Facilitating Case Discussion: Setting the stage for Case Discussion
This step involves active consideration of your teaching environment and contracting with the participants.
Setting the physical environment for case discussion is important. If possible, have the participants sit in a circle with the facilitator seated as a co-participant. If in a conference room with a table, consider what position to sit in as the facilitator. Use of audiovisual aides places the facilitator in the center and tempts him or her to revert to the didactic method. Use name tags or table cards with names that are legible and visible to all participants in situations where members don’t know each other. In large settings, the facilitator may wander the room once the discussion has started in order to promote discussion between participants.
Spending a minute to “set the stage” with participants prior to a case-discussion is essential. It’s best to explicitly set expectations for case discussion as part of the introduction to each case, until the method becomes a routine part of the conference “culture.” Therefore, be explicit—tell them that you plan to have an interactive discussion, not a lecture.
Facilitators must create a safe environment. Avoid calling on people directly but facilitate interaction between participants by summarizing and relating one person’s remarks to a previous speaker. Be explicit about not having a single right answer and that all participants’ opinions, answers, and suggestions are valued.
You are facilitating the case to promote discussion rather than to impart your own expertise via a traditional lecture. Group members must be comfortable and feel safe to communicate their answers to the questions you pose. This can be done using formal titles however our experience is it is best to use first names whenever it is comfortable and appropriate to do so.
All participants enter the case session not only with their prior formal educational background but also with their common, every-day life experiences. It is crucial to meet the participants at their level and to establish that they all have equally important contributions to be made to the session.
One measure of a good case discussion is how little the facilitator speaks. As in any teaching environment—be enthusiastic! The best case discussions are those that “come to life” with dilemmas that participants have faced in the past or will face in the future. Providing participants a fun, safe opportunity to discuss the case and its management is critical to success.