Increasing Student Engagement through Case-Based Learning Using a Case Study Development Template

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session explores a grant-funded pilot project to integrate case studies into online asynchronous discussions to increase student engagement and content mastery. Participants receive a template for developing complex evidence-based case studies. Participants will examine case study development, teaching, and evaluation processes and brainstorm strategies to integrate into their courses.


Anna Zendell is Senior Faculty Program Director for the Masters in Health Sciences and Masters in Health Care Administration at Excelsior College. She earned her Ph.D. and MSW in Social Welfare at the University at Albany. In addition to a social work career with people with lifelong disabilities and their caregivers, she has developed and taught online and face-to-face courses at Excelsior College and the University at Albany for over fifteen years.
Lisa Rapple is Program Director for Health Care Management in the School of Health Sciences at Excelsior College, Albany, NY

Extended Abstract

Audience Members Will:

  1. Explore the process of designing and integrating complex case studies into courses using an evidence-based case study development template.
  2. Examine the needs and preferences of faculty and adult learners in using case studies in asynchronous online discussions.
  3. Brainstorm takeaway tips for integrating case studies into courses at their own institutions.


The use of case studies in on-line learning is a powerful learning tool to introduce real-life relevance into the learning process for adult college students. At Excelsior College, a nonprofit online institution primarily serving nontraditional learners, the average student is 37, with approximately 35% in the military. Most are juggling multiple life demands that introduce stressors into the learning experience. Excelsior frequently uses case-based learning to anchor writing assignments and projects.

In Excelsior’s School of Health Sciences, we believe that the heart of learning is in the weekly discussion forums. Therefore, we embarked on a grant-funded pilot project to integrate case studies into our module discussions in order to increase meaningful student engagement and mastery of course content.

Effective case studies involve a story-telling approach, which promotes critical thinking and opportunities to apply learning to specific situations that are often experienced in real life (Naumes & Naumes, 2006). While case-based learning is typically viewed as a problem-based learning approach (Missett, Reed, Scott, Callahan, & Slade, 2010), we sought to create solution-focused approaches. We also sought to move beyond simple didactic, essay-type discussions questions so that our adult learners would have enhanced opportunities to connect their own experiences with the course materials and the case studies. This story-telling approach, movement toward empowered solution finding, and relevance to students’ experiences create a memorable learning experience.

We obtained grant funding to research best practices in case study development and then to develop a model or template to guide our faculty in writing complex case studies. Once we developed a template, we created and embedded a total of eight richly complex case studies into four different health sciences courses. We then applied a discussion rubric to evaluate student attainment of the learning outcomes using two raters to ensure inter-rater reliability.  Results showed that students in three of the four courses showed improved discussion engagement and learning outcomes mastery.

Join us as we discuss the results of this pilot project. We will share our evidence-based template for robust case study development and a checklist for developing case studies. We will discuss strategies for creating highly engaging discussions based on case studies, actively teaching these case studies, and evaluating student performance.

Participants in this session will be active through engaging in group discussion around how to apply this case study template to one of their own courses. We will also discuss process questions that arise in the interactive work.



  • Missett, T. C., Reed, C. B., Scot, T. P., Callahan, C. M., & Slade, M. (2010). Describing learning in an advanced online case-based course in environmental science. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(1), 10-50.
  • Naumes, W., & Naumes, M. J. (2006). Art & craft of case writing. (2nd ed.). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.