Lecturers get inspiration from Midsomer Murders

We learn best through human stories. This idea underpins LUCA, a new academy for the development of case study teaching at Lund University. In April, lecturers at the University were invited to attend a workshop with one of the writers behind the Midsomer Murders television series.

Steve Trafford

Steve Trafford guides participants through the art of creating an engaging story.

Steve Trafford is an actor and writer. He has written a number of episodes for the popular Midsomer Murders crime series, as well as several soap operas for British television. Too many, he says with understated humour, when introducing himself.

“Stories are about communicating values and exploring dilemmas”, explains Steve Trafford to the researchers and lecturers from the Faculties of Engineering and Medicine and the School of Economics and Management assembled in the Bishop’s House on a sunny April afternoon to learn the art of story-telling.

Soap operas and case studies, which might appear at first glance to be something of a mismatch, suddenly become a potentially winning combination. After all, case studies are also about investigating and solving problems.

A few minutes later Steve Trafford has explained one of the main concepts for creating an engaging story. He illustrates with an educational example and then divides the lecturers into groups. They are now to start creating their own stories.

Ready-made case studies

In the 1920s, Harvard Business School made a name for itself by using case studies in its teaching. The idea is that studying and discussing examples from real life increases students’ engagement, equips them better for professional life and improves learning.

Nowadays case studies are well-established on economics programmes all over the world and ready-made case studies can be bought online. But there are problems, according to Ulf Ramberg, senior lecturer in Business Administration at Lund University’s School of Economics and Management.

“The case studies are often written for the models and theories which are dominant in the US. In addition, there is a lack of case studies within many subjects outside the classic economics disciplines”.

Together with his colleagues Ola Mattisson and Mats Urde from the School of Economics and Management, he has therefore started the Lund University Case Academy (LUCA). Its aim is to provide tools and knowledge to enable researchers and teaching staff at Lund University to write their own case studies.

Another problem is that case studies are often characterised more by heavy academic prose and less by engaging stories spiced up with facts and circumstances. It is to this end that the group invited writer Steve Trafford to a two-day conference on the development of case study teaching at Lund University.

“Stories have the capacity to engage people. If you are not engaged you don’t learn. But once you have people’s engagement, it becomes easier for them to analyse and go into greater depth” explains Steve during one of the breaks.

When we return to the workshop, it seems that he is right. Energy levels are high, amid laughter and enthusiastic discussion. The participants’ stories are taking shape. They now have an environment, a theme, main characters and a conflict which intensifies with every scene. At the same time, the stories constitute a basis for discussions on work conflicts, organisational issues and balance of power. And the participants seem satisfied as they leave for the day.

“It will be exciting to use these methods to create case studies on our issues. I also see a lot of potential for cooperation between us participants”, says Beatrice Kogg, director of studies at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, IIIEE

Text:  Henrik Killander

Photo: Gunnar Menander