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Case studies can be dense with information, and there is often little attention given to the narrative or graphic design. Is it possible for a case study to be something more? Is it possible to make a case study that’s not only visually appealing but impactful and relevant to students’ learning?

This is the question that Ramakrishnan, Angie Hartley, and Christian Thoroughgood asked when they first approached the Multimedia team at CETLOE for their courses, Marketing Research, HR Management, and Human Resource Analytics.

Image of student at a computer viewing case study example.

Like many of the instructors who work with us, they recognized the benefit of design and immersion in their previous projects with CETLOE and wanted to make similar improvements to their next course.

Per Christian Thoroughgood 

I had a pre-existing case study for the course, which included fictional characters, weekly case study exercises, etc., but [it] was not terribly engaging. I wanted it to be more immersive…I felt that the graphic case study approach would make the project “come alive” and, in turn, engage students more.”  

Our instructors and their Learning Experience Design partner provided us with their goal: to have students roleplay as a professional in a fictional company. Throughout the case study, they would not only complete projects for clients but resolve team-member disputes and navigate ethical or legal dilemmas based on real-world scenarios. 

To achieve this goal, we combined two things: narrative and graphic design. On the narrative side, we developed characters who would make up the students’ colleagues and managers. These characters each had their own position in an org chart, voice, and opinion on how best to handle challenges. On the design side, we created consistent brand identities for the companies involved and built detailed and appealing chat windows, emails, advertisements, websites, and more to immerse students in a realistic professional environment. 

For Ramakrishnan’s Marketing Research course, I worked with Ramakrishnan to deliver course assignments through the case study itself via emails, chats, or other missives from the students’ team. Rather than directing students towards “Assignment Sheet C on iCollege,” we had their colleagues assign them projects. Of course, these projects still correlated to an iCollege assignment sheet, but the goal was to provide realistic delivery. To complete this immersion, our designers emulated the style conventions of real-world companies and programs that students might interact with post-graduation, like Microsoft Teams.

Per Ramakrishnan:  

“The design makes it seem so similar to the real-world interactions that would occur in such [companies]. This takes the simulation elements to the next level. It helps students feel more involved in the company and get a better sense of the position of the key person[s] involved in the case.” 

For Angie Hartley’s HR Management course, I focused on the characterization of the two co-owners of the bakery students would be consulting for. In each of their interactions with the student, these co-owners not only typed differently, but had conflicting opinions on how best to handle HR processes, unions, and the expansion of their business. This extra level of detail challenged students to think critically about how best to appease both owners, while still making sound decisions. On the design side, too, we added an additional media component to this case study: sound. For one of the assignments, students were encouraged to listen to a voicemail from an angry employee and decide how best to remedy her complaints in a professional manner.

Per Angie,

“This was a completely new online course, [which] I had only ever taught face-to-face in the pastI believe the students have responded very well. They seem to enjoy how [the case study] ties into what they are learning.” 

For Christian Throroughgood’s Human Resource Analytics course, we once again stepped up our media involvement. Initially, Christian provided us with a PowerPoint presentation that contained a basic company logo, the company’s story and values, and some statistics students would use in their assignments. Rather than delivering this information through chats or emails, like we did with previous case studies, we decided to go another step further. Using, we created a company website that would not only introduce students to their client but provide all the information they would need to complete their first assignment. The design elements used to create the website, the colors, fonts, and shape language, were then echoed throughout the rest of the case study to maintain consistency and realism

Per Christian, 

“I was just surprised by how well it all turned out! Week-to-week, students are exposed to different ways of interacting with the case study, from reading through text and email conversations between the case’s fictional characters to reading information from the case’s fictional company website etc. The case study has been transformed from its previous version.” 

At the end of the day, traditional case studies are still a valuable tool. They’re not only accessible but they help students practice analysis, problem solving, and practical application. By no means do we want traditional, textual case studies to go away, even if we think they’re a little boring. Rather, we want to encourage instructors to think about the impact narrative and graphic design can have on their assignments. As we discovered while working on these case studies, providing a polished, detailed, and engaging experience for students truly makes a difference in their learning. 

Per Ramakrishnan,  

The most positive responses involved the levels of participation and the levels of detail that the students showcased in their reports and during class discussions…I have had many students mention [that] they would miss working on the graphic cases once the semester ended.”  

If you’d like to find out more about CETLOE’s Learning Design Team, try checking out our multimedia portfolio, perusing our sample course or design suggestions, or exploring our UX research and design capabilities. If those get you inspired, share your ideas with us! Every design project starts with a conversation. Let’s see where ours goes.