Above and beyond: developing and preparing hybrid-ready cases

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The impact of the pandemic over the last two years has challenged long held assumptions that the in-person class is indispensible to the case method. We investigated this evolution and its impact for teaching and instructors (in two articles: Getting case teaching online quickly and Leap of faith: reflections on the switch to online teaching during the pandemic). As the pandemic has eased, much learning has returned to campuses, but almost always involving necessary, or elective, ‘new normal’ hybrid teaching, whether synchronous or asynchronous. So, what are the implications for cases themselves and the role of case authors now that the suitability of a case for use online or in hybrid mode needs to be considered?

The journey

In conversation with case educators worldwide, we explore whether instructors can use tried and tested cases as before and simply adjust their teaching for the hybrid or remote mode of delivery, adapting to the technologies. Does a different, specially conceived, type of case for online use now need to be developed? If so, what are the main criteria an author should consider? Do teaching notes or instructor manuals now need to be created with new learning situations in mind? Should authors be updating their existing cases and instructor materials to facilitate and guide online or hybrid use?

Hot air balloons flying over a winter landscape

Case length

There are fundamental additional challenges to mastering today’s online and hybrid technologies in class, and instructors need to ensure that all participants feel connected as one group, regardless of their location. Most instructors agree that online attention spans are shorter. A parallel trend towards shorter cases was already evident pre-pandemic and the switch to online use has intensified this. At the SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Malay Krishna, winner with Gursimran Gambhir of the Hot Topic category at The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, has observed case length to be a relevant issue: “When a case is longer, with richer detail, I have found it difficult to fit the case in an online class of a similar duration to an in-person one, not least due to technical delays. So I have had to shorten the case, or drop entirely some discussion pastures, to ensure a timing fit,” he reports.

“Online teaching does tend to slow things down and cost time,” agrees Martin Kupp, at ESCP Business School. But he observes how the right case can act as an antidote to such time-slowing considerations. “Case studies can drastically enhance interaction, excitement, and participation, making the choice and aptitude of the case study even more important for an online or hybrid session,” he points out. “Having said that, there is no doubt that shorter cases with a high identification factor (eg timely, or brands that participants can relate to) may well be the more effective in online or hybrid contexts.” 

At UVA Darden School of Business, Bob Bruner has recently authored an ebook on case teaching, downloadable free of charge, which includes teaching cases online. For him it is about striking a balance: “Long and complicated cases are definitely harder to teach online than in person,” he observes. “You can certainly adapt and use the same case online as you would in a face-to-face class - the shorter the better, and especially cases that participants can identify with.” However, he cautions: “A potential pitfall of very short and succinct cases is that they can deny the student the useful struggle necessary for learning.”

Defining the pedagogy

In a recent Harvard Business School interview Yael Grushka-Cockayne, also of the UVA Darden School of Business, points out that discussions can still be “amazingly powerful” online, even if time will normally be more limited and the pace often slower than her usual “very rapid-paced classroom”. She points out that the process of defining pedagogical objectives is even more crucial than for conventional in-person teaching, and encourages instructors also to be realistic and self reflective: “When I think of online, I have to think very carefully of what it is that I want to use this time for all of us together to accomplish. One of the keys to success is to be thoughtful about your teaching objectives and your teaching plan and make sure that you don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to accomplish too much in one session.”

The challenge of configuring, or re-configuring, cases for online or hybrid use can itself seem overwhelming. All the educators we spoke to agreed that developing a case for online use comes down to working out how the teaching situation and available technology can be used to make delivery of their material the most effective. At the Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Eric Dolansky suggests breaking it down into two stages: ”First ask what you need to change or do practically based on what simply won’t work (well) online, such as using white boards, for example. Second, reflect on what we can do - maybe even better - in the online space, such as using tools like Google Forms, which will give the class instant survey results.”

Brain and AI concept

At the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Vanina Farber, winner of the Outstanding Case Writer Competition in The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, warns not to become initially distracted by the possibilities of the technology when planning a case. “First you need to think about the specific pedagogy for the particular participants - the learning journey you will take them on - and not the ‘gimmicks’ available. You need to be really mindful and clear about your case objectives and then consider how they can evolve through the available online media.” She too recognises that there is an opportunity to develop cases for the online and hybrid space that are more ‘visual’, bringing greater life to characters and other case details. “The online environment can be great to facilitate the lively engagement of participants through role play and participatory online tools.” But she cautions: “You must prioritise; any proposed use of online tools - such as word cloud/mirror cloud, for example - in line with your planned class flow and not ‘just to wake people up’. They must always serve a pedagogical purpose, both for the participants and the instructor.”

