In the Classroom

The cases on this site were developed with graduate planning students in mind, but they are also appropriate for students studying international development, global health, public policy, social work, political science, development sociology, geography and other related fields.

The cases can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Below, we present a suggested approach that combines case-based learning, individual reflection and peer instruction, and variations. We invite you to contact us with additional approaches you develop.

Theory of Learning

The standard pedagogical approach we developed for using the cases in the classroom is intended to build the competencies of future professionals, whether they are students who remain in the US where contexts are increasingly globalized, the growing numbers of international students enrolling in US masters programs, or students intending to work in low- and middle-income countries. By helping students link theory to practice through these cases, we expect to build their global understanding, comparative thinking, intercultural skills, adaptive learning, and perspective transformation, based on the following learning theories:

  • Case-based learning, based on theories (Forester, Innes, Flyvberg, Watson, Schön, Resnick) that suggest that cases of practitioner’s experiences can help build students’ problem-solving skills, interdisciplinary analysis, systems thinking, and tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Reflection and deliberative peer learning, based on theories (Dewey, Mezirow, Freire, Schön, Mazur, Keily) that suggest that individual and peer reflection encourage double loop learning and “perspective transformation” – a more holistic view of a problem, greater self-awareness and self-examination of underlying assumptions, values, and tendencies.

To read more about this theory of learning, see Hoey, Rumbach and Shake 2016.

Standard Approach

Our case studies are designed to incorporate a variety of learning theories within a 90-minute class period. During an earlier class, we typically have students discuss assigned readings covering relevant theories, concepts, and empirical trends related to the case study topic (each case study includes suggested readings). After reading the literature, students then follow this schedule during a second 90-minute class, or the second half of a 3-hour course:

1) Students do an initial read of the case.

Time: 10-15 min

2) The instructor offers an overview of the case using a power point developed to accompany the case and associated maps, data, images, etc., ending with a review of the choices. Students have an opportunity to ask clarifying questions.

Time: 5 min

3) Students finish reading the case and look over additional materials. They record their names and individual answers choosing from among the three constrained choices. Along with their answer, they write a short (100 to 200 word) reflection to justify their answer. NOTE: Students can use notecards to write their answers, but we suggest developing a short survey using Google Forms that can be e-mailed to students. This creates a record of student answers for later evaluation, allows instructors to read responses as they come in and to fill in a bar graph with the first set of answers. A sample form is available here

Time: 10-15 min

4) The instructor forms groups of three to five students who selected a diversity of choices. Peers deliberate over the decision and potential tradeoffs. Instructors remind students not to persuade others to their side, but to be open to understanding the reasoning for other answers and to reconsider their own choice. They should also discuss alternatives they might consider if they had no constraints.

Time: 10-15 min

5) Students record their individual answers again, choosing from among the same three choices. Along with their answer, they write a short (100 to 200 word) reflection to explain why their answer did or did not change and if they devised a different way of resolving the problem, if they had no constraints.NOTE: Again, we suggest using a second Google Form survey and that instructors fill in a bar graph with the second set of answers at this point. A sample of a second answer form is available here

Time: 5-10 min

6) The instructor shows the class the pre-post answer bar graph and leads a class discussion about why students settled on certain answers, why some changed their minds, and other ways they might have resolved the problem had they been free to devise their own solution. The instructor then wraps up final reflections about the scenario after telling students what actually happened – the choice the author of the case selected – and the outcomes. If time allows, the class further analyzes their answers in comparison to the “actual” scenario.

Time: 15 to 25 min


Instructors and students have adapted the standard classroom approach in a variety of ways to encourage other approaches to learning. Using a mix of these is particularly effective when using multiple cases in one semester. These variations include:

The take-home model: This is a simple variation that has students read the case in advance of class, to offer more time for discussion in the classroom, or so that an instructor can incorporate the case exercise into a shorter class period.

The flipped approach: This option flips the order of suggested activities so that students do the case study exercise first, then read more deeply about the associated theories, concepts and empirical trends for a second class period.

The debate: In this approach, students are divided into three groups to defend and argue for one of the three answer choices. Students can be divided into these debate groups during class, or to allow for more time, can be instructed of their assignments and asked to read the case (and prepare further by reading more about the topic) before coming to class.

The stakeholder negotiation: This variation divides students up according to the stakeholders outlined in the case. They must take on the perspective and interests of that stakeholder group as they discuss the answer options in smaller groups (or as a class) and attempt to come to a negotiated consensus about what to do.

The design: Particularly in classes that have urban design, landscape architecture or architecture students, some cases may be amenable to a scenario where students draw out a physical design of the answer they would suggest (taken from among one of the answer choices, or an entirely new approach).

Situating Case Studies in Planning Education

At Michigan and Colorado, we use the case studies as a core component of semester-long graduate courses on international development planning. We have also used the case studies to effectively teach global dimensions of planning in core classes on planning history, theory, and urban sustainability. Individual cases have also been used in elective courses on food systems planning and disaster planning, and could be incorporated into classes on housing, land use, health planning, economic development, infrastructure planning, and planning law.