Management instructors’ response strategies to teaching amidst the COVID-19 challenges

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On 7 May 2021 COVID-19 claimed the life of one of the world's greatest case method experts, Professor Debapratim Purkayastha of ICFAI Business School (IBS).

Earlier in 2021 Debapratim was working on an article about how management educators could respond to the teaching challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly before his death he shared the article with The Case Centre's Director, Richard McCracken, and expressed a wish to share it quickly and widely as soon as it was ready. 

Sadly Debapratim passed away before being able to complete and publish the piece. To honour his wishes, and with the permission of his family and ICFAI Business School, we are pleased to share the article below. 

Response strategies that management instructors can adopt based on their current competences, to facilitate student learning amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19.

The year 2020 witnessed unprecedented upheaval in all industries and sectors with the rampaging and unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. The education sector has not been able to buck the trend. Traditionally, the teaching community as well as the education sector in general had been relatively more conservative in technology adoption, but this has not prevented the sector from making a large scale and total shift to online teaching. In fact, they had to make the transition in a matter of weeks. Most of the institutions have taken reactive steps to comply with local regulations, to safeguard students and staff, by establishing remote work arrangements, securing vendors/technology for online teaching, etc.

Similarly, the teaching community was also largely seen taking reactive steps. The teaching community has shown remarkable resilience in making this wholesale shift to online teaching. Despite this, many instructors are still struggling to make their online teaching more engaging and effective. While this is a common concern, the need is felt more in professional courses such as management, where there is a big need for application of knowledge and development of vital skills to make a student industry ready. Moreover, now it is a key concern, as the pandemic has been unrelenting with the second wave in many places and the threat of mutant strains. So despite the arrival of a few vaccines, online teaching will continue unabated in different parts of the world for some more time to come. Even after we see the back of this pandemic, there is little likelihood of things returning to the pre-COVID-19 'business as usual'.

In this situation, it is important to see how management instructors have reacted to the new demands posed by the pandemic. Historically, the case method has been the most enduring and visible feature of teaching on management programmes, with some of the best management schools and instructors relying heavily on this method. However, this does not mean that all management instructors are proficient in case teaching or that this method is equally adopted by all management schools. Now with management educators having to teach online, what has changed, and what changes are in the offing?

Strategic responses

I have identified four categories of management educators based on their level of sophistication in employing the case method and/or online learning in their class. When I say ‘case method’ here, I mean it in the broadest description of the term that encompasses any type of participant-centred learning that focuses on solving real world problems in class.

This two-by-two matrix shows the four generic strategic responses that management instructors can employ based on their level of competence on the two dimensions – case teaching and online teaching.

Decision tree can help management instructors to proactively develop strategic responses to teaching challenges

While instructors may be at various stages on these two continuums depending on their unique situation, for the sake of simplicity I have identified four mutually distinct categories. The COVID-19 pandemic provided management instructors with unique challenges and opportunities based on the quadrant they are placed in. Their individual responses may be determined by many intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g. institutional policy). Significant opportunities are available for instructors who are agile enough to adapt to the new realities and match up to the challenge posed by this total shift to online teaching. Needless to say, it requires a major reorientation to develop the skills and competences needed to succeed in the new milieu.

The four generic strategic responses that management instructors can adopt based on their position on their respective quadrant, i.e. the strategic responses that could provide the educators with best possible outcomes, are shown below.

Strategy quadrant I: adapt to online teaching

These management instructors are proficient in teaching with the case method, but are new to online teaching. Some of the best case teachers were earlier sceptical about using the case method online. While this may in part be due to inertia, there is also a legitimate concern that the benefits of the case method may not translate well into the online mode. For instance, instructors felt that the free-flowing discussion and debate on a real world case in the physical class cannot be effectively replicated in the online mode; and hence, the student will miss out on vital learning. The few management instructors who already taught with cases online knew that this was far from the truth.

