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Perceptions of Faculty and Students Towards Case Teaching in Czechoslovakia:
A Coming Velvet Paradigm Shift?

Dorothy Marcic
Czechoslovak Management Center
Prague School of Economics

Carol Pendergast
Czechoslovak Management Center Journal of Management Development
Vol. 13 (7), 1994

an earlier version of this paper was presented at
The Annual WACRA Meeting
July 1993
Bratislava, Slovakia
March, 1994


The use of interactive case method and other experiential teaching has a very recent history in the Czech and Slovak educational systems. Previous to the "Velvet Revolution" (when the communists were overthrown in 1989 in a bloodless coup), courses were typically taught using non-interactive lecturing, with a focus on information transfer, and with few or no textbooks available to students. Business education as we know it simply did not exist in a command economy (Cakrt, 1993). Along with the recent introduction of the free market economy has come a real need for business administration courses and training programs, many of which have had to be taught by Western faculty. There were few, if any, Czech or Slovak faculty with expertise in these areas suppressed by communism. Nor was there any widespread familiarity in the use of the case method.

At the Czechoslovak Management Center, we have attempted to introduce and foster interactive techniques and case method teaching through direct training, and by pairing Western and Czech/Slovak faculty in the classroom. Our experiences during the first 18 months revealed marked resistance to interactive methods among some local faculty and students. Our findings prompted us to examine objectives and teaching strategies.

This paper reviews several issues which impinge on the receptivity to interactive teaching on the part of Czech and Slovak faculty and students.

Case Study: Czechoslovak Management Center
Our material is based on data accumulated from 18 months of experience as a faculty member and Director of Faculty Development at CMC, a non profit business school and foundation located 25 km outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. At CMC our mission is to train managers in new content and skill areas for the emerging market economy by pairs of American and Czech or Slovak instructors. Our educational goals target effective student assimilation of materials, as well as cognitive and behavioral patterns necessary for adjustment to western business practices. Qualities or abilities which will enable managers to function in an open, critical and competitive society include flexibility, critical and strategic thinking, incentive and motivation, independent decision-making, problem identification and analysis, group discussion skills, etc. US. business schools have begun to refocus their curricula and teaching methods to emphasize similar features. (Porter and McGibbon, 1988) One of the chief pedagogic tools for nurturing these traits in American management schools has been the interactive case discussion method.

Use of Case/Interactive Methods at CMC
The case method as used in US. institutions, and defined by Dooley and Skinner of the Harvard Business School, embraces such a wide variety of pedagogic practices that its character is difficult to define. For our purposes, we characterize the case method as using a real life situation as a catalyst and framework for class discussion, in order to develop practical solutions to problems and pragmatic applications of certain theoretical principles.

In order to get cases written about Czech and Slovak businesses, CMC has sponsored faculty research projects They have been written by local and western faculty with varying degrees of success. Use of western and local cases in classroom teaching, on the other hand, has been on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of individual faculty. Although case studies were at times used by the Czech and Slovak faculty, it was the interactive style of case presentations which met the most resistance initially. Only recently have we begun to realize the importance of strengthening interactive case discussion teaching to meet our goals of developing new skills and cognitive or interpersonal patterns of behavior. At the same time, since we first began this research, we have found that students at all levels exposed to interactive teaching methods and case studies have become very vocal in their demands for this type of learning experiences.

In the early formulation of the educational program of CMC, western faculty were intended to provide the theoretical background of the curriculum, while local faculty would translate theory into practical applications suitable for Czech or Slovak organizations. However, experience from the first year of the MBA and Executive Programs indicated discordance between stated goals and achievable outcomes and reveals the cultural insensitivities and intellectual myopia that can derail the most well-intentioned endeavors.

One cultural bias assumed that all Western Instructors would provide effective models of interactive teaching. In fact, many Western professors have poor discussion-leadership skills, and rely on lectures laced with well-positioned rhetorical questions which do not generate effective discussion.

