Innovation in Case Teaching Competition winner 2013

Sabine Emad, University of Applied Sciences (UAS) Western Switzerland - Geneva School of Business Administration, and Wade Halvorson, SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore & University of Western Australia, have won the first ecch Innovation in Case Teaching Competition with their entry, Teaching the Virtually Real Case Study.

The judging panel observed that Emad and Halvorson’s innovative approach turns cases into a truly engaging experience for a new generation of students who are always connected and in the virtual world. They use Second Life to pique students' interest in case information by dispersing it throughout the virtual world, turning data collection into a collaborative treasure hunt. Team, search and learning-by-doing components all add to students' attentiveness and immersion in the materials. Changing the format of cases in this way genuinely enhances the educational experience.

On their win Professors Emad and Halvorson commented, "We are honoured to have our teaching innovation recognised by the group of distinguished academics on the judging panel. We are both great fans of teaching through cases and the fun we had putting this methodology together invigorated our enthusiasm for it. The ability to bring our students from Switzerland and Australia together in virtual groups enhanced their engagement in the case especially the gaming element of case preparation and solution presentation in a virtual world. Next we plan to focus on the cross-cultural aspects of student collaboration on case analysis in virtual groups and welcome enquiries from academics around the world with students who may be interested in joining the study."

Teaching the Virtually Real Case Study

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Sabine Emad and Wade Halvorson discuss their winning entry.

Selecting the teaching approach

Marketing education aims to develop analytical, problem-solving, teamwork and decision-making skills and so constructivist approaches such as the use of case studies are very popular with marketing educators. To be effective in class the case method requires students to prepare by reading, which, in the digital age, can present a problem.

The New Media Consortium/Educause 2012 Horizon Report lists game-based learning amongst the technologies most likely to have the biggest impact on education globally over the next five years. This seems logical as we have observed that: 

  • today’s students are part of the computer game-playing generation 
  • many students who appear ‘challenged’ and are unable to concentrate in the traditional classroom, often thrive in ‘different’ learning environments 
  • games particularly have proven to be very engaging to the ‘challenged’ student. 

Given these developments the question that presents itself is: can we get marketing students to put more time, effort and focus into their learning by adding the powers of gaming and simulation to the traditional case method? 

In our search for an answer we used a gaming storyboard to transform a written case study, Selling Green Dots in Second Life, into a ‘playful’ hunt for information. We then situated the hunt in an online, fully immersive, three-dimensional virtual representation of the case setting (virtual world) through which students navigate with an ‘avatar’ (a digital visual representative of themselves). This may at first seem a complex challenge for the average non-tech-savvy marketing academic, but with over 1.9 billion user accounts globally, virtual worlds are growing in popularity, diversity and simplicity. We selected Second Life, a free-to-access, straight-forward-to-use, hosted solution that well suited our needs. 

The goal was to transform students from passive case readers who, according to Chris Crawford in ‘The Art of Computer Game Design’ (1982) “must infer causal relationships from a single sequence of facts”, into active participants who gather the necessary information during an immersive simulation activity in which they are “encouraged to explore alternatives, contrapositives, and inversions” and are “free to explore the causal relationship from many different angles”. The activity requires teamwork (as shown in the video below) and, given the global availability of the platform, offers the opportunity for students to work in cross-cultural groups.

Transforming a case

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Our method of transforming a case study to enhance student engagement takes place in three phases.

Phase 1 - select the marketing case you wish to use and seek permission from the copyright holder to transform it. When permission has been granted deconstruct the case and transform it into digital objects that can be rendered in Second Life. Each object containing an element of the case information appears as a folder, notice board, newspaper, sign, desktop computer etc and is distributed around a specific in-world location. Each object is assigned to one of four functional groups and each student is assigned to one of four corresponding roles, for example marketing, finance, operations or IT.

Phase 2 - students enter the virtual world in groups of four and hunt for the information. Each student can only collect the objects carrying the information assigned to their role. When a group has collected a full set of objects they meet to share the information, reconstruct the case and analyse it collaboratively making recommendations to solve the case issues.

Phase 3 - students engage in a spirited class discussion based on sound preparation of the case study and arguing for their proposed solution.