María Helena Jaén has co-authored cases with Vanina Farber and they both stress how such collaboration can make the process and the outcome more enjoyable and effective. Authors often also indicate the value learning and course designers can add to the case development process for different class settings. Farber and Jaén have incorporated guidance for instructors on use of their cases in different settings. Jaén reports that they had been shortening cases even before the pandemic struck but that the starting point itself for developing a case for online use remains the same as for in-person: “An instructor needs first and foremost to define specific learning objectives for the online environment and the particular group of participants,” she says. “Your final goal needs to be clear right from the outset so that you don’t get lost along the way. As an author, you need to anticipate what will happen in the actual class - whether in-person, online or hybrid. You need to know how it is going to be taught and that must lead and inform your creative process.”

Re-structuring case content

At INSEAD, Luk Van Wassenhove has written many cases and recently several with online use first in mind. “To put together a case for any remote usage requires rethinking the essence/core of the case, and reaching it succinctly, instead of writing a rich story with a lot of context, which has always been the core of a business case for MBA students; executives who have lived through similar situations tend not to need that much context, however,” he points out. He recommends structuring a case for online or hybrid use so that it will be possible to “split the discussion into chunks. I recommend developing an extended slide set with ‘chapters’ or sections for discussion, and sometimes even inserting short videos between such sections to refocus interest and attention.”

At IESE Business School, Nuno Fernandes, Outstanding Case Teacher winner at The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, feels that existing cases can usually be adapted for use in different settings. However, when developing or preparing a case for online use he too suggests rethinking how the information is broken down and understanding how technology can enhance the case objectives. “Instead of formulating a few very long core questions lined up for the case discussion, I recommend focussing on much shorter, targeted, questions that can be processed through quicker interactions,” he says. “You will have many online tools at your disposal and it’s about identifying those that can support the class engagement with the case content.”

Malay Krishna reports: “When I now write a case, I compel myself to think about an online breakout room and question whether there are enough case facts to engage the participants in a particular activity for the allotted time. I have to ask how I can lower the cognitive load for participants, so that they spend their time discussing meaty issues and not searching for case facts. I then need to decide whether that is something I handle through the teaching note - handouts, perhaps - or within the case itself - through exhibits.” He adds: “Some publishers are now asking authors to provide multimedia teaching materials, and supplementary items such as spreadsheets, which can be very useful, especially in an online session. For instance, building up a spreadsheet based on class input can be very powerful for participant learning.”

Tips for case authors for online or hybrid use
  • Start with the teaching note.
  • Identify and prioritise teaching objectives.
  • Take a realistic view of session time available and shorter attention spans.
  • Suggest technology tools that enhance learning objectives.
  • Avoid online ‘gimmicks’.
  • Break the case journey into ‘chunks’.
  • Provide videos, tools and ideas to intersperse discussion.
  • Look from the participant’s point of view.
  • Focus on what can be done rather than what can’t.
  • Update teaching notes on existing cases.

Compilation © The Case Centre, 2022.

 

PAGE 2 

Instructor guidance

So how important is the teaching note or instructor manual? In his additional role as editor of the Case Research Journal, Eric Dolansky has been asking authors to evolve their instructor manuals when submitting their cases. “Well written guidance on teaching a particular case remotely really helps others wanting to use it,” he reports. “This should include everything from recommendations relating to technologies, to detailed suggestions and clarifications about how to structure the materials for an online or hybrid class. The best instructor manuals assume nothing and will work for everyone from the experienced professor to the new case teacher; they must cater to all,” he says. Dolansky points out that there are cases that really will or won’t work well in some teaching situations - even updated. “A heavily quantative case could end up just becoming a lecture online without the natural give and take of a face-to-face class. Authors and instructors do need to frankly consider suitability to different settings at an early stage. But sometimes adapting a complex case can be as simple as using it over two, instead of one, sessions.”

Laptop showing a mountain view

Both Vanina Farber and María Helena Jaén begin developing a case with the teaching note. “We always start with thinking about the pedagogy, so the teaching note starts to live before we start work on constructing the actual case and it can take twice as much time,” says Farber. “As educators, preparing for online case use, we need to change our thinking and the teaching note,” adds Jaén. “It is a process of reimagining, and later piloting and revising both the case and the teaching note to ensure they will work properly for whatever teaching situation. In the early stages there is the temptation to include too many tools that the online environment offers. Piloting usage will show you where you need to correct.” The teaching note to their case A World Without Cigarettes? Actions Speak Louder than Words includes comprehensive guidance on teaching the case virtually. 