In addition, the program definition did not take sufficiently into account aspects of the educational background of local faculty that predisposed them to resist a classroom environment based on interactive discussion. Furthermore, we underestimated factors that affected the ability of local faculty to transpose Western theory into a framework of practical training. Pearce's (1993) experience in Hungary illustrates ours was not unique. She discusses the difficulties for the local faculty there who previously were under a system which denigrated capitalism and therefore had trouble locating appropriate books and journals in these disciplines, hampering their abilities to keep up with the fields.

Another institution which has attempted similar goals as CMC is the International Graduate School of Business Administration in Maribor, Slovenia (Kralj and Tavãar, 1993). In contrast to CMC's laissez-faire approach regarding the faculty's structuring of course format, they required faculty to use interactive methods 60% of the time and lecturing 40%, though the lecturing must move towards discussion and critical thinking skills.

As we recast our curriculum and approach to emphasize more interactive techniques, and to highlight case discussion teaching, we had to take into account factors that have affected attempts to implement case discussion teaching and other interactive methods during our first year at CMC. Data from multiple sources highlight impediments to acceptance of case discussion teaching among local faculty and certain students, and illuminate reasons for the curiously low profile of case method instruction at CMC by paired teams of Czech/Slovak and American faculty. Our experience is itself a case study in pedagogical self definition of culturally diverse groups of faculty, and a caveat to the concept of facile transposition of educational methodology into foreign systems.

Education in Czechoslovakia: Background
The Czech and Slovak Republics have long and prestigious traditions in educational philosophy, starting with John Amos Comenius (1592-1671). His philosophy saw schools as "workshops of humanity," accessible to all children, not just the aristocrats, where teachers are well-trained, and where social learning is part of the program. After 1948, the communists coopted some of these ideals in order to justify the introduction of political indoctrination into the curriculum (Cach, 1987).

Milosz (1990) examines the impact of decades of communism on humanistic ideals. He suggests that educated individuals unconsciously conformed ideologically to propaganda, in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance of a stance against the purported social philosophy.

Other habits described by Kohák (1992) were developed as coping mechanisms under communism, and also undermined sound educational philosophies. One of these was the disinclination towards any type of creative idea or spontaneity, viewed with suspicion by the totalitarian state. Another was the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Such a behavior was vital to survive when social theories had no relationship to daily life, and especially when Czechs and Slovaks were forced to sign a declaration of "fraternal aid" brought by the Soviets during the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The few who did not sign lost jobs, homes and even life. Yet everyone knew the pact was a charade.

The residue from more than 40 years of totalitarian systems on educational processes in the Czech and Slovak Republics have resulted in a loss of inductive as well as deductive reasoning skills (Mestenhauser, 1992a) . Critical thinking skills became blunted by restrictions on open discussion and dissent. People were required to think and live within their own "small cubicles"-- or as President Havel has called it, the "atomization of life"--and were never allowed to question the socialist ideals and compare them to the discrepancies in their own lives.

Mestenhauser (1992a) argues American tradition values inductive thinking more than the European tradition. Even when reading newspapers, Americans use the skill of sifting through vast amounts of data, choosing what is more important and developing hypotheses based on the data. He describes Czech newspapers as having fact and opinion mixed together, without giving the reader any idea which is which. Stifled, as well, however, was deductive reasoning, which tests the ideas and hypotheses developed. Under the previous regime, people were only allowed "deductive" thinking based on the social theories of communist ideology, which, according to Mestenhauser, had little or no basis in reality.

Few, if any, innovations in teaching styles have been introduced into classrooms which remain similar to European systems of a century ago. The implications for attitudes towards interactive teaching of this fundamentally European "teaching and learning culture," so different from the American system, may be more significant than any impact from Communist ideology.

