University of California, Santa Barbara
Case Method Website: Introduction and Welcome
Teaching the Case Method: Materials for a New Pedagogy

John Foran, Department of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara

I would like to draw the attention of the users of this website to a unique and powerful set of teaching materials developed primarily at UC Santa Barbara since 1996-97.  Our purpose is to facilitate for teachers around the world the use of the case method of learning as a pedagogy in their own teaching.  This website thus contains a section on teaching with cases, and a set of cases for classroom use.

I should perhaps start with our definition of a case, for we are using this in a particular sense that may not be familiar to all.  For our purposes, a “case” is a text that typically describes a real-life situation, giving information but not analysis (see further Case Learning, Case Discussion, Student Guidelines for Case Discussions in the How to Teach with Cases section of this site).  Teaching with cases involves a model of facilitating a discussion in which the students develop analyses of the situation, often through collaborative work, role playing, and intensive discussion, debate, and dialogue.  Case teaching is familiar to those who have worked or studied in professional schools such as law or business, but it is a relatively recent innovation in more standard social science disciplines, where a small but growing number of faculty across the U.S. have been working to popularize it as a pedagogical option.

Undergraduates and graduate alike have responded extremely enthusiastically to the introduction of case discussions amidst the usual lecture or seminar formats, and I believe that the method is exceptionally useful for honing analytic abilities, bringing somewhat distant situations and subject matters to life, and encouraging a classroom climate of active inquiry and participation. 

Because most existing cases are in the international relations genre of political science (for example, the United States and trade with China), and because my own courses deal more directly with Third World politics, the cases we have developed tend to have an “internal” or “insider’s” dimension more than a foreign relations viewpoint.  And in the process of talking about what makes a good case, and what our sociology undergraduates would best relate to, we elaborated a further angle that I now think of, somewhat grandiosely, as the “Santa Barbara school” of case writing.  Namely, most of our cases take realistic situations (which we are typically doing research of our own on) and create composite characters and fictional dialogue to express the differing viewpoints that are essential for students to inhabit, analyze, and sometimes creatively extend and synthesize into new solutions.

You are welcome to download or print, distribute, and teach these cases, giving credit for authorship, of course.  If you do, we would like to hear from you.  Please send us also any feedback you have on how these cases went (to the e-mail of the authors or to John Foran – see How to Contact Us).  Note that most of the cases come with very useful notes for teachers.

I would like to acknowledge the original work of Diana Wilder and Diana Thurman, of the Global and International Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara in setting up this website in 1996-98, and Jayne Mercier of the Women’s Studies Program at Smith College, who significantly improved it in 2002.  This project has been supported by the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the UC Santa Barbara Office of Instructional Development, and the American Sociological Association’s Teaching Endowment Fund.

If you have any other questions, or would like to contribute material to this website, please contact me by e-mail (

This site is maintained by John Foran
Last update: June 2002.

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