Offering input and options to consider when using a case online or in hybrid mode is invaluable whether for a new case or whether the teaching note and/or an existing case is updated. The Case Centre is incorporating the facility for authors to do this on its online portal. At Thunderbird School of Global Management, Euvin Naidoo is encouraging case authors to, at the minimum, start thinking through providing an addendum to their teaching plans for both virtual and hybrid use. “Adding guidance for teaching online can be invaluable whether provided at a generic or better still also at a specific level, say tailored for a particular platform, such as Zoom or Teams,” he advises. “The whole purpose of the case method is to pull participants in and keep them engaged on a learning journey and that has been at the heart of planning the traditional in-person class,” he explains. “No one should be talking about ‘replacing’ the in-person experience; it’s about providing ‘a bag of suggestions’ in a teaching note and, where possible, concrete examples as to how to make a case effective and engaging on the new platform.” Naidoo suggests that case authors encourage instructors to focus on selecting ideas that will work in their particular class. He adds: “They need to ask themselves what particular platforms are viable and work best for their particular learning outcomes. As an example, not all students and communities have all technologies at their disposal. Actively building in this agility to effectively deliver across modalities is both a mindset and structural, because a case author can help other instructors with suggestions that can be  adapted based on specific context.”

For Luk Van Wassenhove, the support offered to instructors in the teaching note should include ideas as to how to chunk the case and materials for online use. “Suggesting how and where to split the case discussion into clear sections allows for questions to be resolved and summaries given before moving the class onto the next topic. All this fits quite naturally with the new generations of students who have a more visual way of learning and are fully conversant with the shorter information units of online media,” he adds. Nuno Fernandes is not alone in having observed such trends even before the pandemic. “I had already adapted and used materials for fully online teaching,” he recalls. “The most important thing I needed to change was my mode of delivery - primarily chunking the content - but as many cases are split into parts anyway, this was usually a fairly straightforward task.”

Cases for the ‘new normal’?

Given the current student generation’s online-savvy evolution, and the ubiquity of hybrid teaching, should all cases and their teaching notes, by default, now be written to cater for virtual teaching? At UVA Darden School of Business, Panos Markou developed a Process Analysis Simulation explicitly designed for running virtually. In the teaching note, he includes a section on how to adapt the exercise for an in-person class. So, could this reverse engineering of cases become standard in the future? “Zoom, Teams etc, are here to stay,” suggests Markou. “Going forward, it is probably advisable to keep this is mind when you are coming up with a case or simulation. In my recent experience, it is easier to develop materials for pure virtual and hybrid use and adapt them back to in-person class usage than the other way around. The fluidity of in-person conversation may be lost, but there are many more opportunities to shape discussions. In the virtual or hybrid classroom you can pre-emptively assign students to discussion groups based on their backgrounds to add to the learning, which is much harder to do in-person because you can’t really leverage or change where people like to sit. Things might take longer, but you can definitely apply the technology to help.” 

Student working outside

According to Martin Kupp: “Increasingly, a teaching note is going to need to focus on online teaching and then add sections for face-to-face. Preparation for online classes tend to be more time-consuming, and we might advise to frequently change the format, and to integrate interactive elements like quizzes, questionnaires, short videos, etc. In general, we would advise using open questions more carefully to limit airtime and to reduce ambiguity. Today, a traditional case’s instructor materials should, where possible, have an additional chapter added on online teaching.”

What seems to be important is that teaching plans need to be adaptable for every situation, though it would be impossible for case authors to second guess every possible scenario or participant group their case could be selected for. Bob Bruner comments “I have used the same case in different settings, but rarely with the same teaching plan. In online and hybrid settings, I spend more time setting the stage: awakening students to the context, the subtlety of the problem, and the motivation for solving the problem. Cases for online teaching need to lean more heavily on a graphic development of concepts, such as the relationship between risk and return; graphs and pictures help to keep the attention of the distant student, who being physically remote, might feel very aware of it too and needs bringing into the group.”