Education in Czechoslovakia stressed unquestioned lines of authority and deductive, data-centered learning styles (Monaghan, 1992). Discussion, case-study teaching, brain-storming approaches were either unknown or used inadequately. The almost universal approach to teaching was, and often still is, lecturing by the instructor for the entire class, with many tangential subjects raised, monotone voice of the instructor and lifeless, even vacant behavior of the students. As in many European university systems, students are still responsible for their own learning, are not required to attend class, and principally interact with the professor during the oral component of the final examinations. The Central European professor remains an unchallenged authority. One of our professors, when faced with disgruntled student evaluations, muttered, "How do they dare?" Lectures laced with complexities seem designed to demonstrate a faculty member's command of the course subtleties rather than explain the material for students consumption. Paradigms of instructional success differ dramatically form those in the States. As one Czech professor put it, "We are proud if students are confused."

Classroom climate in the US often breeds breezy familiarity between faculty and students. In the Central European environment, the climate is usually distant, if not outright punitive (Mestenhauser, 1992), and stymies classroom interaction (Christensen, 1991). Under the socialist system, instructional methods involved memorization of facts and data in an extremely authoritarian instructional format (Pearce, 1993). Open debate, critical thinking, analytical reasoning, all of which are common in US schools from elementary up are just now being introduced into these post-communist countries.

Mestenhauser (1991) describes the system of higher education in the Czech and Slovak Republics under communism. The sciences and medicine were allowed to keep pace with the Western world, partly because the party bosses had no competence in those areas. Humanities and the social sciences, though, greatly suffered under the shackles of a totalitarian regime which could not afford for its citizens to question or propose other alternatives to the status quo. Learning theory, then, as a part of the social sciences, did not develop nor was there any diffusion of this information to relevant professionals.

Because "capitalism" was seen as the enemy, no business education courses were taught, unless one counts three years of required Marxist economics for those majors. Although there are many engineers and professionals with highly advanced math and statistical skills, there are almost no Czech or Slovak nationals who have any background in information systems, decision sciences, statistical analysis for managerial decisions, nor any marketing, accounting, strategy and so on (Cakrt, 1993). Because there was study of industrial psychology, there are people versed in areas related to organizational behavior. But the vast majority of what westerners would consider basic skills for managers was non-existent. Our MBA students tell us management was done before "by improvisation."

Though communism has been overthrown, attitudes and behavioral patterns often remain and have an impact on adaptation to new systems of thought and action. Professors who may try to teach critical thinking skills are themselves products of the rigid regime they rejected--a system which looked for the one right answer as a gauge for learning (Simons, 1992), and whose only evaluation was geared towards level of conformity to the communist party and its interests (Winkler, 1992).

Because of this orientation to information, case studies were rarely used, for they would not fit that model well. Faculty told us they do not like discussions in class because they "waste time" and this gives them less opportunity to lecture on the important material. In classroom debates one can see the surprise on students faces that they are allowed to disagree with each other or with the instructor, or that their ideas may be valued. It is all new to them. Once students taste this new experience, though, many are loathe to sacrifice it for the familiar lecture approach. More will be discussed on this later.

Our Approach

Strategies for Change
At the Czechoslovak Management Center a number of techniques have been employed to introduce the case method as one of the pedagogical tools.

  1. As part of an overall faculty development program at CMC, local faculty have been exposed to western teaching methods and experiences in several formats. Residence at an American university for at least three months, and pairing with a western mentor initiated local faculty training. Several faculty had the opportunity to team-teach occasionally with their western colleagues, although most simply observed in different classes. During their stays they established contacts with a wide range of academic and business environments and individuals and gained significant exposure to western institutions, but in a very brief time frame, insufficient to transform a lifetime of habits and responses.
  2. Selected faculty have also had short term intensive training in case discussion training at Harvard University's summer program for Eastern European faculty with a second stay at one of a consortium of schools in the program for in-depth training in a specific field.
  3. Western instructors offered several one and two-week training programs for non-CMC Czech and Slovak faculty to learn content material in the business disciplines as well as concepts relating to learning theory and new teaching approaches. These courses drew faculty from both countries, with attendance as high as 30 people. Considerable time was spent during the content portion modeling these "new approaches" and then later going over learning styles, teaching methods, interactive approaches, effective strategies for different situations and so on. Instructors reported positive feedback from these seminars.
  4. Other faculty have attended Harvard case writing seminars in Prague.
  5. CMC has sponsored several in house informal programs on teaching for resident faculty.

