Fons Naus

A bull's-eye: the case study to assess

Fons Naus (Tilburg School of Economics and Management) used a case study innovatively: as an exam. His course was very suitable for taking an in-depth exam, instead of an exam where you have to learn things by heart. We spoke with him about this way of assessing and his experience with it.

You've used case studies for testing. How did you come up with this?

"That was actually born out of necessity, because under normal circumstances we would have taken a written exam, but we couldn't in this case." Of course, there were several possibilities for replacing written exams, but working with Proctor software wasn’t something he was looking forward to. But "What then?" was the question.

"In fact, this course [Corporate Social Responsibility] was a course that is very suitable for taking an in-depth exam, instead of an exam where you have to learn things by heart. I also immediately told the students that the exam was going to look very different than in the past years, this led immediately to a lot of uncertainty". Fons didn't see it as a problem, "When you're close to the finish line and you're about to graduate, you have to be able to show that you have this insight. Looking back, this turned out to be fine and the exam was done just fine.”

When you're close to the finish line and you're about to graduate, you have to be able to show that you have this insight.

How was the exam administered?

The students received the case ten days before the exam. "Of course you can't send a case of 12 pages and a lot of data just before the exam. It would take them an hour to read it." On the day of the exam the students got the exam e-mailed at exactly 9 o'clock, "I said I wanted it back in my mailbox no later than three hours later".  A few minutes before the three hours had passed, the first exams returned. "So it took them the full three hours."

How did the students experience the assessment?

"I've heard from a few people that they thought it was an excellent exam, but they thought it was extremely challenging as well. This contrasts with the fact that everyone (but one student) passed. This also shows that students are more capable than they think. Again, they were very insecure about it and they weren't used to this way of assessing either". Fons understands this, because he sees that in the curriculum students are often only tested for "being able to learn by heart and reproduce things". 

He is convinced that testing with a case study is more challenging for the students and that it not only allows them to know the material but also to understand and apply it.

The use of a case study to assess was actually a real bull's-eye.

Lastly, do you have tips for professors who want to start using case studies in their lectures?

"The course has to be suitable for it, of course, and I think you can only really use case studies in a productive way in later years. In the very beginning, the students haven't advanced to the point where they have developed the needed skills. So especially in the beginning, I don't mind students learning things by heart and simply reproducing. Of course, at a later stage of your studies, you have to be able to demonstrate that you can use this knowledge as a tool and be able to analyze complex situations and come up with solutions and make decisions. So I really like case studies, but you have to use them selectively. It also depends on the course. In this case, with Corporate Social Responsibility, I thought that a case like this was a very good fit. Whether a subject is suitable for it is obviously up to the professor."