Professional Learning

CaseNET: Online Cases for Teachers

An Internet-based teacher-preparation program.

May 1, 1999

Online cases, such as "Project New Delhi," help educators prepare for the complexities of teaching.

Credit: CaseNET

Imagine: You are a second-grade teacher in your second year of teaching. Your school's technology coordinator recently retired and your principal has asked you to take on the assignment. With new technology standards just passed by the state, she tells you it's critical that the school train its teachers to teach with technology. Although your technology experience is limited to e-mail and spreadsheets, she insists that you are the most qualified teacher for the job. Reluctantly, you accept.

Your first step is to solicit ideas to improve conditions for integrating technology into the curriculum. You send each teacher a survey and copy of the state technology standards. The resulting list of obstacles to address includes a lack of access to computers, insufficient time to learn new software, little training or support, low levels of personal confidence, and a lack of awareness of available resources. Already, you feel daunted; in helping the school fulfill the new technology standards, you wonder where to begin. And this new task is in addition to your regular teaching duties. Are you tired yet?

Teachers must juggle a range of roles every day. Many are called upon to make decisions about integrating technology into an already full schedule, often with limited resources. Unfortunately, many new teachers are unprepared for such challenges because their preservice experiences have been long on theory and short on practice.

The "Project New Delhi" case explores issues of multicultural education.

Credit: CaseNET

Case Studies: A Personal Experience

The use of case studies can help educators bridge the gap between theory and practice. When I was a preservice student at the University of Dayton in 1990, we used case methods in several of my classes. We immersed ourselves in hypothetical scenarios -- stories, really -- taking the role of a teacher in the situation. Then we practiced "thinking like a teacher." We analyzed the cases, asking ourselves, "What are the problems? What can we do to solve them?" We would draw on research about curriculum, behavior management, technology, and other topics to suggest what might be done to improve the situation. A set of shared case studies formed the center of class discussions.

The study of cases helped me prepare for a range of situations. As difficult as my first year of teaching was, I at least came to the job with a valuable toolkit: a working knowledge of curriculum content, instructional strategies, students' characteristics, and the interaction of these influences on a child's educational experience. Most important, I thought I knew when and how to put this knowledge to use.

Case Studies and the Internet

Today, the Internet provides new ways of using cases to educate teachers. CaseNET, developed at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, offers case-based courses to educators online. Participants in school districts and universities across the United States, Canada, and Norway meet in person with their local instructor each week. They access case materials on the Web and then discuss these cases with their CaseNET colleagues at other sites using online discussion groups, videoconferencing, chat, electronic journals, and e-mail.

"Case" came before "Net" in the evolution of this learning community. Before popular use of the Internet, Bob McNergney and Joanne Herbert developed and used video cases with their students at the University of Virginia. Modifying models of case-based instruction used in other professional schools such as business and medicine, McNergney and Herbert developed a specific methodology for case analysis. The process was used in preservice programs around the country, including the University of Virginia, Hampton University, and the University of Dayton, my alma mater. Curry offered its first case via the Internet in 1995.

The multimedia technologies supporting case studies on the Internet make them seem more realistic and thus help educators appreciate the complexities of teaching. Participants in "Project New Delhi," for instance, explore issues of multicultural education by watching footage shot at several schools in New Delhi, India. They follow hypertext links, watch video clips, and then discuss how teachers meet the needs of students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in a single school setting.

In the case of the teacher-turned-technology-coordinator, "Technological Difficulties. Please Stand By!" participants devise strategies for implementing a new school technology program. They have to consider the viewpoints of individual teachers, the technology coordinator, the principal, and the students. Susan Crocetti, a University of Dayton student preparing to teach eleventh- and twelfth-grade English, says, "We came up with several concrete steps, including a buddy system to support teachers learning to teach with technology, and parent volunteers in the classroom to help students working on the computer." As for the impact of CaseNET, Crocetti says, "I learned a lot by comparing my ideas with those of my peers in class and on the Internet. It allowed me to understand different ways of dealing with issues that may arise while I am teaching."

CaseNET has evolved from a set of professional development courses into a professional community. Participants share their professional knowledge and broaden their perspectives as they solve common problems together. They do so using a wide array of technology-based tools.

Clare Kilbane is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She was a doctoral student in educational evaluation at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia when she wrote this article.

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