The Columns

W&L's Kester Leads Workshop in China on Case Method of Teaching

— by on June 28th, 2012

George Kester, the Martel Professor of Finance in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics at Washington and Lee University, recently returned from leading a workshop on the case method of teaching at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade (SIFT) in China. Participating faculty were from various business disciplines.

After discussing an assigned case study that faculty participants read and analyzed beforehand, the workshop topics included course design, different approaches to teaching cases, case sequencing, grading, and the use of group projects.

Kester uses the case method of teaching in his finance classes at W&L. Instead of relying on lectures and text books, the case method uses cases that describe problems faced by businesses, giving students the information that management had at the time they had to make a decision. “Most business decisions involve the future, so there’s a lot uncertainty,” said Kester. “You never have all the information you need. These are unstructured problems and very different from what might be presented in a text book.”

Kester said that for most of his teaching career he has been a proponent of  the case method of teaching, which was popularized by the Harvard Business School. “It’s a bit more unusual to teach cases to undergraduates,” he said. “My argument in favor of using cases is that undergraduates have very little business experience or exposure to companies. Students can learn models, theories and concepts, but it’s very difficult for them to understand how they relate in the real world of business. I think cases place specific topics in their broader business context.”

According to Kester, SIFT had expressed an interest in learning how the case method can help students develop analytical and decision-making skills in ways that may not result from the lecture method of instruction that is prevalent in China. “They were especially interested in ways to improve the participation of students in classroom discussions, which is essential for the success of the case method,” said Kester.

While at SIFT, Kester also presented a research paper to the faculty and led a one-day seminar for undergraduates on “Financial Analysis, Forecasting and Decision-Making.”

Kester has led teaching workshops at other universities in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States and has authored cases and articles on the case method of teaching. In 2011 he received a competitive paper award from the Financial Education Association Conference for his paper “Reflections on Thirty Years of Using the Case Method to Teach Finance.”

Kester received his B.B.A from Wake Forest University, his M.B.A from the University of North Carolina and his D.B.A from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He joined the faculty at Washington and Lee in 2000.