Interactive Case Studies: First Steps

Introduction

The complaint against eLearning is all too common:  eLearning applications are boring page turners.  The implication is that students flip through the material, learn enough to pass the exam and move on.  The experience is transactional; not transformational.  No behavioral change.  No cognitive change.

Interactive case studies are one strategy to remedy the problem – but, frankly, they are a bit of a challenge to create.  In past articles, I’ve introduced some of the research that supports the use of case studies.  I also introduced interactive fiction as a way of getting started.  If you haven’t read those posts, I’ll introduce a new example in this article and then move on to ‘first steps’.

Interactive Case Studies aren’t a recent tech fad.  The example that I cite in this post dates back to 2006, but it is as relevant today as it was then.  The strategy stands the test of time.  More importantly, the ‘interactive’ nature of the case study is easy to reproduce technically.  I chose this example because it demonstrates that even the simplest approaches can be effective.

The example is taken from case studies that were created in the Department of Rheumatology, School of Medicine, University of Birmingham.   30 interactive case studies were created all together.  The following is a description of one of them.  There are several critical points that are illustrated by this example.  Hopefully, they will motivate you to take the first steps in creating your own case study.

Background

The authors developed an interactive learning tool for teaching rheumatology. Their reason for doing so is best explained in their own words:

“The existing medical curriculum requires that medical students have a large factual knowledge base, and as such teaching has traditionally been through lectures and rote  memorization paying little attention to nurturing key problem-solving skills.

 

The existing medical curriculum requires that medical students have a large factual knowledge base,  and as such teaching has traditionally been through lectures and rote memorization paying little attention to nurturing key problem-solving skills.

 

Problem solving and decision analysis are essential skills for medical students and practitioners alike. The existing medical curriculum requires that medical students have a large factual knowledge base, and as such teaching has traditionally been through lectures and rote memorization paying little attention to nurturing key problem-solving skills.” 1


1. S. Wilson J. E. Goodall G. Ambrosini  D. M. Carruthers  H. Chan  S. G. Ong  C. Gordon S. P. Young

Rheumatology, Volume 45, Issue 9, 1 September 2006, Pages 1158–1161, https://doi.org/10.1093/rheumatology/kel077

 

Description of case studies

The rheumatology cases are short, reducing the burden on both authors and students.  In the graphical user interface, button clicks bring up resources.

The skill required to place buttons or hyperlinks on a web page is minimal.  Many authoring tools (Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and LodeStar) provide the ability to connect pages through button clicks or links.  Alternatively, you can partner with your computer science, technical communications or web design department and request a student who knows HTML and is comfortable with some basic JavaScript coding. (JavaScript is a popular scripting language that is commonly taught in schools.)

In the rheumatology case studies, buttons link to a physician letter, or a library that provides a range of background information.

Screenshot of Case Study, features links to resources

Rheumatology Case Study: Department of Rheumatology, School of Medicine, University of Birmingham

As pictured in the screenshot above, students can request patient details, ask questions, examine the patient, order tests and so forth.  In thinking about how you might replicate this in your own course, you should know that this is relatively simple to produce.  Patient details can be listed on a web page, contributing to the complete picture the student needs in order to make a diagnosis.

In the case study, the student navigates through a series of screens, each providing critical clinical information.

The user can order tests, but they come with a ‘real-world’ consequence:  a financial cost is incurred that gets tallied by the program.  This type of thing requires some simple JavaScript coding.   The costs are assigned to a variable that is shared by all pages.  If you wish to avoid that technical hurdle, you can state the cost of a test and still make an impact on the learner.

After the student collects information on the patient, s/he makes a diagnosis and prescribes treatment.  After completing the case study, the student is provided with feedback and a tally of the expenditures.

Formative Assessment

Students also take an assessment in the form of multiple-choice questions that test their knowledge about rheumatology. The student can repeat components that match missed test items.

Summative Assessment

Undergraduate students were asked to produce a written report based on one of the clinical cases.