So the instructors in this quadrant will have to take a leap of faith to teaching their cases in the online mode. They will soon realise that they are in a happier position than those teachers who did not teach with cases at all, as online classes can be quite boring without adoption of active learning strategies that keep students engaged. This group of instructors will soon realise that many of the generic skills that they have acquired in case teaching can be replicated online. They can improvise; make subtle changes to their teaching techniques or the tool (case), to get similar results that they got offline. They will see that their favourite case easily crosses over to the online mode with minor tweaks or no changes at all. This may also be the right time to adopt some cases in new interesting formats that they have resisted doing for such a long time (e.g. video/graphic novel, or in other digital formats, that translate very well to the online mode). They will see how technology has evolved to enable face-to-face discussion in real time and even breakout sessions. In fact, they may soon realise that there could be some added benefits. For instance, how instructors can use cases in asynchronous mode to ensure student preparation.

Strategy quadrant II: raise the bar/mentor

These management instructors are proficient in teaching with the case method and also teaching online. Thus, they find themselves in the most ideal position during the pandemic, and are also the most sought after for their expertise in the area. These are the people who have been teaching in a 'futuristic way' for years - with some of their peers viewing them as role models and others considering them mavericks or outright crazy! At times, they have been evangelical in their promotion of online teaching with cases, but with few followers. They are now deeply valued for their expertise and much sought after as speakers, authors and mentors in the new milieu. Many of them have come out to help the management teaching community to make the shift to online teaching.

The technological changes following the pandemic have been manifold - with the introduction of newer online features, tools and even platforms. There are ever evolving newer ways of making online case teaching more effective. These are highly exciting times for this group. So, there is a need for this group to keep themselves abreast of these changes; constantly raising the bar in online teaching with cases. The onus is on them to ensure that the newer ways of teaching percolate down to all the management teachers.

PAGE 2 

Strategy quadrant III: shift to teaching with cases online

These management instructors neither used the case method, nor were they teaching online. One can very well imagine what a shock this group had to endure amidst the pandemic. Despite this, the group has shown remarkable resilience in absorbing the shock and in surviving these tough times. COVID-19 in certain ways has proved to be a great leveller, forcing everyone to plunge into the choppy waters of online teaching. And, amongst the four groups, this group has to work the hardest to develop new capabilities. It is also this group that has the greatest opportunity to come out of the pandemic with the most gains.

The pandemic provides this group the opportunity to leapfrog from quadrant III to quadrant II - nothing short of a quantum leap. For this, the instructors in this group would have to adapt quickly to online teaching while simultaneously building their competence in case teaching.

Strategy quadrant IV: adapt to case teaching

These management instructors are proficient in online teaching, but did not teach with the case method. This group are likely to comprise of what we call innovators and early adopters of technology, but for various reasons they did not teach with the case method. This group finds themselves in a relatively happier position with the shift to online learning. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that this group has been teaching wholly through the case method prior to the onset of the pandemic. Now with the wholesale shift to the online mode, their online classes are not a novelty in themselves anymore. They are now teaching online all the time and the students are also attending online classes all the time. So now they are required to adopt more active learning strategies to keep the students engaged for longer durations and there are fewer better ways of doing this than to bring real world cases into the classroom.

So, this group of instructors will benefit by leveraging their competence in online teaching to teach cases online more effectively. They will have to build their case teaching capabilities. They already know the nuances of online teaching and can apply those principles to adapt quickly to teaching with cases online.

From reactive to proactive

Many of the changes that we have seen in teaching have been forced on instructors due to the pressure put on institutions by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, many of the strategies were reactive in nature. However, going forward, management instructors will have to proactively adopt strategies to make their teaching more effective. The 'new normal' following the pandemic may warrant a similar mode of teaching - if not dominated by online interventions, at least a blended approach. It is unlikely that the progress made and lessons learnt will be frittered away. Rather the resources and competences acquired can be leveraged to our advantage.

