Webinar takeaways: moving case teaching online quickly - best practice

Laptop on a desk with coffee, phone, plant and books, showing a Zoom webinarEarlier this year, The Case Centre responded to the global coronavirus pandemic with a series of free webinars on how to move case teaching online. Here we recap some of the key takeaways from our workshop tutor, Angela Lee (Columbia Business School). Angela is Professor of Practice and Associate Dean for Innovative and Online Learning, regularly delivering courses to both students and faculty online.

What is good online teaching?

Good online teaching is not about the technology you use but simple good teaching, delivered remotely. It has the added element of managing technology into any faculty’s already crowded teaching plan. This webinar looked at sharing hints and tips, an online ‘toolbox’ of possibilities, to help faculty manage the technology and concentrate on teaching.

Online teaching can be quantitative, qualitative, synchronous or asynchronous but above all, with the coronavirus pandemic enforcing home working, highly necessary. Not all online teaching techniques will work well with the case method. Not all classes have to focus on one type of teaching i.e. blending classes between case discussion and a lecture on theory or a video are commonplace. This webinar showcased best practice from an expert who has been teaching online courses for years.  

Before you start

Laptop on a desk with a glass of water in front of itBefore starting any online class it is important to run through a logistics checklist. These include technological checks such as: 

  • Is my webcam and headset working?
  • Do I have my polling app in hand?
  • Have I closed my email and any other distractions?

But also physical needs like:

  • Do I have some water nearby?
  • Is my class list handy?
  • Does everyone in my household know I’m on a call?

By spending a few minutes at the start of each class ensuring you have everything prepared you know that you can teach without distractions. 

Ensuring good online teaching

There are three key areas to ensure good online teaching: clarity, student engagement and accountability.

1. Clarity

Firstly, ensure that students are focussing on learning, not the logistics of online learning.

Woman at a laptop waving at someone on a conference allClearly set out the rules of engagement. If possible, ensure students are using a laptop or tablet rather than a mobile, and that they join with their video on and microphone muted. This may not be possible for everyone, particularly those in areas where bandwidth and internet connection are unstable, but the use of video helps with the interactivity of the class. Letting students know you can see them fosters a higher level of engagement, which is very important in a case class.

Be specific and be prescriptive in what you require from the students – this helps reduce problems later when the session is underway. And, if you wish to ‘cold call’ students always state this at the beginning of the course.

Secondly, be as precise as possible with your own instructions.

In person you can point and nod, using body language to indicate what you mean and often see the comprehension in students’ expressions. But, with an online session, you need to be as precise as possible to avoid confusion as you only have the channel of your words.

Zoom chat window with messages in itSometimes it may even be necessary to get confirmation of this by students typing in ‘I understand’ or similar into the chat function. Even checking practical requirements such as ‘does everyone have a pen and paper?’ or ‘leave some blank space on your paper for to work out the answer’ can save you time in the case class. You cannot be too clear in explaining a task.

Finally, ensure you experience the session as a participant.

This is particularly useful if you are using lots of different applications such as having powerpoint, excel and a video open simultaneously. You can monitor how it is physically for the students to flit between different applications and gauge the difficulty. Test this out with some fellow faculty, as practising with three or four colleagues beforehand can aid the smooth running of the session.

Ensure you test the chat function and decide if you want to keep this open throughout and if you wish to answer questions as they come in or later in the session. A colleague to help you monitor this is ideal.

2. Engagement

Woman at a laptop surrounded by illustrations of online teaching engagement techniquesHow to maintain student engagement is key. Studies suggest that the average person engages for six to ten minutes online before their mind begins to wander but class sessions can last several hours. So, you need to use different techniques to maintain student engagement.

  • Use the information you already have on the students; for example, if you know a student is interested in a particular topic, draw them in by mentioning them – ‘I know Sarah would be interested in this area…’
  • Use cold and warm calling. Prepare the students by setting this out on day one as part of the rules of engagement. Match the difficulty of the question to the coldness of a call. For example, easy questions can be used for cold calls but questions which require more in-depth answers should be kept for warm calls. To warm call, you can give students a 5 minute warning in the chat function, a private message or even an email the night before. You can choose students to answer based on their background or expertise, if you think they are need drawing back into the session or even randomly via an online generator.
  • Use polls to re-energise the class. Polls can be about the case itself, about comprehension of work set or even asking how everyone is feeling today. There are many different sites that do free online polls including Top Hat and Poll Everywhere and they are really useful for getting your whole class engaged quickly.
  • Vary the questions you ask the students. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, questions are usually framed as ‘do you understand?’ or ‘do you remember?’ but if you vary this and ask students to ‘apply’, ‘create’, ‘analyse’ or ‘evaluate’ they use different parts of their brains and engagement is restored.
  • If at any point you feel energy is low you can bring it back up with an image, story, joke, poll or even a quick stretch. In longer sessions, schedule five to ten minute bathroom breaks to have a physical break from the screen.

By using a variety of these techniques student engagement can be maintained for three to four to five hour sessions. You may even find that student engagement is better via remote learning as more introverted students are able to ask private questions through the chat function that would not have been asked in large classrooms.

3. Accountability

Red tick in a box beside a green happy faceIt is essential that students know they are keeping up with the teaching and what resources are available. If you set the expectations early in the course it is the students’ responsibility to ensure these are met, though you are always able to nudge the less engaged.

With this in mind you can use participation in online courses as part of the student grading just as you would do in a physical classroom. You can see who has participated in discussions verbally and via the online chat (many platforms allow you to record sessions and get a transcript of the chat function). Some polling sites will allow you to see who has participated too, though students may have to register to utilise this function.

Often it can help to use a photo roster of your class so you can quickly identify a student and record that they made useful comments during the session. If possible, it is often helpful to have a colleague or assistant monitoring the session to help note down this information. With recordings and chat transcripts, participation grading can be easier than in a physical classroom and can also provide tangible evidence to students querying their grades.


Angela states: “If you can teach well online, you are going to be a rock star in person”. Becoming a better teacher online will help your physical teaching as it forces you to think through your entire content. If your online teaching has clarity, student engagement and accountability it will no doubt translate into great classroom teaching too.

Watch the webinar

The full webinar is available to watch back below:

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