“As part of this assessment the students were expected to:

Apply their investigative skills to diagnose a range of clinical rheumatological conditions.

Explain the use of a range of clinical and scientific investigations that are required to make a successful diagnosis.

Reports were marked by two independent rheumatologists according to the reporting of the approximately 30 pieces of information or actions relevant to the case, which they were able to find, and the explanation of how these were used in the diagnosis and treatment. Student marks ranged from 55 to 95% with the majority of students gaining 70% or more on their assignment reports. All students achieved both the learning outcomes, indicating the usefulness of the approach used.”

Student satisfaction

In a survey, twenty-eight undergraduate students out of thirty-one responded positively to the interactive case study.  Only thirty-eight out of fifty-three graduate students found the program useful enough to use in the future.  The sharp difference between undergraduate and graduate students may be attributed to access that students had to the case studies.  Graduate students were restricted to one case study.

“Both groups agreed that the program was well organized and clear, the cases were of appropriate difficulty (complexity), that it was realistic and that they had learnt from it.”

Now Your turn

This and past posts have made it evident that interactive case studies can be useful.  But given your time and technology constraints, how can you create your own case studies?

To get started writing interactive case studies, follow these suggestions:

  1. Consider patterning your first case study on what that is offered through Open Education Resources (OER). In most cases, the author has thought through the case study and has done the hard work of including just enough detail to make the case educative and realistic.
  2. Keep it simple. Use button clicks or hyperlinks to enable students to navigate through the case or bring up resources.
  3. Include an analysis activity that requires the learner to consider the ‘evidence’ of the case and offer an opinion.
  4. Include the ability of the learner to compare his/her analysis with that of the expert or peers.
  5. Use the case study to prompt discussion.

Authoring an interactive case study might be a challenge at first.  It’s a bit like creative writing – crafting a story that reveals critical information at the right time.  Terse, yet engaging.  Focused on one important requirement: the case study must help the student achieve an outcome.

Interactive Case Studies require ingenuity, time and a little technical know-how.  To help faculty and instructional designers get started, I offer a simplified method.  The intent is to get students immersed in the story, drawing upon their knowledge to choose paths, make decisions, offer an analysis and share with other students.

Interactive case studies can offer lots of bells and whistles.  In contrast, this is a simplified approach – more like an interactive story or a choose-your-own adventure.  Our inspiration came from a finance professor at our university.  We started with an Open Educational Resource titled Personal Finance by Rachel Siegel, which our finance professor selected.

An important side note:  Personal Finance is now in its 3rd edition, and is available from Flatworld.  Flatworld’s stated mission is:  We are rewriting the rules of textbook economics to make textbooks affordable again.

Personal Finance begins with the story of Bryon and Tomika a young couple who are currently in school and plan to get married soon.  Both students will earn at least $30,000 in their first jobs after graduation and will likely double their salaries in fifteen years – but they are worried about the economy and about their job prospects after graduation. They have critical decisions to make to secure their financial future.

Rachel Siegel follows the case study with questions that the young couple or a financial advisor should answer about their situation.  She then proceeds to outline the macro and micro factors that affect thinking about finances.

Set a Learning Goal

Before getting to work on patterning an interactive case study on the story in the text, we need to be clear on the learning goal.  You shouldn’t start any eLearning development without a clear goal in mind. You need to answer what learning outcomes the learner will achieve by engaging in the case study.   Rachel Siegel’s intent was to use the case study to make a point: there are a lot of factors to consider.  Our goal in the example was to use the case study to help the learner identify the macro and micro factors that affect finances.  In other words, we narrowed the scope.

Find an existing case study

In an effort to keep things simple, we patterned a case study closely on the one well thought out and communicated by the author.  This might help you get started.  Find a case study narrative in your own field and pattern your own case study closely on that one.  If it’s a good case study it will be short but feature enough detail to provide interest and a learning situation.