Strategic responses to teaching challenges

This decision tree can help management instructors to proactively develop strategic responses to teaching challenges posed by COVID-19 and beyond.

strategic responses that management instructors can employ based on their level of competence on the two dimensions

The decision tree can help management instructors think through their strategies to ensure and secure student learning during the pandemic and beyond. As educators move from a reactive to a proactive approach to dealing with the challenges posed by the new age learners in the new milieu, they should ask themselves the following three questions:

First, do we have the required skills and competences to teach online?

There are few alternatives to online learning in the current environment. And going forward, online learning will continue to remain relevant as institutions are likely to embrace more online interventions and blended approaches. Institutions have already made huge investments in technology and online infrastructure. Strategic institutions are thinking beyond the crisis to future changes in students’/recruiters’ needs.

Second, do we have the required skills and competences to teach with participant-centred approaches such as the case method?

This question is especially relevant for management instructors as online learning interventions can be bland and boring without adoption of active learning strategies. Cases are a relatively resource-efficient way of bringing the real world into the classroom in an engaging way. Having made significant investments in developing online infrastructure, institutions that were hitherto not investing in cases may be more willing to do so… if only to make their online classes more lively.

Third, where can we seek out resources to build and hone the capabilities related to effectively teach online with cases?

This question is most relevant to all management instructors that seek to make their teaching engaging, effective and impactful. It is equally relevant to instructors that seek to remain relevant in the new milieu. This has major implications for individual development plans, working collaboratively with peers, and actively seeking our mentors who have developed competences in key relevant areas.

Answering these questions and responding strategically to the on-going crisis requires a high degree of open mindedness, discipline and a willingness to unlearn and relearn. Only this will ensure that management instructors not only overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19, but also tap into the new opportunities provided by the pandemic.

This article was published in Connect, Issue 52, June 2021.

Page 1

Response strategies that management instructors can adopt based on their current competences, to facilitate student learning amidst the challenges posed by COVID-19.

The year 2020 witnessed unprecedented upheaval in all industries and sectors with the rampaging and unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. The education sector has not been able to buck the trend. Traditionally, the teaching community as well as the education sector in general had been relatively more conservative in technology adoption, but this has not prevented the sector from making a large scale and total shift to online teaching. In fact, they had to make the transition in a matter of weeks. Most of the institutions have taken reactive steps to comply with local regulations, to safeguard students and staff, by establishing remote work arrangements, securing vendors/technology for online teaching, etc.

Similarly, the teaching community was also largely seen taking reactive steps. The teaching community has shown remarkable resilience in making this wholesale shift to online teaching. Despite this, many instructors are still struggling to make their online teaching more engaging and effective. While this is a common concern, the need is felt more in professional courses such as management, where there is a big need for application of knowledge and development of vital skills to make a student industry ready. Moreover, now it is a key concern, as the pandemic has been unrelenting with the second wave in many places and the threat of mutant strains. So despite the arrival of a few vaccines, online teaching will continue unabated in different parts of the world for some more time to come. Even after we see the back of this pandemic, there is little likelihood of things returning to the pre-COVID-19 'business as usual'.

In this situation, it is important to see how management instructors have reacted to the new demands posed by the pandemic. Historically, the case method has been the most enduring and visible feature of teaching on management programmes, with some of the best management schools and instructors relying heavily on this method. However, this does not mean that all management instructors are proficient in case teaching or that this method is equally adopted by all management schools. Now with management educators having to teach online, what has changed, and what changes are in the offing?

Strategic responses

I have identified four categories of management educators based on their level of sophistication in employing the case method and/or online learning in their class. When I say ‘case method’ here, I mean it in the broadest description of the term that encompasses any type of participant-centred learning that focuses on solving real world problems in class.

This two-by-two matrix shows the four generic strategic responses that management instructors can employ based on their level of competence on the two dimensions – case teaching and online teaching.

