Using Case Studies to Link Theoretical Concepts with Practical Applications

Jack Hull, PhD
Department of Government & Public Affairs
Christopher Newport University

Presented at the
27th Annual National Teaching Public Administration Conference
Fort Walton Beach, FL
February 11-12, 2005


Since its introduction in the Harvard Law School in 1871, the case method has been utilized in a number of academic disciplines.   These include law, medicine, education, business and public administration.   This paper explores the benefits to Government & Public Affairs students of using a variety of case studies to link theoretical concepts with practical applications.
At the Master’s level, public administration programs include courses that address public policy formulation, implementation and evaluation, as well as decision-making and problem solving.   The case study method is used in many of these courses because it permits instructors to challenge students to analyze and formulate recommendations to deal with real-world problems.   At the undergraduate level in courses such as ethics where theoretical concepts are introduced, the case method is invaluable in allowing the students to better understand these theories by linking them with practical applications and/or “real-life” situations.   Students analyze these cases in small groups and report their findings to the class for further discussion.   They also complete assignments that involve describing a personal dilemma and relating the circumstances to another case or analyzing their experience in terms of a theoretical position.
There is a wide variety of sources for cases including Electronic Hallway and university-sponsored web sites on the internet, current problems and issues from the news media, and students’ own experiences.   Some of these cases from the internet are hypothetical or describe situations from the past; however, they are generally categorized and include questions for...

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