Importance of testing

It has always been recognised that road testing cases is fundamental to supporting their future effectiveness and publishing platforms often insist on proof before registering cases for distribution. “The test drive was the single most important thing in designing material for online instruction,” recalls Panos Markou. “It showed us that instructions were not clear enough for students to be able to act upon and forced us into reflecting harder on what they have to go through working at a distance.” He stresses how feedback from colleagues to dry run and practice the sessions ahead of time proved invaluable. “There is a lot about human/technology interaction, including simply how long things take, that people don’t think about, and case writers definitely need to consider that and try everything out in practice before moving to a class. As educators we need to make the effort to fully understand what works best in which setting and go with the strengths of each when creating our learning materials.”

Embracing the opportunity

For Euvin Naidoo, there is a fundamental issue: “We have to break the nostalgia of believing that one case delivery method is superior to another in terms of being able to generate an impactful and memorable learning experience. While in-person teaching does have a special place for so many of us, I recently ran a hybrid class in which I supported participants to be able to update their Zoom background colour on the fly to red, amber or green depending on their vote during polling. It was incredibly visual and immersive showing sentiment changing in real time during a fast-paced and energised discussion. In feedback, more than one student commented that the class was ‘one of the best ever’. So, we need to ask and answer how we write cases and teaching plans that play to the strengths of in-person and virtual classes, harnessing the available technology to suit each environment. Authors now have a terrific opportunity to update their existing popular cases with suggestions to help instructors deliver impact.” He adds: “It’s about actively thinking about the pedagogical journey and participant experience before writing new, or updating classic, cases.”

We conclude that the imperative to move away from the purely in-person case class, previously considered to be the ‘gold standard’, to multiple variations of virtual, online, hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous delivery certainly brings with it challenges for case authors, but also many new opportunities to create even more effective and enjoyable teaching materials and experiences. As Vanina Farber and María Helena Jaén expressed it: “First we need to change ourselves. These are exciting times.”

This article was published in Connect, April 2022.

Page 1

The journey

In conversation with case educators worldwide, we explore whether instructors can use tried and tested cases as before and simply adjust their teaching for the hybrid or remote mode of delivery, adapting to the technologies. Does a different, specially conceived, type of case for online use now need to be developed? If so, what are the main criteria an author should consider? Do teaching notes or instructor manuals now need to be created with new learning situations in mind? Should authors be updating their existing cases and instructor materials to facilitate and guide online or hybrid use?

Hot air balloons flying over a winter landscape

Case length

There are fundamental additional challenges to mastering today’s online and hybrid technologies in class, and instructors need to ensure that all participants feel connected as one group, regardless of their location. Most instructors agree that online attention spans are shorter. A parallel trend towards shorter cases was already evident pre-pandemic and the switch to online use has intensified this. At the SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Malay Krishna, winner with Gursimran Gambhir of the Hot Topic category at The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, has observed case length to be a relevant issue: “When a case is longer, with richer detail, I have found it difficult to fit the case in an online class of a similar duration to an in-person one, not least due to technical delays. So I have had to shorten the case, or drop entirely some discussion pastures, to ensure a timing fit,” he reports.

“Online teaching does tend to slow things down and cost time,” agrees Martin Kupp, at ESCP Business School. But he observes how the right case can act as an antidote to such time-slowing considerations. “Case studies can drastically enhance interaction, excitement, and participation, making the choice and aptitude of the case study even more important for an online or hybrid session,” he points out. “Having said that, there is no doubt that shorter cases with a high identification factor (eg timely, or brands that participants can relate to) may well be the more effective in online or hybrid contexts.” 

At UVA Darden School of Business, Bob Bruner has recently authored an ebook on case teaching, downloadable free of charge, which includes teaching cases online. For him it is about striking a balance: “Long and complicated cases are definitely harder to teach online than in person,” he observes. “You can certainly adapt and use the same case online as you would in a face-to-face class - the shorter the better, and especially cases that participants can identify with.” However, he cautions: “A potential pitfall of very short and succinct cases is that they can deny the student the useful struggle necessary for learning.”

Defining the pedagogy

In a recent Harvard Business School interview Yael Grushka-Cockayne, also of the UVA Darden School of Business, points out that discussions can still be “amazingly powerful” online, even if time will normally be more limited and the pace often slower than her usual “very rapid-paced classroom”. She points out that the process of defining pedagogical objectives is even more crucial than for conventional in-person teaching, and encourages instructors also to be realistic and self reflective: “When I think of online, I have to think very carefully of what it is that I want to use this time for all of us together to accomplish. One of the keys to success is to be thoughtful about your teaching objectives and your teaching plan and make sure that you don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to accomplish too much in one session.”

