Multimedia - powering the real world into the classroom


2008 has seen a renewed interest in developing and teaching multimedia cases in business schools across the world. Multimedia cases began to appear on the management education scene some years ago. The number being registered with The Case Centre for distribution has increased consistently year on year, though not any faster than the overall number of cases, perhaps because of the significant added resources required to develop them.

Between October 2005 and October 2008, the number of cases in our catalogue increased by 35% from 25,562 to 34,403, while the number of officially designated multimedia cases grew by only 28%, from 74 to 95. However, many paper cases, not labelled as multimedia, do have supporting multimedia elements available to order, such as software files (spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides etc), or videos. During the same period, the number of videos registered with us grew by a striking 50% to 745.

Among schools producing multimedia cases, the Darden School at the University of Virginia leads the way with around 60 available, covering a wide range of disciplines, and a further 30 in production. According to Gregory B Fairchild, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, (author of the multimedia case Black Entertainment Television), “Multimedia cases present a wonderful opportunity. They mirror the real world, where so much data can be included and students can engage in a more exploratory way to come up with endless new solutions.” Information can be included that will disappear from websites with the passage of time. Clearly, multimedia cases require specialist resources and long hours to produce and the commitment of the authoring institution is needed. At Darden, multimedia case development includes simulations and interactive courseware and is supported by an advisory team, of faculty members, technology specialists and the publishing director, that approves which projects will be undertaken each semester. The school has made a strategic investment in this area and the in-house Instructional Technology team of ten, manages the production, filming and software development of all multimedia and simulation experiences at the school.

At Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), the first full-time multimedia case writer/producer has recently been appointed to work alongside and support faculty and other case writers. According to Anne L Drazen, Associate Dean of the SLATE (Strengthen Learning and Teaching Excellence) Initiative at HKS, “this specialist writer will also provide an interface with the school’s sophisticated audio- visual infrastructure and staff.” Serious multimedia case development is also happening in Europe. Four years ago, ESSEC Business School, France, in a cross-institutional initiative, launched a process (Pedagogical Creation Support Policy) to stimulate the production of pedagogical materials, especially cases. This involves giving faculty financial and, in particular, technical support and has led to a total of 34 cases, including eight multimedia cases being submitted to The Case Centre since 2004. In Italy, the SDA Bocconi School of Management helps motivate its faculty to work in this area by holding an annual competition for the best case in a non-traditional format (multimedia, simulation etc). Multimedia case development is also being undertaken in Asia, including in at IBS, Hyderabad in India where the multimedia case SHARE Microfin has been developed. In Hong Kong, the Asia Case Research Centre (ACRC) collaborates with the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong to produce multimedia cases.

Technology and compatibility

Traditionally, most multimedia cases are on a CD, which can hold a huge amount of information: video clips of locations and interviews with main protagonists, data charts, simulations and interactive assignments, and they are convenient to distribute. For example, the 2006 Harvard multimedia case Entrepreneurial Insights (Joseph L Bower, Sonja Hout), “presents a matrix of 42 video clips of interviews with seven entrepreneurial managers answering the same six questions about their experiences building their companies.” Seeing people talk about their business experiences is clearly more powerful than just reading about them and brings a whole new reality to a classroom case discussion. The full potential of video is used in the vibrant ACRC’s FocusAsia series, which includes a professionally produced CD as an integral component of the paper case. Jeroen van den Berg, ACRC Centre Manager is clear about the videos’ importance: “If you want to teach students in the West about Asia, they need to see it, to counterbalance the picture they have from the Western media. Paper alone doesn’t do that.” ICFAI faculty, Ramalingam Meenakshisundaram feels that “sometimes, bridging the physical distance through multimedia is less important than the socio-economic distance. SHARE Microfin is an eye-opener for many of the Indian MBA students educated in bigger metropolitan cities of India.”

Any instructor considering using a multimedia case will need little persuading from the point of view of teaching flexibility or student enjoyment and many have excellent teaching notes, usually in the form of a teacher CD. The benefits for distance learning are also obvious. However, close attention must be paid to system requirements. You will need to check whether a CD is compatible with the computer software used by your students. Some older multimedia cases may not work fully on Microsoft Vista, for example, and some newer, not on Windows XP or earlier versions. HKS recently updated one of its flagship multimedia cases to run on current Mac and PC technology. Many multimedia CDs use advanced Flash technology, which can cause compatibility problems. The Case Centre is currently testing all multimedia CDs to establish compatibility and is pleased to offer advice ( As systems develop, back-compatibility will also become an issue, especially for students in the developing world, who may not have access to the latest computing technologies.

The Future

Future multimedia cases and supplementary materials may be online, if widespread browser compatibility issues and server reliability, (where the case is stored), can be assured. Instead of a CD, students will receive a URL and a password. The BEM School of Management in Bordeaux, France, is currently pioneering this approach with its series A Drop of Wine. Advantages include authors being able to easily update their cases and, make modifications, as teachers report their students’ experiences with the case. Elliot Leflar of Darden Business Publishing observes another trend towards simulations and interactive courseware. “We are finding that ‘live’ case experience is sought by faculty because it provides students with real time results based on their input and captures their responses for later analysis.” Ramalingam Meenakshisundaram attests to a growing teaching trend in India to shift, where possible “from paper-based content to digital.” The last word goes to Anne L Drazen: “HKS is just beginning in earnest with the new teaching technologies, but, we do know that multimedia is the future.” 

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