Creating Online Teaching Cases

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Note: The Using Online Teaching Cases link is the next in this sequence.


Module Summary

This module focuses on how to create online teaching cases. Teaching cases are built around stories (whether real or fictional) for deep analysis and learning. Teaching cases may be good jumping-off points for studying complex systems issues. They may offer opportunities for role-plays and empathy building. They may also form the basis for various types of simulated, experiential learning.


Learners will...

  • Describe what teaching cases are and the different parts to the teaching cases
  • Define the steps to creating teaching cases
  • Explain how teaching cases are created for online delivery
  • Consider how to build augmentations to an online teaching case

Module Pretest

1. What are online teaching cases? What are some common learning objectives and learning outcomes from online learning cases?

2. How are they used in higher education?

3. What are the basic elements of teaching cases?

4. What are the steps that are necessary for creating online teaching cases?

5. Why are online teaching cases not considered very "generalizable" in terms of primary research?

Main Contents

1. What are online teaching cases? What are some common learning objectives and learning outcomes from online learning cases?

Online teaching cases involve "a story with an educational message" (Smith, Mar. 18, 2007, Early draft..., n.p.). These stories may be nonfictional and real-life, or they may be imaginary. As stories, they contain narrative elements: plotlines, characters, drama, discourse...and through these storytelling elements, they engage learners experientially...into analytical thinking and problem solving.

Teaching case studies may be of various types: topical or domain-focused; exploratory; decision-based or dilemma cases; interrupted cases with "progressive disclosure," and others.

Learning objectives in the uses of cases involve exposures to complex real-world dynamics...among others. Learning outcomes include higher-level critical thinking. Case-based learning will not necessarily end up in a pre-determined place but result in fresh insights. Another outcome involves intercommunications and negotiation with learning peers. The higher engagement in learning cases may improve the learning experience and learner engagement.

2. How are they used in higher education?

Case studies are used in higher education to enable deeper analysis of issues, collaborative discussion and problem-solving, and other approaches.

3. What are the basic elements of teaching cases?

The basic elements of a teaching case include the following sequence: priming, the presentation of the case, and then debriefing the case. Within the learning, there may be role-plays, augmentations (such as through video), presentations (such as by external subject matter experts), and other assignments.

4. What are the steps that are necessary for creating online teaching cases?

There are some basic steps to creating teaching cases:

  • review of formal standards
  • definition of case study competencies
  • process of the case
  • types of research
  • teaching case authoring
  • address of legal concerns
  • field testing (and related revision)
  • online delivery

5. Why are online teaching cases not considered very "generalizable" in terms of primary research?

Online teaching cases are designed for particular learning domains and contexts. Because of this, they are not at the level of abstraction to be applied across a range of contexts.


Please sample some of the teaching cases from the links below in the Extra Resources area.

How To

The following workflow image shows the work required for creating an online teaching case.


Possible Pitfalls

Creating teaching case studies involves a range of challenges. One of the central ones is to ensure the relevance of the case. A case has to be sufficiently original and “believable” (whether as a nonfiction work or as an imaginary work—which cannot stretch fictional credulity). It has to offer learning value. The decision-making in a case must be compelling and relevant to the real world; it must be complex enough so as not to be an “open and shut” case. A case must have enough substance to offer some insightful talking points. A teaching case also needs to hold its value with the passage of time but still not be written so generally as to be dealing with a generic situation. A teaching case study should have sufficient supporting details and research citations (for the non-fiction ones).

Teaching cases are also not a typical way of assessment. It takes a lot of work to build such cases. Testing cases not only involves the usual revision and editing but also often requires user testing to see how well various targeted groups of learners experience the case.

Instructors who take on teaching cases often have to do some lengthy lead-up priming, skillful facilitation, and some in-depth debriefing. Instructors have to work quite a bit harder in order to use these skillfully.

Lastly, teaching cases are not considered a traditional pedagogical choice. There are not typical assessments for assessing learner performances. For traditional institutions of higher education, teaching cases may not be viewed as formally as other types of learning and assessment.

Module Post-Test

1. What are the characteristics of online teaching cases? What are some common learning objectives and learning outcomes from online learning cases?

2, What are some basic elements of online teaching cases?

3. What types of learning may be achieved with online teaching cases?

4. Why are online teaching cases considered to be less traditional methods of student learning and assessment?

5. What are the steps needed to create an online teaching case?

6. How are online teaching cases deployed for online studies?


Albano, G., Iovane, G., Salerno, S. & Viglione, S. (n.d.) Web based simulations for virtual scientific experiment: Methodology and tools. 1st International EleGI Conference on Advanced Technology for Enhanced Learning. 1 – 9.

Carroll, J.M. & Rosson, M.B. (2005). A case library for teaching usability engineering: Design rationale, development, and classroom experience. Journal on Educational Resources in Computing: 5(1).

Crossley, M. & Vulliamy, G. (1984). Case-study research methods and comparative education. Comparative Education: 193 – 207.

Herreid, C. (1994). Case studies in science—A novel method of science education. Journal of College Science Teaching: 23(4).

Ip, A. and Naidu, S. (2001). Experienced (sic)-based pedagogical designs for elearning. Education Technology: Vol. XLI, No. 5. 53 – 58.

Orngreen, R. (n.d.) CaseMaker: An environment for case-based e-learning. Academic Conferences Limited. 167 – 180.

Smith, B. (2007, Mar. 18). Early draft notes… Enduring Legacies Project.

Tripp, D.H. (1985). Case study generalisation: An agenda for action. British Educational Research Journal: 11(1), 33 – 43.

Yin, R.K. (1981). The case study as a serious research strategy. Science Communication. Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization: 3(1), 97 -114.

Extra Resources

The following is a slideshow about "Creating Online Teaching Case Studies." (Click on the arrows to move forward or backward.)

A .pdf version of the above slideshow may be accessed at the link below.

A PowerPoint 2007 version of the slideshow may be downloaded at the link below.

Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Epidemiological Case Studies)

The Evergreen State College's Enduring Legacies Native Cases

The Higher Education Academy Case Studies

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Case Collection (State University of New York at Buffalo / SUNY Buffalo)

University of San Diego's Ethics Case Studies

USC Levan Institute Ethics Resource Center