The challenge of configuring, or re-configuring, cases for online or hybrid use can itself seem overwhelming. All the educators we spoke to agreed that developing a case for online use comes down to working out how the teaching situation and available technology can be used to make delivery of their material the most effective. At the Goodman School of Business, Brock University, Eric Dolansky suggests breaking it down into two stages: ”First ask what you need to change or do practically based on what simply won’t work (well) online, such as using white boards, for example. Second, reflect on what we can do - maybe even better - in the online space, such as using tools like Google Forms, which will give the class instant survey results.”

Brain and AI concept

At the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), Vanina Farber, winner of the Outstanding Case Writer Competition in The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, warns not to become initially distracted by the possibilities of the technology when planning a case. “First you need to think about the specific pedagogy for the particular participants - the learning journey you will take them on - and not the ‘gimmicks’ available. You need to be really mindful and clear about your case objectives and then consider how they can evolve through the available online media.” She too recognises that there is an opportunity to develop cases for the online and hybrid space that are more ‘visual’, bringing greater life to characters and other case details. “The online environment can be great to facilitate the lively engagement of participants through role play and participatory online tools.” But she cautions: “You must prioritise; any proposed use of online tools - such as word cloud/mirror cloud, for example - in line with your planned class flow and not ‘just to wake people up’. They must always serve a pedagogical purpose, both for the participants and the instructor.”

María Helena Jaén has co-authored cases with Vanina Farber and they both stress how such collaboration can make the process and the outcome more enjoyable and effective. Authors often also indicate the value learning and course designers can add to the case development process for different class settings. Farber and Jaén have incorporated guidance for instructors on use of their cases in different settings. Jaén reports that they had been shortening cases even before the pandemic struck but that the starting point itself for developing a case for online use remains the same as for in-person: “An instructor needs first and foremost to define specific learning objectives for the online environment and the particular group of participants,” she says. “Your final goal needs to be clear right from the outset so that you don’t get lost along the way. As an author, you need to anticipate what will happen in the actual class - whether in-person, online or hybrid. You need to know how it is going to be taught and that must lead and inform your creative process.”

Re-structuring case content

At INSEAD, Luk Van Wassenhove has written many cases and recently several with online use first in mind. “To put together a case for any remote usage requires rethinking the essence/core of the case, and reaching it succinctly, instead of writing a rich story with a lot of context, which has always been the core of a business case for MBA students; executives who have lived through similar situations tend not to need that much context, however,” he points out. He recommends structuring a case for online or hybrid use so that it will be possible to “split the discussion into chunks. I recommend developing an extended slide set with ‘chapters’ or sections for discussion, and sometimes even inserting short videos between such sections to refocus interest and attention.”

At IESE Business School, Nuno Fernandes, Outstanding Case Teacher winner at The Case Centre’s 2022 Awards, feels that existing cases can usually be adapted for use in different settings. However, when developing or preparing a case for online use he too suggests rethinking how the information is broken down and understanding how technology can enhance the case objectives. “Instead of formulating a few very long core questions lined up for the case discussion, I recommend focussing on much shorter, targeted, questions that can be processed through quicker interactions,” he says. “You will have many online tools at your disposal and it’s about identifying those that can support the class engagement with the case content.”

Malay Krishna reports: “When I now write a case, I compel myself to think about an online breakout room and question whether there are enough case facts to engage the participants in a particular activity for the allotted time. I have to ask how I can lower the cognitive load for participants, so that they spend their time discussing meaty issues and not searching for case facts. I then need to decide whether that is something I handle through the teaching note - handouts, perhaps - or within the case itself - through exhibits.” He adds: “Some publishers are now asking authors to provide multimedia teaching materials, and supplementary items such as spreadsheets, which can be very useful, especially in an online session. For instance, building up a spreadsheet based on class input can be very powerful for participant learning.”

Tips for case authors for online or hybrid use
  • Start with the teaching note.
  • Identify and prioritise teaching objectives.
  • Take a realistic view of session time available and shorter attention spans.
  • Suggest technology tools that enhance learning objectives.
  • Avoid online ‘gimmicks’.
  • Break the case journey into ‘chunks’.
  • Provide videos, tools and ideas to intersperse discussion.
  • Look from the participant’s point of view.
  • Focus on what can be done rather than what can’t.
  • Update teaching notes on existing cases.