Case studies are found in open education resources (eBooks, PDFs, learning repositories like Merlot.org).  They are also found in case study websites like:

Science Cases

AMA Case Studies

But be careful.  Case studies are usually copyrighted.  Seek permission or ensure that the case study or text is offered under a Creative Commons license.

So, to recap, the first step is to set a learning goal.  The second step is to find a case study that already exists in the literature or on the web that you can pattern your case study on.

The design of our interactive case study is to provide the reader with a story (closely patterned on the text) and challenge the reader to determine which factors threatened the financial health of the characters.

This is a stepping stone case.  It is not a ‘putting it all together’ where there are numerous factors, no clear cut right and wrong answers, and plenty of room for interpretation.   In our case study, the learner is presented with the facts; parts of the story are revealed based on learner choice; and, at the conclusion, the learner answers some objective questions, performs an analysis, submits the analysis and compares his/her submission to the ‘expert’ analysis, which is revealed.   Alternatively, the end-product could have been an analysis that was submitted to a drop box or to an online discussion.

How we built it

First, we didn’t use Rachel Siegel’s story – but one closely based on it.  As an easy first step, you have the option of converting an existing case study into an interactive case study or creating a derivative case study that changes some critical details to challenge the learner.  If there is any doubt about the legality or the ethics of copying the intellectual property, please contact the owner of the creative work.

Once we chose our characters, we licensed images to match the characters.  Alternatively, you can use Wikimedia or find images licensed under Creative Commons.    I did a search at https://search.creativecommons.org/  and immediately found images of student couples that I could easily have used.

On the first page, we provided instructions.  The instructions tell learners about the built-in notepad and the transcript button.   These aren’t necessary.  Students can take notes in any way they prefer.  The transcript button shows a report of all of the feedback – but these items are more for the convenience of the learner.  Traditional methods are just as effective.

Screenshot of instructions and first introduction to Chris and Divya, the characters in the case study.

Screenshot of instructions and first introduction to Chris and Divya, the characters in the case study.

Provide Choice of Paths

Put the learner in control.   The characters Chris and Divya share a lot of personal financial details.   The readers (learners) of the interactive story can decide what details they want to read and pay attention to.  As depicted in the screen below, the reader can read details from Chris’ or Divya’s background or decide at any time to assess their situation.  The reader will obviously not provide an accurate or meaningful analysis until s/he reads most or all of the facts of the case.

The essential thing here is choice.  Adult learners like choice.  The more complicated the case study, the more that choice matters.   Given the objective, the answers to some questions will be important to pursue; others will be irrelevant.

Depending on the software that the interactive case study author chooses, choices can be presented as hyperlinks, buttons or hot spots.

If the author were using a PDF or HTML authoring tool (like Word or PowerPoint), then choices can be presented to the reader as hyperlinks.  If the author were using Captivate or StoryLine, the choices can be presented as hot spots (clickable areas).  In LodeStar the choices can be presented as hyperlinks or buttons.

Screenshot that shows choices presented to the reader as hyperlinks.

Screenshot that shows choices presented to the reader as hyperlinks.

 

Make Resources Available

In the case study, one of the important financial factors comes from economic data. Economic data is represented as a resource that is always available to the reader.

In the screenshot above, economic data can be accessed with a button click.  The button is visible on the screen at all times.

(In some of our more evolved case studies, resources are shown only when they are needed. Some behind-the-scenes scripting allows us to show the right resources at the right time.)

Performance and Feedback

At any point in the case study, the learner can opt to complete the assessment of the characters’ financial situation.  A link to the final analysis exists on every page.  It can also be presented as a permanent button on the screen.  This is akin to a supermarket.  The shopper can go down any aisle in any order and check out at any time when the buyer is ready.

Screenshot featuring Objective questions

Screenshot featuring Objective questions

In this case the ‘checkout’ is the final analysis.  It can be presented as series of multiple choice questions (objective) or essay question or both.  In our example, we chose both.

