Webinar takeaways: moving your case teaching online

Laptop screen with Martin and Urs' webinar playingIn April 2020 workshop tutors Martin Kupp (ESCP Business School) and Urs Mueller (SDA Bocconi School of Management and ESMT Berlin) facilitated a free webinar designed to support case teachers in their move to online case teaching due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. Here we recap some of the key takeaways from the webinar.

Using cases online

Compared to other teaching methods, cases tend to enhance interaction in the classroom. Although an online case session might not be the same as a face-to-face class, one of the benefits remains that cases can bring some of that same excitement and energy into the online classroom.

If you’re running an entirely online course, case sessions can be a key component, however you might choose to use them alongside other methods to vary delivery formats during the course. It’s important to look at your content and learning objectives and then pick the right method for the right content.


Planning an online case class

Brightly coloured wooden building blocksWhen planning an online case session don’t forget the fundamentals. Online is an adjustment, but we don’t have to reinvent everything. Reflect on the elements that you think about for a face-to-face case class and see what needs to be adjusted for online. You may even find that online has some advantages in achieving your objectives.

Teaching (cases) online or face-to-face takes each student on a journey. These journeys involve different elements and ways to learn. When planning an online case session, it’s important to think about how to get students to reflect (conceptualise, hypothesise), discover (feedback and take action) and get knowledge input.

To achieve this, decide which parts of the experience should be synchronous, and which can be taken out and made asynchronous. Align these with your teaching objectives to get the most out of each format. Plan your case class to make the most of the synchronous time you have with the students.

Online can open new opportunities. Why not deliver the knowledge input asynchronously – let people learn when, where and at the speed they want. Use the synchronous time, maybe with breakouts, for action/feedback and hypothesising/conceptualising.  

Capturing the discussion

Example Zoom whiteboard on a laptop desktopWhiteboards are frequently used in face-to-face case classes to help distil and capture the discussion. When planning an online case class, it’s vital to think how you will do this in your online classroom.

You must first be mindful of how your students will be joining the class. If they’re using phones with small screens this will pose challenges for them to see multiple screens, videos or whiteboards.

Some options for recording the discussion include:

  • sharing your screen with an empty PowerPoint slide or Google doc open that you can type in to
  • seeing whether your video conferencing software includes whiteboard functionality
  • exploring other specialist software
  • using a traditional whiteboard behind you – but beware that some students may find this difficult to read.

Whatever option you choose it’s challenging to replicate the spontaneous, extensive use of boards that many case teachers make in face-to-face classes. When planning the session, you need to be even more specific than usual about what you want to visualise on the board. You might want to think about adding some elements or structure to your ‘board’ beforehand so that you can add to them during the discussion.

Selecting cases

Pick cases that are as short as possible, without compromising your learning objectives (you can limit the length of the cases you search for by using our advanced search facility). For online case classes this is even more important than usual, as the delivery of your session needs to be more concise than in the face-to-face classroom.

As with face-to-face classes, always start with your learning objectives when selecting a case. Consider what you want your students to learn, then align your material to this.

Student preparation

Student at a desk preparing for a case classStudent preparation is always key to a successful case class, and this is only reinforced with online case teaching. You must set clear expectations about preparation from the outset. Teaching, either face-to-face or online, starts well before you enter the classroom, and learning should too.

Engage with students before your course/session. The online environment provides you with more channels than ever to communicate with your students, and to set the right tone before your programme begins.  

Running the session

Maintaining interactivity

A big concern for many instructors is how to maintain interactivity when teaching cases online. How can boredom and switched off students be avoided?

In online case classes it is very important to change the learning format frequently. Every break in methodology and learning format gives the opportunity to re-invite any switched-off participants back in.

Experiment with breaking the session up with video (e.g. of protagonist), or more than one presenter. Make full use of the technology available to vary learning formats and increase interactivity. Using break out rooms will wake people up and ensure they cannot hide amongst the other video screens. Online polls (Qualtrics, Mentimeter, Kahoot, Poll Everywhere, Socrative, Crowdsignal (formerly Polldaddy) etc) and simulations will also help break up the session.

Varying the learning formats will help keep up the energy of participants, but to assist with this the pace of the session also needs to be faster than face-to-face. It is also important to think about how to keep your own energy levels high. How will you adapt your teaching style to the online classroom? For example, will you sit or stand? It’s up to instructors to be creative to in order to increase their energy during a session 

Questions and responses

Lots of question marks on brightly coloured post-it notes

Questions are key to any case class, but for an online case class think even more carefully about the questions you plan to ask, and pick only the most meaningful ones. It may also be necessary to ask fewer open-ended questions, moving instead to more focused, targeted, closed questions to allow the session to still be participant-centred, but with the opportunity to contribute in a manageable way.

In online teaching the power of silence becomes apparent quickly. Responses to questions take longer, and instructors have to be patient, hold their nerve and wait for contributions rather than jumping in too quickly. 

Student participation

With a class size of up to about 30 it should be possible to use the video and audio functionality to allow participants to contribute. Depending on the class, participants can be unmuted to allow everyone to speak, or muted with the option to use the ‘raise my hand’ facility to request to speak.

Muting and unmuting, raising hands, finding someone who was lost on the third screen of gallery view – this all takes time out of your session, and participation is inevitably less spontaneous than in a face-to-face class.

With a big group using the chat facility can be a good way to encourage participation. However, if you’re the only instructor, this can be challenging to manage. It is helpful to have a teaching assistant or colleague to monitor the chat while you facilitate the discussion. 

Watch the webinar

The full webinar is available to watch back below:

Develop your skills

The Case Centre runs a programme of case workshops designed to develop your case teaching and writing skills. Find out more here

Browse more resources about online case teaching

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