Co-authored by: S. Bryn Austin and Holly Gooding


Professional schools have long been leaders in developing teaching cases covering a vast array of topics, from business to policy to medicine to law. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has embraced the case-method teaching model and launched an online library of its collection of public health-focused teaching cases to make them accessible to faculty locally and globally.  Most of these teaching cases are designed for traditional, in-person classroom implementation, but learners and working public health professionals need greater access to curricula designed for online delivery. So how do we take the traditional case-method, designed based on the principles of student-centered active learning, to the online space?


Using skills we developed in the Harvard Macy Institute Health Care Education 2.0 course: Transforming your teaching for the digital age, we are collaborating with educators from the Harvard Graduate School of Education Technology, Innovation, and Education Program to take our first STRIPED teaching case online. STRIPED - the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders: A Public Health Incubator - is a joint training program of the Harvard T.H. Chan School and Boston Children’s Hospital. STRIPED’s teaching cases are designed to engage students in real-world dilemmas, problem solving, and teamwork to tackle current, high-impact public health issues on a wide range of topics, from childhood obesity to cyberbullying in schools to cost-effectiveness analysis of health screenings

Our strategy for module development is grounded in state-of-the-art evidence of effective teaching and use of online platforms for delivery of educational content. The STRIPED teaching case we are using for the prototype is one titled “‘Retweet Does Not Imply Endorsement’: The Logic of Cyberbullying in Schools.” The primary target audiences are graduate students in education, school administration, and public health. The e-learning module prototype draws on a learning theory of guided social constructivism, based on the notion that learners construct knowledge through a continual process of actively engaging in the teaching material, “testing” it against their own prior experience and belief systems, and negotiating new understandings in social relationship with fellow learners. 

So how are we going to accomplish this social learning in the online space? As with traditional case-method teaching, foundational learning (such as factual information) will happen outside the virtual “classroom.” Instead of reading a text case to prepare for discussion, students will watch an animation of the case narrative. This allows us to bring some of the case characters to life, as well as to interpolate the narrative with questions to check for and reinforce understanding. Students will still be assigned academic articles to read, but these will be accompanied by guided slides to highlight key points. Short videos featuring case faculty will round out the preparatory work, introducing students to the case structure and the role of social media in the case narrative and in their own learning. As with traditional case-method teaching, virtual “in-class time” will focus on activities that organize and synthesize factual information and engage students in problem-solving. Students will work collaboratively with others to develop a logic model using Google Docs. Faculty will respond to questions on discussion boards and facilitate real-time conversation during a Twitter Chat.

With funding generously provided through a Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning SPARK Grant, we will evaluate the online prototype this fall by comparing learner engagement and productivity between those who complete the case online around the United States vs. in-person here in Boston. We look forward to sharing our lessons learned with our communities of practice. Until then, please comment on our blog to share what you have learned when taking your own teaching (or learning) on-line.  What works?  What doesn’t? How does that help us understand where education is headed in the digital age?


About the Authors:

S. Bryn Austin, ScD is a Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Director of Fellowship Research Training in the Division of Adolescent/Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and Director of STRIPED - the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders: A Public Health Incubator. An award-winning researcher, teacher, and mentor, her primary research addresses social and physical environmental influences on eating disorders risk, strategies for preventing eating disorders, and promotion of healthful eating, physical activity, and development in youth in school and community settings.  


Holly Gooding, MD, MSc is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the Social Media Manager for the Harvard Macy Institute.  Holly practices adolescent/young adult medicine and is a faculty member with the STRIPED team at Boston Children’s Hospital.  Her research and educational interests are in the promotion of healthy development during the transition to adulthood.  In her spare time she enjoys running around after her two small children and posting way too many pictures of them on social media.


Holly Gooding, MD, MSc

Holly Gooding, MD, MSc is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Program for Educators at the Harvard Macy Institute.  She is also Medical Director of the Adolescent Medicine practice at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Her research and educational interests are in the promotion of healthy development during the transition to adulthood.  In her spare time she enjoys biking with her family in Atlanta.