Data was collected from course evaluations from a year-long MBA program in 1992 (which we call MBA1), and 18 months of Executive courses. Informal and formal interviews with faculty and students at CMC and at other Czech or Slovak institutions were conducted. Finally, anonymous surveys were completed by 16 managers in a year-long training program at CMC, chosen because these managers had, by this time, observed a number of Czech/Slovak as well as Western faculty during their one week a month program. Further data was collected from anonymous surveys of 20 fourth and fifth year students in a management course at the Prague University of Economics. All of the subjects completing surveys had taken at least several courses with Western faculty.

Lessons and Problems

Results: Faculty
Our results indicate a bias against interactive methods on the part of some local faculty and the older segment of the local MBA1 student population. This bias extended to receptivity towards how cases should be used in class. For example, some Czech and Slovak faculty initially felt interactive techniques would not work in their countries; the students are not prepared for it, and these newer content areas must be adapted to local learning needs.

Even after training at Harvard, some of our faculty viewed case discussion teaching with distrust because 1) students were unused to extensive independent reading and analysis; 2) faculty lacked the broad business background to deal with some issues; 3) there were no solutions provided. Local instructors tend to write case studies and teach using cases in a generally similar manner: they stress a narrative rather than analytical approach, and in the classroom tend to use cases as illustrations within a lecture format, rather than as a starting point for student-led problem-solving. In one MBA1 course, personal and professional friction between the western and local instructor concerning case-discussion methods vs. use of lecture with case illustrations led to a complete breakdown of communication and division of the course.

Nevertheless, at least one MBA1 course provided a successful model of case discussion teaching by a implementing a highly structured breakdown of class time into short segments of discussion, student exercises, student ad lib presentations, and lecture. Moreover, individual participation in interactive discussion was graded positively , without penalizing irrelevant comments. Students objected to this forced effort, but learned significant skills and trust; participating Czech and Slovak faculty in the course also profited from the format and shared equally in its development.

Similarly, the program in Maribor, Slovenia has had problems recruiting faculty willing to use interactive techniques and had further difficulties motivating faculty to gain a new level of understanding of pedagogical issues and interactive approaches (Kralj and Tavãar, 1993).

Results: Students
Student reaction to cases and interactive teaching in the classroom was generally positive, but varied somewhat according to type of program. In the more "technical" MBA1 courses, whose students were predominantly Czech/Slovak males averaging 35 years of age, local faculty and students alike were reluctant to diverge from the familiar lecture format.

In contrast, data from practicing managers of all ages and from younger university students show a strong preference for the "American" way of teaching, which they defined as interactive, respectful of student opinions, practical, better contact with students, rather than the "Czech" way of teaching, which they described as lecturing, didactic, too theoretical, non-interactive and not interesting. Almost three-fourths of both groups preferred the American way, while only about one-tenth preferred the Czech method, with about one-fifth wishing for a combination of both (see Table 1).

The practicing managers, in a separate evaluation session with the CMC dean, indicated both Czech and American faculty as having distinctive strengths. For the Czechs this meant requiring advance preparation and more basic mastery of the material. For Americans it was a welcome flexibility in the classroom and willingness to adapt to the needs of students, as well as their lifetime immersion in a market economy (Pendergast, 1993).

In addition, both the groups of students and practicing managers indicated the tendency for Czech instructors to lecture more than their American counterparts . The managers response showed a perceived difference in lecturing versus more interactive activities of 19%, while the students felt Czech instructors lectured 30% more than the Americans. Another interesting result came from the managers initially misunderstanding one of the questions, which gave an unexpected outcome. They said Czech professors discuss non-related topics in class 15% more than Western faculty.

These results agree with Pearce's (1993) experiences in Eastern Europe, where she found students willing to become involved in case studies or group presentations once they knew what was expected of them and once the instructor was able to alter that passive mindset.