Impact of the teaching concept

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Following development of the concept, three trial classes were conducted between 2010 and 2012 with students in Switzerland and Australia. We recorded the results using qualitative observations, focus groups and a student satisfaction and game-experience questionnaire. We also tracked the students’ avatar movements.

We analysed the results of the trial classes (Emad and Halvorson, 2012; Halvorson and Emad, 2012; Emad et al, 2012) and found that our methodology impacted our students in several ways:

  1. Far greater student focus on the case study material
  2. The time students allocated to this activity was much greater than the time they spent reading cases
  3. Engagement was high and case discussions animated
  4. Students reported enjoying the activity
  5. The biggest impact was on the collaboration afforded by the online platform which student feedback overwhelmingly rated as the most significant and valued part of their experience
  6. Students particularly valued being able to work with colleagues from other countries.


“Our classes are now populated by a generation of gamers. It becomes more and more obvious that it is easier to make students focus on a game than on a lecture, discussion or reading. Case studies are a great teaching tool, but their value becomes limited if they are not read. Combining cases and gaming is a brilliant idea to adapt case teaching to the new gamers generation. The approach also removes geographical boundaries as it enables participants from multiple locations to meet in virtual classrooms.”
Magali Dubosson Torbay, Professor of Marketing, UAS Western Switzerland, Geneva School of Business Administration

“Students who used to be reticent about speaking to lecturers are emboldened when assuming the form of an avatar and being able to see their tutors as other avatars. This was especially so of students from cultural upbringings with a great power disparity in the teacher-student relationship.”
Jay Jay Jegatheva Jegathesan, Manager School of Physics, Leader of Virtual World Projects, University of Western Australia

“This approach was a completely different and fascinating way to learn about e-marketing and the virtual world. It had a phenomenal impact on my learning and allowed me to experience a real live research project.”
Natascha Dunwell, participant on the Masters of Marketing programme at the University of Western Australia

About the winners

Sabine Emad is Professor of Marketing at the UAS Western Switzerland, Geneva School of Business Administration. She graduated in Economics from the University of Lausanne, attained her MBA at IMD Lausanne and undertook doctoral training at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Sabine is currently completing her PhD thesis dissertation, Game Based Marketing Teaching in 3 Dimensional Virtual Worlds: Implementation to Case Study Teaching in Second Life.

Wade Halvorson is Professor of Marketing at the SP Jain School of Global Management. He graduated in commerce from the University of Western Australia (UWA), attained his MBA at Curtin University and undertook doctoral training at Luleå University in Sweden before returning to teach at the UWA. Wade is the author of Virtual Worlds - Marketing Applications and Implications, in which he analyses the impact of virtual worlds on marketing and the way we live and learn.

Judging panel

The Innovation in Case Teaching Competition was judged by:

  • David A. Garvin, the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He joined the Business School faculty in 1979 and has since then taught courses in leadership, general management, and operations in the MBA and Advanced Management programs, as well as serving as chair of the Elective Curriculum and faculty chair of the School's Teaching and Learning Center. He has also taught in executive education programs and consulted for over fifty organizations around the globe. David has written over a hundred case studies, many of which are best-sellers.
  • Ulrich Hommel, Full Professor of Finance in the Department of Finance, Accounting and Real Estate at EBS Business School. Next to his academic work, Ulrich is an Associate Director of Quality Services at the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) in Brussels and is, in that role, involved in the management of the EQUIS and EPAS accreditation systems. He is also the Director of the Research & Surveys Unit at EFMD.
  • Nirmalya Kumar, Professor of Marketing, Director of Centre for Marketing, and Co-Director for Aditya V. Birla India Centre at London Business School. He has taught at Harvard, IMD, London Business School, and Northwestern University, and has been a consultant to over 50 Fortune 500 Companies. Nirmalya is the recipient of five ecch Case Awards and is the author of the ecch best-selling case of all time, easyJet: The Web’s Favourite Airline.
  • Richard McCracken, Director of ecch. Richard regularly represents the case community at conferences, workshops and competitions as both a speaker and moderator and is on the judging panel for the annual ecch and EFMD case writing competitions.
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