Decision tree can help management instructors to proactively develop strategic responses to teaching challenges

While instructors may be at various stages on these two continuums depending on their unique situation, for the sake of simplicity I have identified four mutually distinct categories. The COVID-19 pandemic provided management instructors with unique challenges and opportunities based on the quadrant they are placed in. Their individual responses may be determined by many intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g. institutional policy). Significant opportunities are available for instructors who are agile enough to adapt to the new realities and match up to the challenge posed by this total shift to online teaching. Needless to say, it requires a major reorientation to develop the skills and competences needed to succeed in the new milieu.

The four generic strategic responses that management instructors can adopt based on their position on their respective quadrant, i.e. the strategic responses that could provide the educators with best possible outcomes, are shown below.

Strategy quadrant I: adapt to online teaching

These management instructors are proficient in teaching with the case method, but are new to online teaching. Some of the best case teachers were earlier sceptical about using the case method online. While this may in part be due to inertia, there is also a legitimate concern that the benefits of the case method may not translate well into the online mode. For instance, instructors felt that the free-flowing discussion and debate on a real world case in the physical class cannot be effectively replicated in the online mode; and hence, the student will miss out on vital learning. The few management instructors who already taught with cases online knew that this was far from the truth.

So the instructors in this quadrant will have to take a leap of faith to teaching their cases in the online mode. They will soon realise that they are in a happier position than those teachers who did not teach with cases at all, as online classes can be quite boring without adoption of active learning strategies that keep students engaged. This group of instructors will soon realise that many of the generic skills that they have acquired in case teaching can be replicated online. They can improvise; make subtle changes to their teaching techniques or the tool (case), to get similar results that they got offline. They will see that their favourite case easily crosses over to the online mode with minor tweaks or no changes at all. This may also be the right time to adopt some cases in new interesting formats that they have resisted doing for such a long time (e.g. video/graphic novel, or in other digital formats, that translate very well to the online mode). They will see how technology has evolved to enable face-to-face discussion in real time and even breakout sessions. In fact, they may soon realise that there could be some added benefits. For instance, how instructors can use cases in asynchronous mode to ensure student preparation.

Strategy quadrant II: raise the bar/mentor

These management instructors are proficient in teaching with the case method and also teaching online. Thus, they find themselves in the most ideal position during the pandemic, and are also the most sought after for their expertise in the area. These are the people who have been teaching in a 'futuristic way' for years - with some of their peers viewing them as role models and others considering them mavericks or outright crazy! At times, they have been evangelical in their promotion of online teaching with cases, but with few followers. They are now deeply valued for their expertise and much sought after as speakers, authors and mentors in the new milieu. Many of them have come out to help the management teaching community to make the shift to online teaching.

The technological changes following the pandemic have been manifold - with the introduction of newer online features, tools and even platforms. There are ever evolving newer ways of making online case teaching more effective. These are highly exciting times for this group. So, there is a need for this group to keep themselves abreast of these changes; constantly raising the bar in online teaching with cases. The onus is on them to ensure that the newer ways of teaching percolate down to all the management teachers.

PAGE 2 

Page 2

Strategy quadrant III: shift to teaching with cases online

These management instructors neither used the case method, nor were they teaching online. One can very well imagine what a shock this group had to endure amidst the pandemic. Despite this, the group has shown remarkable resilience in absorbing the shock and in surviving these tough times. COVID-19 in certain ways has proved to be a great leveller, forcing everyone to plunge into the choppy waters of online teaching. And, amongst the four groups, this group has to work the hardest to develop new capabilities. It is also this group that has the greatest opportunity to come out of the pandemic with the most gains.

The pandemic provides this group the opportunity to leapfrog from quadrant III to quadrant II - nothing short of a quantum leap. For this, the instructors in this group would have to adapt quickly to online teaching while simultaneously building their competence in case teaching.