Compilation © The Case Centre, 2022.

 

PAGE 2 

Page 2

Instructor guidance

So how important is the teaching note or instructor manual? In his additional role as editor of the Case Research Journal, Eric Dolansky has been asking authors to evolve their instructor manuals when submitting their cases. “Well written guidance on teaching a particular case remotely really helps others wanting to use it,” he reports. “This should include everything from recommendations relating to technologies, to detailed suggestions and clarifications about how to structure the materials for an online or hybrid class. The best instructor manuals assume nothing and will work for everyone from the experienced professor to the new case teacher; they must cater to all,” he says. Dolansky points out that there are cases that really will or won’t work well in some teaching situations - even updated. “A heavily quantative case could end up just becoming a lecture online without the natural give and take of a face-to-face class. Authors and instructors do need to frankly consider suitability to different settings at an early stage. But sometimes adapting a complex case can be as simple as using it over two, instead of one, sessions.”

Laptop showing a mountain view

Both Vanina Farber and María Helena Jaén begin developing a case with the teaching note. “We always start with thinking about the pedagogy, so the teaching note starts to live before we start work on constructing the actual case and it can take twice as much time,” says Farber. “As educators, preparing for online case use, we need to change our thinking and the teaching note,” adds Jaén. “It is a process of reimagining, and later piloting and revising both the case and the teaching note to ensure they will work properly for whatever teaching situation. In the early stages there is the temptation to include too many tools that the online environment offers. Piloting usage will show you where you need to correct.” The teaching note to their case A World Without Cigarettes? Actions Speak Louder than Words includes comprehensive guidance on teaching the case virtually. 

Offering input and options to consider when using a case online or in hybrid mode is invaluable whether for a new case or whether the teaching note and/or an existing case is updated. The Case Centre is incorporating the facility for authors to do this on its online portal. At Thunderbird School of Global Management, Euvin Naidoo is encouraging case authors to, at the minimum, start thinking through providing an addendum to their teaching plans for both virtual and hybrid use. “Adding guidance for teaching online can be invaluable whether provided at a generic or better still also at a specific level, say tailored for a particular platform, such as Zoom or Teams,” he advises. “The whole purpose of the case method is to pull participants in and keep them engaged on a learning journey and that has been at the heart of planning the traditional in-person class,” he explains. “No one should be talking about ‘replacing’ the in-person experience; it’s about providing ‘a bag of suggestions’ in a teaching note and, where possible, concrete examples as to how to make a case effective and engaging on the new platform.” Naidoo suggests that case authors encourage instructors to focus on selecting ideas that will work in their particular class. He adds: “They need to ask themselves what particular platforms are viable and work best for their particular learning outcomes. As an example, not all students and communities have all technologies at their disposal. Actively building in this agility to effectively deliver across modalities is both a mindset and structural, because a case author can help other instructors with suggestions that can be  adapted based on specific context.”

For Luk Van Wassenhove, the support offered to instructors in the teaching note should include ideas as to how to chunk the case and materials for online use. “Suggesting how and where to split the case discussion into clear sections allows for questions to be resolved and summaries given before moving the class onto the next topic. All this fits quite naturally with the new generations of students who have a more visual way of learning and are fully conversant with the shorter information units of online media,” he adds. Nuno Fernandes is not alone in having observed such trends even before the pandemic. “I had already adapted and used materials for fully online teaching,” he recalls. “The most important thing I needed to change was my mode of delivery - primarily chunking the content - but as many cases are split into parts anyway, this was usually a fairly straightforward task.”

Cases for the ‘new normal’?

Given the current student generation’s online-savvy evolution, and the ubiquity of hybrid teaching, should all cases and their teaching notes, by default, now be written to cater for virtual teaching? At UVA Darden School of Business, Panos Markou developed a Process Analysis Simulation explicitly designed for running virtually. In the teaching note, he includes a section on how to adapt the exercise for an in-person class. So, could this reverse engineering of cases become standard in the future? “Zoom, Teams etc, are here to stay,” suggests Markou. “Going forward, it is probably advisable to keep this is mind when you are coming up with a case or simulation. In my recent experience, it is easier to develop materials for pure virtual and hybrid use and adapt them back to in-person class usage than the other way around. The fluidity of in-person conversation may be lost, but there are many more opportunities to shape discussions. In the virtual or hybrid classroom you can pre-emptively assign students to discussion groups based on their backgrounds to add to the learning, which is much harder to do in-person because you can’t really leverage or change where people like to sit. Things might take longer, but you can definitely apply the technology to help.” 