The objective items provide quick feedback.  The essay item comes up after the learner clicks on ‘Complete your analysis’.  The essay question reads as follows:

Write a very short report in the space below.  Include the macro and micro factors that are likely to contribute to Chris and Divya’s financial security and what factors represent a possible threat to their security.  Click on the ‘Submit’ button when you are done.  You can always amend your report and re-submit.

The learner can consult his or her notes and base an opinion on the facts.  The learner can cite the case study to support the findings.  When the learner clicks on the ‘submit’ button, the expert analysis is revealed.

At our university, the student may see immediate feedback or they are asked to copy and paste their analysis into either a discussion post or into an assignment folder text field (a drop box that not only allows attachments but text entries.)

Both of these options can be supported with the same basic technical know-how used in the rest of the case study.   If an eLearning authoring system like LodeStar were used, the essay submission could appear in the SCORM report of the learning management system.

Screenshot showing a prompt for an open-ended analysis based on the case.

Screenshot showing a prompt for an open-ended analysis based on the case.

Conclusion

The interactive case study presented here relies more on story-telling than it does on technical know-how.  In this type of case study, the learners can choose the information that they wish to read, or ask questions that they choose to ask.  In response to their decisions, information is revealed that will be used in the final analysis.

The final analysis can include objective test questions or essay items or both.  In a simple low-tech situation, the learner can write the essay in Word and then submit that to a drop box or assignment folder.  The interactive case study simply provides the background information and the essay prompts.

Low-tech or high-tech, the learner is asked to examine the information and consider its importance in the final analysis related to the learning outcome.  The learner is being asked to ‘activate’ thinking rather than mindlessly store and retrieve content.  The result is better outcomes for students.

 

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A Practical Guide to Case Studies

Introduction

We know that case studies are effective.  Research tells us that.  The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science describes their value in an introduction to the Center:

CASE STUDIES have a long history in business, law, and medical education.  Their use in science education, however, is relatively recent.  In our 25+ years of working with the method, we have found it to be a powerful pedagogical technique for teaching science.  Cases can be used not only to teach scientific concepts and content, but also process skills and critical thinking.  And since many of the best cases are based on contemporary, and often contentious, science problems that students encounter in the news, the use of cases in the classroom makes science relevant.

Case studies have proven to be effective in a broad range of disciplines.  The key to their success in either a face-to-face classroom or online is the interaction of students with the content and the discussion between students — in short, the Community of Inquiry Model. Case studies – especially case studies that don’t have one clear answer or resolution – require discussion.

In a previous article, we looked at the value of interactive case studies.  https://lodestarlearn.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/the-research-behind-learning-interactions/

The article elicited numerous responses from online instructors who now aspire to develop case studies for their own disciplines.  The article you are now reading provides a practical guide to getting started.  In this article, we particularly emphasize the story-telling aspect of case studies.  Developing a good case study is indeed much like story-telling.

Case studies are an important strategy you can use to help students apply what they are learning and make them think.   Using the case study strategy may be daunting for some instructors.  Effectively using this strategy is a challenge.    What should you think about when creating a case study?  What are the options?

Generally, effective case studies are:

  • Realistic
  • Focused on student outcomes
  • Involve the student in a story
  • Involve the student in selecting and recalling information, analyzing and making decisions

Case Studies are not PowerPoints in a modified format. They are not just another means of presenting content.  Students summon information when they need it.  In a case study, content is only useful insofar as it can be applied to the situation at hand.  Truly engaging students in the story is a challenge.  Engagement means that the student summons resources, recalls information, and makes decisions.  You need just enough detail to make the case study realistic but not sacrifice the learning outcomes for realism.  You are a busy instructor.  You don’t need a lot of production to pull this off.  With that in mind, let’s get started.

Getting Started

Establish goals

This may seem like the most laborious part of the case study design, but it is necessary.