Table 1.Preferences for Teaching Styles (in percentages)

Preferences American Style Czech Style Combination Both Styles
Subject Group
Students 75% 10% 15%
Managers 68% 13% 19%

Open-ended questions to the Prague University of Economics students about the highly interactive management course they were taking indicated an overwhelming positive reaction to the course. Concerns included language problems, suitability of interactive techniques in more technical courses, and possible embarrassment of Czech students to speak in front of peers, a new practice for them. Comments included such as:

A later survey in the same course yielded lengthier responses:

Student demand for more effective teaching strategies is not limited to CMC and our isolated experiences at Prague University of Economics. Recently, a student magazine in the Czech Republic carried a long "open letter" from a student in reply to a request from a friend who was interested in attending that university (Pobo?l, 1993). The author spoke at length about the worthlessness of education at that university, of the incompetence of the faculty.

What will higher education look like in coming years in the two republics? How will faculty teach, what will expectations be of their behavior in the classroom? Students are already beginning to voice dissatisfaction over the status quo of teaching. We have seen in the managers program the behavior of these students go from polite passivity to outspoken demands for more interaction in the classroom and outright rejection of the strict lecture format. What will happen as the ferment becomes deeper and more widespread?


Our initial assumptions at CMC that we could transpose western teaching models to east European faculty through brief periods in western institutions as classroom observers, and through pairing with western instructors without any preliminary in-depth training in interactive teaching have proved short-sighted. In faculty development programs in US institutions, modification of teaching methods requires faculty incentive and intensive consultation with video and peer feedback. In Czechoslovakia where far more rigid systems of lecturing prevail, and interactive teaching has no precedent, we cannot expect to counter decades of habit with a few teaching tips. Faculty resistance to change is standard everywhere; motivation for transformation results from student and institutional demand. We have suggested that students introduced to interactive, or "western" teaching styles have tended to become positive supporters and reject a return to rigid lectures. This demand will increase as more students and executive course participants have contact with western methods. East European faculty must be prepared to meet the demand with initiative and openness to new teaching perspectives. To meet this challenge we propose some of the following prescriptions:

  1. Make available faculty workshops in a range of business/ academic areas so that faculty can broaden their knowledge base in order to teach cases more effectively.
  2. Link topics in learning theory / teaching styles to curricular goals so academic theory behind interactive teaching lends credence to efforts to implement experiential models.
  3. Research into which teaching approaches prove most effective given the cultural context of this environment.
  4. Faculty development should involve a three-stage process, and over a period of time:

    1. exposure and observation of western methods along with clarification of pedagogic objectives;
    2. hands-on training with a paired mentor and faculty developer in the classroom and in individual consultation through video feedback, simulations, etc.
    3. monitored solo classroom teaching with student and peer feedback
  5. Institutions like CMC must hold faculty accountable for improvement in interactive teaching by requiring teaching contracts and teaching portfolios which detail a program of training in specified areas, and by linking promotion and job retention to these efforts.

In the months since we wrote this paper, we have had a chance to study a second MBA class at CMC as well as an additional year of Executive courses. In contrast to MBA1, the MBA2 class is more international, younger (average age 28), and enrolled more women. As a group they are far more vocal and demanding of their professors. Preliminary results suggest they are critical of long lectures from either Western or local professors; insist on a pragmatic, managerial slant in the course content; and prefer the interactive model. During the second quarter of their program, a course taught exclusively through the case-discussion method generated enthusiastic evaluations form the MBA2 class. Their response disproved the axiom that Czech and Slovak students could not adapt to the rigors or lack apparent structure of this method.

At the same time, our Czech and Slovak faculty have weathered nearly three years of teaching MBA and Executive students, and working with Western colleagues. Through the evaluation process they confronted a level of student commentary about their teaching previously unknown in their educational system. In responding to the demands of younger students, a more international community, and a pragmatic business clientele, many local instructors have adopted an increasingly open style of teaching, using a range of discussion, practical exercises, and cases. As a result, teaching evaluations of local faculty are now more favorable than they were in the first year of the MBA program.


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