Interactive Case Studies

Introduction

The limited research on interactive case studies supports their use in higher education.  The use of interactive case studies contributes to student motivation, sense of relevancy, higher course grades and overall satisfaction.  One research study, “A Usability Study of Interactive Web-based Modules” looked at the use of interactive case modules in a Principles of Marketing course.  In their literature review, the authors observed that:

Case studies are typically used by marketing educators to help students gain real world knowledge and learn marketing concepts (O’Connor and Girard 2006) and are important tools for students to develop their analytical thinking and problem-solving skills through applied construction of reality (Henson, Kennett, and Kennedy 2003).

But developing an interactive case study may seem daunting.  Instructors might feel the need to master all of the nuances of this genre before attempting to make one of their own.  The interactive case study (as distinguished from the face-to-face experience) adds the complexity of the technology.  There are however small steps one can take and templates that make interactive case studies easier to generate.

An example

Dr. Debra Eardley, a nursing professor at Metropolitan State University, recently completed an interactive case study in support of nursing informatics and a standardized classification system.  She storyboarded the case study in PowerPoint and received help from the university’s Center for Online Learning to make it interactive.

She started with the basics.  The objective of the case was to help students ‘experience’ the role of a standardized classification system in documenting the problem, intervention and outcomes of a patient diagnosed with an infection.   The case followed a public health nurse as she interviewed a patient and followed the procedures of Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) and the administration of medication.  The student participant in the case study observes the interview, makes notes and then charts the problems, intervention and outcomes, as would a public health nurse using a standard classification system and an electronic health record system.

The case study was a simple one…with one set of right answers and not many gray areas.  The case study was a stepping stone to more sophisticated cases that will follow.  But despite its simplicity, the case study introduced knowledge that public health nurses need to know.  It introduced the concepts of Latent Tuberculosis Bacterial Infection (LTBI), Directly Observed Therapy, the role of the public health nurse, and the role of a standardized system with its relationship to evidence-based practice.  Rather than simply being told about these things, the student observes a public health nurse in action and practices charting using the Omaha Classification System, which is evaluated with immediate feedback.

Interactive case studies, of course, can be more complicated – but that should not deter any instructor from getting started with simpler cases.    The key is recognizing some of the basic benefits of the case study approach.  For example, Harvard Business School (HBS) case studies involve students in reading the case, discussing the findings with classmates, reflecting on alternative approaches, answering the professor’s questions and deciding on a course of action based on the case.  The basic case study attributes make them far more compelling than text-laden pages all too common in typical learning management systems.

The benefits of case studies existed long before the use of electronic media.  Again, in the area of health informatics, university pathology departments across the United States implemented interactive case studies with little electronic help – simply text and discussion.   The designers of The Healthcare Pathology Informatics Fellowship Training program patterned their case studies on the business case study method with the following attributes:

  • The scenario was based on a real life situation.
  • The participants must analyze the situation, decide on one or more courses of action and provide evidence to support their decisions.
  • Participants must read the case beforehand, understand the issues involved, and come prepared to provide answers for whatever the facilitator might ask.
  • At the conclusion, a narrative described what actually happened in the real-life situation.

The electronic interactive case borrows a lot from the traditional case study approach.   First, the case study scenario places the learner in a role and a setting.

image_1

Interactive Case Study Based on Instructional Design Methodology

In the screenshot above the learner is placed in the role of a faculty member asked to design an online course by her dean.  The interactive case study challenges the learner to pick the right questions in the right sequence that model the backwards design approach to online course design.  In short, the learner selects questions that probe the situational factors that define the context of the training, selects appropriate outcomes, designs assessments aligned to the outcomes and then develops activities that will help students fare well on the assessments.  This is the backward design approach.  A simple case study, represented by the screen shot above, could assess whether or not the learner understands the backward design approach.  A more sophisticated case study might lead to several options that can be equally right but that require the learner to explain the choice and back it up with data, citations, and/or evidence.

In Dr. Eardley’s Latent Tuberculosis Bacterial Infection (LTBI) case study, the learner observes the public health nurse and her patient and must take notes for a clinical summary.  The instructions for the Clinical Summary Exercise are a click away.  A tool used by learners to take notes is also a click away.

image_4

Interactive Case Study related to Healthcare

The learner’s clinical summary is assessed in two ways.  The learner must submit the clinical summary, which is then evaluated by an instructor, as well as answer a list of questions related to the clinical summary, which are machine scored.  The exemplar clinical summary is only shown to the student who has made the effort and correctly answered questions about the patient.

The Design of a Template

In another project, we’re reflecting on the necessary functions to build into a generalized case study template.

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A Proposed Interactive Case Study Template

The screenshot above labels some of the key functions.  Violating Richard Mayer’s principles of multimedia design, an explanation for each label is found below.

  1. A content area that will define the role of the learner and goal of the study, introduce background information and present key decision points in the case.
  2. A set of tools that enable the learner to take notes and review a transcript of all key decision points and feedback.
  3. Resources and tips that are context-based.  As the decision points change so too the resources.  Some resources persist; others appear and disappear as needed.
  4. Not pictured, the template supports branching.  Optionally, content can be shown based on user preference and user performance.  Again, optionally, learners can be taken down different paths based on how the story unfolds and the choices the learner makes.

Conclusion

The interactive case study is an effective instructional design pattern that has deep roots in traditional text and face-to-face classes.  The interactive case study may seem challenging to create but simple case studies offer instructors a good starting point.  Finally, the template approach simplifies the construction of case studies so that instructors need not rely on textbook publishers but can generate their own.


  1. Tulay, Girard., & Pinar, Musa. (2011). A Usability Study of Interactive Web-Based Modules, Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology – TOJET, v10 n3 p27-32.
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