Using video as proxy for a class discussion

A case classroom at the Ross School of Business

I am going to be offering a blended version of a class that I have offered the last three years as a pure case discussion class (which I have discussed a bit before). I don’t currently know what percentage will be face-to-face versus online, but I’m guessing that over half (and maybe up to 3/4) will be online. I need to come up with a way to move the class online while still offering the benefits of a case class.


I do believe that students benefit in several ways from a case class:

  • Being put on the spot to discuss a situation with a professor,
  • Have a give-and-take with the professor (and other students),
  • Hearing the opinions (often contradictory) of other students,
  • Defending his/her position against challenges.

This is all very useful to these undergraduates, and are some of the major benefits of the case discussion method.


A recent change for this class is that I am moving the bulk of my class online. The second is that I am hoping that the class continues to grow so that I have more than the 60-75 students that I have had the previous three offerings. The question becomes how can many students continue to get the benefits of the case discussion method (or, at least, many of them) while taking the class online?


When teaching a case class, 95-100% of the class speaks at least once every 3 hour class period. I certainly didn’t see how I could carry this off over video. I was stumped for a while but I had several insights the other day.

  • I realized that no one student ever spoke more than four times during a class, and almost never more than 2-3 total minutes. Add that up over the semester and it’s entirely possible that no one student ever spoke for more than 30 minutes over an entire semester, with most totaling more like 15-20 minutes. (These are rough estimates.)
  • Many, many students want to say something nearly every time I ask a question, and feel like they don’t get to make the points that they want to make most of the time.
  • Two of the benefits listed above come from listening to other students, forming opinions based on that conversation, and forming defenses of his/her position against those other opinions.

Proposed solution

I am still working through the details, but I am thinking that every week we could have a process that goes something like the following.

Google+ Hangout
  1. Groups of three randomly-chosen students would be assigned to read two cases and answer some simple questions about them.
  2. The answers of all students would be made public, and a new set of more in-depth and analytic questions would be made public.
  3. A pre-assigned set of 4-8 students would prepare for an online discussion about those questions, plus lingering questions from the first set of questions. If we had 2 cases per week, then this would give up to (2x8x12) 192 students per semester the chance to go through this experience. Or, if I had 60 students, then each student could have 3 chances per semester.
  4. The rest of the students would only have to think about those questions, but in no way have to prepare.
  5. I could have a conversation over Google+ Hangout (especially OnAir) with that set of of 4-8 students in which we go over their thoughts about the second set of questions (plus other stuff that might come up). I assume that each Hangout would last about 30 minutes.
  6. The rest of the students in the class could watch the Hangout live or watch it recorded on YouTube.
  7. One third of the students in the class other than the students involved in the Hangout would be responsible for submitting a write-up related to the second set of questions. Another third would be responsible for critiquing a couple of those responses. The final third would be responsible for commenting on the responses. Authors would be able to respond to the critiques and comments as they see fit.


Looking back at the benefits that I list at the beginning, I believe that this new structure does a pretty reasonable job of delivering those benefits. Students are put on the spot in the Hangouts. They have exchanges with the professor and students in the Hangouts. Those students plus the audience gets to hear the opinions of those students. Certainly, the students in the video have to defend their positions (from the students and the professor). Additionally, in the follow-up writing assignment, the students in the writing and commenting roles are all learning to formulate arguments for a position and defend an argument against attacks.

Like I said, I am still working through the details but I think I have come up with a promising proposal. Has anyone tried anything like this? If so, please share your experiences with me through twitter or the comments below. Thanks!

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