hill Higher Education. Smaller class sizes are better for case courses so that everyone can get involved. Also, senior students and MBAs have stronger backgrounds to facilitate their success with cases. I usually begin with a short networking exercise where students meet each other in class. This sets the stage for a more friendly and collegial environment where students will feel comfortable with class conversations. I also incorporate class participation marks into the grading scheme and use a systematic approach for evaluating participation. This keeps students motivated to make stronger contributions in class.

Q: Do you have any case writing advice for those who’d like to get started?

A: My background entails a lot of experience with cases. Most of my business and accounting education involved cases. I was hired for strategy consulting positions based on case interviews and I interviewed others using the same techniques. I have been teaching senior and MBA level case courses since 2008. Thus, writing cases becomes very intuitive after all of this experience. If you already have a background with cases, then when starting to write a case find a case that you like to model yours after. For those who have not used cases, I suggest that you begin by teaching with cases so that you understand the rationale behind them and the different styles of cases. See what students like. After some experience teaching with cases, you will be ready to write one. Find an inspiring topic that has not been covered before. You may want to write a good draft and test it out on your own students prior to completing and publishing it.

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