Strategy quadrant IV: adapt to case teaching

These management instructors are proficient in online teaching, but did not teach with the case method. This group are likely to comprise of what we call innovators and early adopters of technology, but for various reasons they did not teach with the case method. This group finds themselves in a relatively happier position with the shift to online learning. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that this group has been teaching wholly through the case method prior to the onset of the pandemic. Now with the wholesale shift to the online mode, their online classes are not a novelty in themselves anymore. They are now teaching online all the time and the students are also attending online classes all the time. So now they are required to adopt more active learning strategies to keep the students engaged for longer durations and there are fewer better ways of doing this than to bring real world cases into the classroom.

So, this group of instructors will benefit by leveraging their competence in online teaching to teach cases online more effectively. They will have to build their case teaching capabilities. They already know the nuances of online teaching and can apply those principles to adapt quickly to teaching with cases online.

From reactive to proactive

Many of the changes that we have seen in teaching have been forced on instructors due to the pressure put on institutions by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, many of the strategies were reactive in nature. However, going forward, management instructors will have to proactively adopt strategies to make their teaching more effective. The 'new normal' following the pandemic may warrant a similar mode of teaching - if not dominated by online interventions, at least a blended approach. It is unlikely that the progress made and lessons learnt will be frittered away. Rather the resources and competences acquired can be leveraged to our advantage.

Strategic responses to teaching challenges

This decision tree can help management instructors to proactively develop strategic responses to teaching challenges posed by COVID-19 and beyond.

strategic responses that management instructors can employ based on their level of competence on the two dimensions

The decision tree can help management instructors think through their strategies to ensure and secure student learning during the pandemic and beyond. As educators move from a reactive to a proactive approach to dealing with the challenges posed by the new age learners in the new milieu, they should ask themselves the following three questions:

First, do we have the required skills and competences to teach online?

There are few alternatives to online learning in the current environment. And going forward, online learning will continue to remain relevant as institutions are likely to embrace more online interventions and blended approaches. Institutions have already made huge investments in technology and online infrastructure. Strategic institutions are thinking beyond the crisis to future changes in students’/recruiters’ needs.

Second, do we have the required skills and competences to teach with participant-centred approaches such as the case method?

This question is especially relevant for management instructors as online learning interventions can be bland and boring without adoption of active learning strategies. Cases are a relatively resource-efficient way of bringing the real world into the classroom in an engaging way. Having made significant investments in developing online infrastructure, institutions that were hitherto not investing in cases may be more willing to do so… if only to make their online classes more lively.

Third, where can we seek out resources to build and hone the capabilities related to effectively teach online with cases?

This question is most relevant to all management instructors that seek to make their teaching engaging, effective and impactful. It is equally relevant to instructors that seek to remain relevant in the new milieu. This has major implications for individual development plans, working collaboratively with peers, and actively seeking our mentors who have developed competences in key relevant areas.

Answering these questions and responding strategically to the on-going crisis requires a high degree of open mindedness, discipline and a willingness to unlearn and relearn. Only this will ensure that management instructors not only overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19, but also tap into the new opportunities provided by the pandemic.

This article was published in Connect, Issue 52, June 2021.

About Debapratim

Debapratim Purkayastha, Director of ICFAI Case Research Center and Professor at ICFAI Business School (IBS), passed away from COVID-19 on 7 May 2021.

Few people have had such an impact on the case method as Debapratim. His skills as a case writer and academic have transformed case writing in India and had an impact in classrooms around the world.

Read a full tribute to Debapratim here.

Picture representing 'Online case teaching'
Online case teaching

One of the key benefits of the case method is its ability to engage students, and this naturally lends itself to increasing the interactivity of online sessions.

Discover our curated list of online case teaching resources to develop your skills.

Online case teaching

One of the key benefits of the case method is its ability to engage students, and this naturally lends itself to increasing the interactivity of online sessions.

Discover our curated list of online case teaching resources to develop your skills.

A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Discover more