Case Studies

Stories have been used as instructional lessons for thousands of years. It is even said that prehistoric man sat around the fire and told stories as a way to provide examples for those that might learn from these parables or instructive examples. Case studies are today’s fireside chats. Today instructors use them in the online environment to teach learners how to solve problems that are contextualized and relate academic content to students’ daily lives. On our campus, the School of Education, School of Business and the Miller School of Medicine actively use case studies to teach learners. this type of project, students create original media related to the course content. This can be as complicated as a group video project explaining “supply and demand” or as simple as a photograph and essay about the meaning of “home”. These projects have the potential to deeply engage students and unleash their creative sides.


Prep Time: Case studies can range from 5 minute discussion board exercises, to semester long projects, each case then will vary in its time to design or develop.

Student Engagement: Learners need to be responding with a performance.

Target Skills: Higher order thinking, researching, forming evidence-based conclusions.

Assessment: This will depend on the media used for instruction (listed on the next page).

Alignment to Objectives

Align assessments/grading criteria to your learning objectives. There should always be a deliverable. Even if it is a discussion, live-class students can develop a one-page paper to summarize the discussion. It’s best to consider using a rubric for open-ended problems. The grading rubric will help to identify student mastery of the case study’s learning objectives.

Grading Criteria

  • Student Deliverables: Have students submit a clearly measurable outcome (better for them, better for you!):
    • Live or Synchronous Discussion – Perhaps consider having learners summarize with a Word Documents.
    • Multimedia – they should have to make decisions and reach a prepared goal.
  • Faculty Response:
    • Vocal, Written, or Visual Feedback

Pros & Cons


  • Creates opportunities to teach academic content through real-world examples;
  • Instructors have opportunities to share their own relevant case study examples with students;
  • Students learn higher order thinking skills to evaluate information.
  • Group work encourages collaboration among students.


  • Traditional presentation time is lost to accommodate discussion and research time;
  • Scale for larger classes can be an issue… best with audiences of 100 or less.


Case studies provide real-world examples for students to ponder, research, discuss, and summarize.


1) Develop a problem goal (decide the outcome).

2) Write a sentence to describe your problem goal.

  • What do you want your students to be able to do?
  • Think of it as a performance and performance verbs (e.g. describe, evaluate, synthesize, determine).

3) Gather data and any supporting documents that will help the students accomplish the problem that they need to solve.

  • Consider adding data sheets.

4) Write a story or narrative to describe the problem.

  • Include characters or groups of people that are the actors in the situation/problem. Your characters can be workers, customers, students or stakeholders.
  • Include their actions, and describe the context of the actions in which they interact.
  • Include a list of questions to be answered.

5) Test the case with sample learners.

6) Revise the narrative as needed.

7) Develop a grading scheme.

  • When the student answers the case, are they supposed to turn in a document for a deliverable?
  • Or are they supposed to post an entry in a discussion board?
  • Or are they going to discuss this in a live classroom/online class (e.g. Blackboard collaborate).

Resources & Technology

In addition to print materials, those developing case studies can use other media. Some of the best cases are developed to be interactive multimedia or short video. Quality “trigger videos” can form the basis of case study discussions to provoke an emotional response or promote responses. Instructors may use a short YouTube video to get people interested in a topic and then ask questions. Engaging branched forms of multimedia can present cases allowing learners to make decisions within the case and receive subsequent consequences based upon their decisions. Applications such as Articulate Storyline or Captivate can be used to develop branched multimedia materials.


From Miller School of Medicine Dermatology

The Dermatology course redesign employed a “blended strategy” where students were provided content online through Blackboard via Softchalk learning modules. Case Study introductions (vignettes with questions for students to consider) were provided online. Face-to-face sessions featured interactive, deeper discussions with faculty members by exploring the case studies. Students were given a variety of continuous reflection and assessment opportunities where they could self-measure their learning gains. 80% of students “Agreed” or “Strongly Agreed” that the case studies related academic content to real-world scenarios. Students slightly exceeded final exam performance when compared against previous semester scores where traditional teaching methods were used.

From Business: Leadership Faculty use video case narratives

Faculty from the School of Business Administration used video to develop a case narrative. These were later considered during synchronous Blackboard Collaborate sessions. The deliverable for these live online class discussions was submitted online via dropbox as a Microsoft Word document. Questions were used to prompt of the discussion and submitted before the live class discussion had begun. This is an example of a flip classroom model… use the online environment as a deliverable (before the live discussion occurs).