Imagine for a moment that you developed a case study for nursing students studying infectious disease control.  In a case involving infectious disease control, with an outcome related to sanitation policy, you wouldn’t present symptoms to the nursing student and ask for identification of the disease.  Depending on the level of the nurse, however, you might involve the nurse in decision-making related to creating and implementing a sanitation policy or reducing the risk of other patients being infected.  Be clear on the outcomes.  The outcome should be stated with audience,  behavior,  context and degree (ABCD).  An example outcome:  Given a Nepah virus outbreak in a small hospital, the infection nursing student will select the appropriate sanitation procedure with 100% accuracy. Think of the outcomes, objectives or competencies as the driver of the case study.  They drive the presentation of content and the interactions of the learner.  If it isn’t relevant to the outcome, it doesn’t belong.  Parsimony is essential – meaning that a case study is economical about what is left in the case narrative and deliberate about what is left out.

For a simple case study, a paragraph or two should suffice.  In more detailed cases, a page or two will be adequate.  In the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, the 700 plus cases represent the range:  from very short descriptions to a couple of pages presented in either narrative or dialog style.  The interactive (fully online) case study can be crafted to introduce information either at the beginning of the case or as the learner engages with the case.  Information can be revealed just-in-time or revealed through resources that appear as the case develops.  There is no one right way or one authority.  Do what comes naturally to you and won’t overwhelm the student.  Experiment.  Ask for student feedback.

In a case on organizational leadership, the narrative described a new CEO whose company had a top performing salesman who constantly cut corners on company procedures and angered service personnel, engineers and other sales staff.  The narrative provided just enough information for the reader to fully appreciate the dilemma.  Should the CEO fire or retain the salesman? Students participating in the case study were placed in the shoes of the CEO and had to draw from the content of the course to support their decision.  In this case, the narrative was approximately 500 words.

Set student expectations

Make known to the student that this is a black and white case versus a nuanced case with no one right answer or visa versa. If cases are a simplified version of reality, students should know that the case study is a stepping stone to more complex cases. Avoid disillusioning students by under-preparing them for reality. If it is a stepping stone case, present it as such.

Cases can be simple with straight-forward answers or they can be complex with no clear right answer.  The latter almost always requires discussion whether in class or online.  As important as the solution may be the exposed thinking that leads to a solution.  As important as the solution may be the sharing of student perspectives related to the solution.   In either case, simple or complex, students should know what to expect.  If they are asked to make a decision, for example, they need to know whether their answer will be judged right or wrong or be evaluated in a different way.  Perhaps any answer is the right answer, provided that it is supported by the details of the case and the body of knowledge that pertains to the case.

In the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science site, faculty at Purdue University describe their case studies related to using statistics in science in the following way:

This set of mini cases on the ecology of eastern cottontail rabbits is designed to give students practical experience using statistics in a scientific context. Given a dataset and experimental design, groups of students are asked to play the part of a wildlife management researcher to determine the results for each study. Students practice the scientific process and gain experience making hypotheses and predictions, choosing an appropriate statistical test, interpreting and displaying results, and presenting data to others. Students choose between four basic, commonly used, statistical tests (t-test, one-way ANOVA, linear regression, and Chi-square test), and justify their choices.

 

To summarize, I would emphasize that students play the role of wildlife researchers, make hypotheses and predictions, choose the appropriate statistical test and justify their choices.   There might only be one appropriate answer or several correct answers.  The emphasis might be on ‘getting the right answer’ or ‘justifying the answer’.  Either scenario is acceptable.  The case study approach allows for either possibility.  Again, the desired student outcomes drive the design.

In a case that involved the student in identifying risk factors related to recidivism and offenders, there was only one right answer.  Either the student picked up on the risk factors, correctly categorized them, or not.  In a case that involved assessing an adult student for prior learning matched to university programs, there were many possible answers.  The emphasis on the latter was on following a checklist, consulting the appropriate resources and identifying the opportunities for the adult student.

