Authentic Case Studies: An Opportunity for Virtual Collaboration

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

Dynamic web-based case studies provide graduate students authentic, collaborative opportunities to address intervention needs for students with disabilities. Our interactive session will showcase how our online teacher education program used virtual case studies to facilitate instructional goals while fostering cultural competency by exposing students to diverse students, families, and settings. 


Dr. Monica Simonsen is the Director of Special Education Online Programs for the University of Kansas. In this capacity, Dr. Simonsen is responsible for recruiting and training instructors, coordinating course development and revision, and overseeing admissions and student advising. She is currently participating in the OLC"s Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning. Dr. Simonsen previously served as the Program Associate for the Secondary Special Education and Transition Services online graduate program and a Senior Research Associate at TransCen, Inc., providing technical assistance and research expertise to a variety of state and national transition projects. Prior to joining TransCen, Inc., Dr. Simonsen worked as a secondary special educator and transition specialist in Maryland, coordinated a post-secondary program for 18-21 year olds with intellectual disabilities, and completed her doctorate at the University of Maryland. She has been an instructor for KU since 2010 and has taught courses at the University of Maryland and at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Simonsen has authored numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and practice briefs. Dr. Simonsen's primary research interests are on the role of family and teacher expectations on student outcomes, the impact of online learning on special education teacher preparation, culturally responsive online teaching, and organizational structures that support high quality online learning.

Extended Abstract

A cornerstone of the Special Education program at the University of Kansas has always been the practicum experiences that graduate students gain through partnerships with local school districts. Typically, students had the opportunity to reflect on how the strategies and methods they learn about in their graduate courses applied to real students and classrooms. Often course projects required stuents to identify a student to focus on and administer assessments, interview teachers and family members, and develop intervention plans or lesson plans.

As the graduate Special Education programs moved online, a key worry for the brick and mortar faculty was how to replicate or replace the valuable opportunities to work with peers and mentor teachers to support students. By creating dynamic multi-media web-based case studies based on a diverse set of real youth with disabilities, course designers were able to create authentic learning opportunities to use multiple sources of data to make recommendations for students; explore multiple perspectives and synthesize course content to address a problem in realistic hypothetical situations. The cases were also designed to foster cultural competency by exposing students to diverse students, families, and settings. 

Case studies were initially used in medicine, law, and business education (Artan, 2007; Garvey, O’Sullivan & Blake, 2000) and case study pedagogy has a recent empahasis on real-life practice and cases (Bowe et al. 2009; Schoeman et al., 2009; Stewart & Gonzalez 2006). Case-based learning makes use of limited educational time (Bair, 1980) and does not require direct involvement by content experts (Drakeford et al., 2007). Inclusion of case studies in higher education has been shown to increase efficacy (Chew et al., 2005; Blewett, 2009); academic scores (Hartfield, 2010); problem-solving (Choi & Lee, 2009); student motivation and satisfaction (Williams, 2004). When designing our cases, we wanted to ensure ease of navigation (Boeker et al. 2005; Hakkarainen et al. 2007).

We designed twenty-two web-based cases to adhere to the following parameters: (a) Be authentic; (b) Involve common scenarios; (c) Tell a story; (d) Be aligned with defined learning outcomes; (e) Have educational value; (f) Stimulate interest; (g) Create empathy with the characters; (h) Create empathy with the subject’s voice to add drama and realism, (i) Promote decision making, and (j) Have general applicability (Herreid, 1997). Each case study included multi-media artifacts that tell the story of a fictitious student, including the voices of multiple perspectives (e.g. parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc.). Artifacts included audio recordings of parents voicing concerns to teachers, attendance records, academic work samples and pictures of the student in multiple settings. Navigating through the cases was described by one student as “discovering a real student- I couldn’t wait to learn everything about him.” The department explored multiple platforms including (i.e. Adobe MUSE) but settled on using Wix portfolios ( to create the cases because of the ease of build and familiarity to the students who have to create web-based portfolios as part of their graduate program. The web links are included in a dashboard that is accessible across classes and is updated as needed to ensure that the cases include the necessary and appropriate content for each course and related activity/assignment.

The authentic cases, which are accessible to all of our graduate students, provided an opportunity for students to work together to coconstruct intervention plans. Rather than a text-based case in which the key information was spelled out, these cases were designed for students to explore and interpret. For example, students in one class were asked to identify behaviors that put a student at risk of dropping out. Rather than simply reading through a description of the student's behaviors, the graduate students enrolled in this couse reviewed attendance data and teacher reports and gleaned information from these sources. 

In this interactive session, we will provide the context for the value of case-based pedagogy and showcase the use of our web-based cases. We will share three examples of course assignments that were transformed using the web-based cases. The discussion will address:

  1. Case development
  2. Legal and logistical issues (i.e. confidentiality, copyright, etc.)
  3. Learning outcomes from select assignments

As the development of the cases has evolved, we have developed a case study development tool that helps us to identify the essential case elements and is used to build the case so as to address the intended learning outcome(s). We will share this case study development tool with participants for their own use and modification.