Student working outside

According to Martin Kupp: “Increasingly, a teaching note is going to need to focus on online teaching and then add sections for face-to-face. Preparation for online classes tend to be more time-consuming, and we might advise to frequently change the format, and to integrate interactive elements like quizzes, questionnaires, short videos, etc. In general, we would advise using open questions more carefully to limit airtime and to reduce ambiguity. Today, a traditional case’s instructor materials should, where possible, have an additional chapter added on online teaching.”

What seems to be important is that teaching plans need to be adaptable for every situation, though it would be impossible for case authors to second guess every possible scenario or participant group their case could be selected for. Bob Bruner comments “I have used the same case in different settings, but rarely with the same teaching plan. In online and hybrid settings, I spend more time setting the stage: awakening students to the context, the subtlety of the problem, and the motivation for solving the problem. Cases for online teaching need to lean more heavily on a graphic development of concepts, such as the relationship between risk and return; graphs and pictures help to keep the attention of the distant student, who being physically remote, might feel very aware of it too and needs bringing into the group.”

Importance of testing

It has always been recognised that road testing cases is fundamental to supporting their future effectiveness and publishing platforms often insist on proof before registering cases for distribution. “The test drive was the single most important thing in designing material for online instruction,” recalls Panos Markou. “It showed us that instructions were not clear enough for students to be able to act upon and forced us into reflecting harder on what they have to go through working at a distance.” He stresses how feedback from colleagues to dry run and practice the sessions ahead of time proved invaluable. “There is a lot about human/technology interaction, including simply how long things take, that people don’t think about, and case writers definitely need to consider that and try everything out in practice before moving to a class. As educators we need to make the effort to fully understand what works best in which setting and go with the strengths of each when creating our learning materials.”

Embracing the opportunity

For Euvin Naidoo, there is a fundamental issue: “We have to break the nostalgia of believing that one case delivery method is superior to another in terms of being able to generate an impactful and memorable learning experience. While in-person teaching does have a special place for so many of us, I recently ran a hybrid class in which I supported participants to be able to update their Zoom background colour on the fly to red, amber or green depending on their vote during polling. It was incredibly visual and immersive showing sentiment changing in real time during a fast-paced and energised discussion. In feedback, more than one student commented that the class was ‘one of the best ever’. So, we need to ask and answer how we write cases and teaching plans that play to the strengths of in-person and virtual classes, harnessing the available technology to suit each environment. Authors now have a terrific opportunity to update their existing popular cases with suggestions to help instructors deliver impact.” He adds: “It’s about actively thinking about the pedagogical journey and participant experience before writing new, or updating classic, cases.”

We conclude that the imperative to move away from the purely in-person case class, previously considered to be the ‘gold standard’, to multiple variations of virtual, online, hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous delivery certainly brings with it challenges for case authors, but also many new opportunities to create even more effective and enjoyable teaching materials and experiences. As Vanina Farber and María Helena Jaén expressed it: “First we need to change ourselves. These are exciting times.”

This article was published in Connect, April 2022.

Contributing insights

Bob Bruner
Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, Dean Emeritus
Luk Van Wassenhove
Emeritus Professor of Technology and Operations Management
Nuno Fernandes
Professor of Financial Management
Panos Markou
Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Yael Grushka-Cockayne
Professor of Business Administration
Rethinking case writing in the post pandemic era
  • Online or hybrid class use may become the norm.
  • Different teaching situations hold different opportunities.
  • Collaboration with learning designers can enhance perspectives and outcomes.
  • Teaching notes and instructor manuals need to guide both in-person and online environments.
  • Publishers increasingly require including guidance for virtual use.
  • Live test across multiple teaching modalities before case publication.
  • Remember that students may be more tech savvy than instructors.
  • Never let the delivery mode prevent creating a great case.
  • Embrace the challenge and the opportunity!

Compilation © The Case Centre, 2022.

Compact cases

Our compact cases are short cases of five pages or fewer.

They can be used with any type of class, and can produce the same in-depth analyses and high-calibre classroom discussions as longer cases. 

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Compact cases

Our compact cases are short cases of five pages or fewer.

They can be used with any type of class, and can produce the same in-depth analyses and high-calibre classroom discussions as longer cases. 

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