 Create active participants

In case studies, students should make decisions and/or perform an analysis, and contrast their work with that of others. In short, make the participants think. So much online learning contributes to a passive learning experience. Case studies should require students to recall the appropriate content and use it to make a selection or support a choice. Lengthy presentations, in which students are passive participants, are less likely to contribute to successful outcomes.

Identify what role the student is playing

Case studies may place the student in a role play. You should identify the student’s role. In one of our recent case study projects (Credit for Prior Learning), the designers placed the participants in the role of an advisor in a college setting.  The advisor was tasked with recognizing prior learning worthy of college credit.

 

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Patricia is the guide for this case study (shown in screenshot).  She provides general directions on how to engage with the case before introducing the case itself.

 

Make it clear to the student what role s/he will play. State relevant information: job title, level of experience, etc.

I’ll refer to the Credit for Prior Learning case studies several times in this article.  They were designed by the College of Individualized Studies at Metropolitan State University by Drs. Carol Lacey, Marcia Anderson, and Susan Misterek with support from Dr. Bilal Dameh and Dominic Jennen.

Identify the setting

Again, designing case studies is like telling stories. Stories are best told with settings. Be mindful that students will judge the relevance of learning based on setting and situation. Placing elementary student teachers in a college classroom setting may cause participants to dismiss the learning.  They may think that ‘this doesn’t apply to me.’  On the other hand, if students recognize the setting and accept that it relates to their reality, they will judge the case study to be relevant and be open to engaging with it.

Establish the plot

Plot is a sequence of events that happen in the story that may have an impact on future events. In a case study the plot can be linear (one set of events for all students) or branched (a unique set of events for each student).

Once you have introduced the characters of the case study, the setting, and the student’s mission or objective, you need to work out the plot. As mentioned, the plot can be simple or it can be complex.  In one case study that we worked on, the nursing student learned about latent tuberculosis bacterial infection.  The student then observed (as a third party) the dialog between a public health nurse and a client.  The student was asked to take notes during the dialog and then accurately fill out charts related to the diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.  At the heart of the plot was the interview.   The student couldn’t control the interview.  The student simply needed to pay attention, take notes and accurately chart.

In another case study, the student played the part of an instructor asked to design an online course.  The dean in the story asks the instructor about what s/he would do first, then second, then third and so forth.  The story was linear (not multi-branched), but it was revealed in stages.

In the Credit for Prior Learning case study, the student played the part of a college faculty member who was tasked with assessing whether or not a character could earn credit for his prior learning and experience.  This was a very simple plot.  Information was presented on the screen and then ‘resources’ displayed.  The participant could consult the resources to help evaluate whether or not the character was a candidate for prior learning. One of the resources was a checklist with key considerations:  for example, was the experience related to the character’s goals?  If the goal was to achieve credit for upper division courses, did the participant find any evidence of learning that was equivalent to an upper division course that contributed to the character’s goals.  Simple setting and situation.  Not much plot.  The participant picked the right resources, consulted them and then wrote up a summary of why the character was good candidate.

 

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Screenshot of a case study about a student who has had prior learning experience as a corporate trainer.  The case study places learners in the role of an advisor who collects information and decides if the corporate trainer has had enough public speaking to meet a general education/liberal studies goal.

 

All three of the examples above were simple plots.  But plots can be complex.  Remember the ‘Choose your own adventure’ books?  Rather than reading a book from cover to cover, the reader of a ‘Choose your own adventure’ makes decisions.  The decision then refers the reader to another part of the book.  The reader might jump from page 10 to page 20 or from page 10 to page 16. Each reader picked their own path through the narrative.  The sequence of events was unique to each reader.  The interactive case study can optionally branch students to different parts of the case study.

In a law enforcement case study, a parole officer interviews a client (the offender).  For each page of the story, the person playing the role of a parole officer decides on one of three questions to ask the offender.  The choice of question may start to move the client toward a negative emotional response.  The parole officer, however, can recover from an escalating situation through a series of correct choices.  On the other hand, too many incorrect choices terminates the session.

