eCoaching Tip 78 Content Framing and Case Studies: Design Strategies for Summer Intensive Courses

May 28 2010

eCoaching Tip 78 cContent Framing and Case Studies: Design Strategies for Summer Intensive Courses

Summer brings shorter courses.  But no reduction in expected content “coverage” or learning. This can mean making tough decisions about content selections and learning experiences. Here are two design strategies that can help make summer courses lively and dynamic while not shortchanging the content exposure and awareness.

Design Strategy I: Create a Visual Frame of the Core Concepts

Just as builders “frame” a wall as a basis for drywall or build a steel frame to hold the ceiling tiles, creating a frame for the core concepts of a course provides a structure for organizing content and data. We are accustomed to creating a set of learning outcomes for a course.  This usually means that we wind up presenting to students a list of wordy and abstract formal goals without an organizing visual such as a map or graphic that learners can use to latch onto to help process and manage incoming waves of content knowledge.

You may remember the four-element design frame for designing online teaching experiences that I have referred to previously (Boettcher, 2007).  While design is a complex process, it can be simplified by using the frame of the learning experience created by the four elements of thelearner, the faculty mentor, the content and the environment.  All the elements involved in making design choices fall into one of those categories. Here is a visual of those four elements and the questions we ask when designing a learning experience.



Most leadership courses deal with concepts such as creating a vision, effective communications, strategies for implementing leadership, and personal character.  Similarly, business courses often deal with key concepts such as product and services, marketing, finances, and business processes.  How do you frame — or picture — the content or the core concepts in your course?   Is there one visual frame that can help your learners “hold onto” the content in your course?  Such graphics are always helpful for learning, but particularly during a fast, intensive, concentrated learning time that we experience during the summer.

In fact, now, in about week 3, is a good time to see if your students can create or share a visual or graphic that they might be using to help them remember and organize course content. How to do this?   Simply ask a variation of this question, “What ideas or concepts have you learned thus far that you think will be important in the next part of the course? Can you diagram it?  Or graph it in some way?

Consider what a concept frame for a course in ethics and diversity might look like?   Or a frame for the calculus course or biology?  More about concept mapping is in Ecoaching tip Tip 54: Course Wrapping with Concept Mapping — A Strategy for Capturing Course Content Meaningfully.

Design Strategy 2: Put Case Studies with Consequences at the Course Center

I like to subtitle this design strategy as the “sink or swim” strategy and so, it is particularly fitting for intensive summer courses.  How does this strategy work?  Choose a set of problems, scenarios or case studies that toss the learner into the middle of the content and the core concepts of the course.  Use your discipline knowledge to guide the sequencing of the types of problems or case studies, but basically toss your learners into deep enough water that they need to apply and use some of the course content almost immediately. This is an example of “situated cognition” as described by Brown, Allan and Duguid (2007).

Guide your learners’ by having them work out from the center of the problems or scenarios. This approach means that your learners are simultaneously solving the problems, making decisions for various scenarios, and discussing which of the core concepts enlighten, or lead the way for dealing with any particular case or problem.

The timeframe in longer courses encourages what some might call a leisurely linear approach, starting out slowly and then building to a crescendo project. This type of sink or swim strategy is more akin to an apprenticeship or situated learning where the learners need to apply the concepts in an integrated way and learn by doing, before supposedly, they have the requisite knowledge exposure.

To implement this teaching strategy you will want to have at least two of the following course resources at the ready.

  1. Visual graphic or organizer for the course that shows the relationships of the core concepts
  2. A list and description of the core concepts.
  3. A set of cases and problems that require use of the core course concepts for successfully addressing or solving the cases, problems, scenarios

If you don’t already some of these items, you might want to set a goal of creating these with the help of your learners in a blog or wiki or straightforward discussion forum during this course and then building up to it for next summer.  The first two items help to serve as a learning tool for solving problems and to take forward to next courses or to use in their life or career. These items help to guide the problem solving and support the reasoning and thinking behind the problem-solving.

The third item — a set of cases and problems — is a resource that you probably have somewhere but haven’t decided quite how to use. Likely resources include current events that highlight business or leadership challenges, cases from your course textbook, or case studies from resources such as the Harvard Business Review. If you would like help in this area, the Duquesne librarians are good resources.

You will want to carefully select the cases so that learners make use of most of the core principles and practices over the course of the term.

In summary, for summer courses, a good teaching strategy is to pose the challenges, problems and cases at the beginning of a course and then work towards finding and using the core concepts needed to solve the problem.

Summer Collaborative Projects – A Hint

While teaming and collaborative projects are excellent community and learning strategies, the additional overhead of working with teams during the summer can be overwhelming.  So, you may want to assign group-supported independent projects as suggested by Chen, 2007. Group-supported independent projects are projects that each student can complete at his/her own time and pace while still collaborating with other group members for input into improving the project.


If you have a course visual or graphic that you like to use for framing your course content, would you consider sharing with the other SLPA faculty?  It might become a resource for the faculty resource center for improving learning for everyone. Don’t worry about it being perfect; it can be a work in progress and you and I might work together on refining it if you are interested. Send a note to me at  Thanks so much.

Selected References

Boettcher, J. (2007). Ten core principles for designing effective learning environments: Insights from brain research and pedagogical theory. Innovate Journal of Online Education, 3(3). Retrieved April 24, 2009, from http://innovateonline. info/index.php?view=article&id=54.

Brown, J. S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.  Educational Researcher, 18 (1) Jan. – Feb. 1989, pp. 32-42.Retrieved May 26, 2010 from

Chen, S-J. (2007). Instructional Design Strategies for Intensive Online Courses: An Objectivist-Constructivist Blended Approach. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6(1). Retrieved May 24, 2010 from

Kolodner, J. L. (2006). Case-Based Reasoning. In K. B. Sawyer (Ed.) The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. pp. 225 – 242. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by