The Student in the Case Method Environment

2 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2009

See all articles by William Rotch

William Rotch

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This note describes some of the characteristics of the case method and what is expected of the student for a successful experience.




The most important activity at the Darden School occurs in the MBA classroom. To the outsider and the novice, case discussion appears to be a rather inefficient search for problems and solutions. However, the apparent inefficiency of the method is in fact its great teaching strength. What we develop is business judgment. Factual knowledge decays rapidly, but your skill at defining and solving problems can last a lifetime. Judgment is built by struggling—with real problems. In the case method, it is the process of thinking, not the specific answer, that matters most (the journey, not the arrival). How we teach is what we teach.

To benefit from your experience with the case method you must bring a high level of commitment to the process of case discussion. This commitment must be more than just the desire to complete the program.

First, you must commit to toughmindedness about problems and ideas. The case method aims at toughmindedness by building a conditioned reflex in each student that questions opinions and conclusions; toughmindedness means continually asking questions to check why and how and why not. But the process of sifting and probing is not a random walk; the analysis must be driven by an objective, whether that is defining the problem, establishing and evaluating alternatives, or laying out a plan of action. And though toughmindedness means thinking critically about what is said, toughmindedness is not toughheartedness. There are many ways to deliver criticism. Toughminded business leadership requires sensitivity as well as honesty and critical judgment.

Second, for your experience to succeed, it is necessary for you to commit to the Darden Community. The case method is neither a passive nor a solitary process of learning. There are numerous forms that this community takes, but the two most important are the section and the study group. As in business life, the Darden program draws people from different regions, with different values, abilities, and personalities. Your success will depend on your ability to draw on the contributions of everyone and to make a useful contribution in return. Each person's contribution helps to build the community's understanding and progress; failure to contribute either through your silence or through your absence weakens the experience for all.

. . .

Keywords: case method

Suggested Citation

Rotch, William, The Student in the Case Method Environment. Darden Case No. UVA-G-0295, Available at SSRN:

William Rotch (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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