The situation and the immediate feedback immerse the student in the content.  Successful case studies require students to recall lecture and reading material, select the appropriate information and use it correctly.

Avoid Combinatorial Explosions

In his book titled “E-Learning by Design” William Horton cautions against combinatorial explosions when designing games.  The same wisdom holds true with complex case studies with multiple branches.  Two paths can lead to four paths can lead to sixteen…  Horton outlines a couple of solutions to the problem of combinatorial explosion.  In one solution,  which Horton calls the short-leash strategy, learners are not allowed to stray too far from the ideal path.  In the above example related to the parole officer, too many bad choices terminates the session.  The case study doesn’t keep on branching.

Provide Resources

Case studies are a simplification of reality.   In some of our designs, we exposed resources at the appropriate time in the sequence of events.   Case studies that send students off into the web or into the depths of a textbook run the risk of losing the students’ attention.   Developers of case studies can make resources appear at certain times in the form of buttons or pop-ups.  In the Credit for Prior Learning case study, participants clicked on a button and viewed a transcript that they had to analyze for critical information.  Hyperlinks in the case study can cause pop-ups to appear with useful information.

 

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Case Study reveals resources (buttons on right) when the student needs them.  In this case, students can consult the instructions, an explanation of icons used, background of the character, a checklist, a description of a general education goal and a proficiency test.

 

 

Use Some Form of Storyboarding

Storyboard your ideas – although, the thought of storyboarding may seem daunting.  It implies the use of specialized software or a specialized skill.  Neither is needed.

Use pencil and paper, if nothing else.  Place each scene in a box with stick figures.  Outline the information that will be presented and the choices offered to the student.   If your case study uses branching, draw lines between the boxes to show the branches.

In our last interactive case study, our instructional designer created a table in Microsoft Word.  The table included information presented to the student, choices, feedback, and a listing of the resources that would be displayed to the student at that scene.    Microsoft Word includes SmartArt.  The Horizontal Hierarchy Smart Art, for example, might be useful for mapping out a case study.

Whether using pencil and paper or Word, you will find that it is easier to make changes and avoid confusion than to draft your ideas within an authoring tool.  Overly complicated case studies become apparent when mapped out in advance.  Most authoring tools don’t offer a birds-eye view.

Support Discussion

In simple case studies, students can make a decision by clicking on options or they can perform an analysis with text entry or drop box submission.  Once students commit their answers, the case can reveal the expert answer.  In more sophisticated cases, multiple answers or solutions or analyses might be appropriate.  The case can step the learner through making a decision or preparing an analysis that can be submitted to a drop box or entered into a discussion post.  In both simple and complex cases, the case can prepare students for an in-depth discussion about the critical aspects of their case and the rationale behind their decisions or analyses.  In a flipped classroom approach, the case can engage the students online and leave precious classroom time for moderated discussion.

Vary Complexity

Cover a topic with a simple case, followed by a more complex case.  In our Credit for Prior Learning course, we started with black and white cases.  There was one right answer.  Either the character in the case was a candidate for credit for prior learning or not.  In the succeeding cases, the decisions were not so clear cut.

A strategy in game design is to start simple, ratchet up the challenge, plateau for a while, then ratchet up again.  This careful control of complexity applies to case study design.  Get students acquainted with the interactive case, instill some confidence and then work in the nuances and complexities of reality.  Not every case study needs to be same level of complexity.  Especially when designing a sequence of cases, control complexity carefully and strategically.

Conclusion

Creating case studies is story telling.  They include character development, setting, plot, role play, dialog, and even suspense.  They place learners at the center of the story.  Unlike stories, they provide feedback – both immediate and in discussions.  They are a teaching tool and they help students apply what they have learned.  They are an important strategy in helping instructors making learning active.  The best way to get started with case studies is to get started.  There is no one model that dictates case study design.  If you are making students think about your content material, you are doing the right thing.