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Case Studies (online)

Active learning

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Using Case Studies activity to facilitate problem-solving in an online course
Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time Medium
Instructor Response Time Medium
Complexity of Activity Medium


Case Studies have student teams review a written study of a real-world scenario containing a field-related problem or situation. Case studies usually include a brief history of the situation and present a dilemma the main character is facing. Team members apply course concepts to identify and evaluate alternative approaches to solving the problem.


Use it when you want...

  • Students to bridge the gap between theory and practice and between the classroom and the workplace,
  • To have students engage in critical reflection by considering multiple alternatives for problem-solving, or
  • To help students develop skills in analysis, synthesis, communication, and decision-making.

What students will need


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Case Studies learning activity within an online environment.


  • Identify a case study or develop a new one. The case can be real or hypothetical.
  • Develop a case study handout with a series of questions to guide students’ analysis using Google Docs 
  • Create a Zoom session in which students with work collaboratively.

Online (Synchronous)

  • Direct students to the Zoom session during scheduled class time.
  • Present the case studies assignment to students. Explain to purpose, the intended outcomes, and how much time is allocated for the activity.
  • Allow time for students to ask questions about the problem presented in the case.
  • Give students the URL for the Google Docs version of the case study.
  • Form student groups and distribute cases (identical or different) to each team. Consider limiting the group size to 2-3 students. 
    • Create Breakout Rooms in Zoom
      • Select the Breakout room button. If the button is not visible, be sure you have entered the Zoom space through your Zoom portal (i.e. do not enter the session via the same link and passcode given to students).
      • Enter the preferred number of breakout rooms.
      • The quickest way to assign students to rooms in Zoom is to choose Assign Automatically.
      • If pre-assigned groups are essential to the activity, use Assign Manually to manually assign students to rooms one-by-one or select Let participants choose room to enable students to join pre-assigned groups. Send pre-assigned group lists to students ahead of time via an email, or Canvas or include the lists with the Case Study google doc. Plan a few extra minutes the first time students are asked to navigate to their own room.
      • Note: You can create up to 50 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each room.
  • Once students are in small groups, have them work to study the case from the protagonist’s point of view.
  • Direct students to sort out factual data, apply analytical tools, articulate issues, and reflect on their relevant experience. Have them recommend actions that resolve the problem in the case.
  • Using the Google Doc, have students prepare a statement describing their assessment of the case, the decision options as they see them, and recommendations for a decision.
  • After the allotted time, end the breakout room/group session and have students return to the main room. Send a chat to students to alert them to return to the main room.
  • Guide discussion of the cases with the entire class. If the case is a real-world example, students will want to know what happened. Share this with them after they have reported on it.
  • If students prepared a written statement, have students share the Google Doc with you.


  • Review the students’ statements on the case study.
  • Provide feedback/grade to group participants (Note: breakout groups participation is not recorded).
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • Be aware that some students might not have the bandwidth to participate in synchronous sessions. Make sure students turn off their cameras to reduce bandwidth. Students can also use the dial-in phone connection for audio, instead of their network connection.
  • The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.

Technical Documentation


Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 238-243.

Keywordscase studies, online   Doc ID104405
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2020-07-27 16:11 CDTUpdated2023-06-28 10:03 CDT
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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