Case Study Guidelines

The Academic Commons is a platform for sharing practices, outcomes, and lessons learned. Contributors use the Academic Commons to present case studies rooted in the observation of concrete experience: a notes-from-the-field genre informed by their unique perspective. These guidelines provide a comprehensive checklist of elements that will help contributors structure their case studies (and has proven useful to past contributors). They are not a prescribed outline. We also encourage authors to review our principles of collaboration document.

Note on student confidentiality: In developing your case study, please protect student confidentiality by not disclosing personally identifiable information and seeking permissions as appropriate. Consult appropriate personnel at your institution or organization for guidance on conforming with FERPA requirements.

Note on word count: Case studies will generally fall in the 2000 – 4000 word range. Efficient use of language is encouraged as attention spans in the web environment are limited.


Contextual Information

Case Study Title

Authors or Author:  names, job titles, institutional affiliations, short professional biographies (100 – 200 words each), and a high-resolution, professional photograph (approximately 300 x 300 pixels, minimum). If a single author, interviews with all who significantly contributed to the development and execution of the initiative or program are recommended.

Executive summary (Abstract): Summarize key points for busy readers in 150 – 200 words. Used in promotional communications. (Tip: Write the summary last.)

Keywords/Tags: Provide 2 – 5 key words or phrases that identify the case study. These will be used as tags, connecting your case study to related content for readers’ benefit. (Tip: Select keywords after writing the full case.)

Case Presentation

Problem statement: Describe the pedagogical, scholarly, and/or institutional problem or challenge that the collaborative initiative or program sought to address, including its essential nature and scope. Provide readers with a brief history that helps them understand the problem/challenge in context, highlighting the key factors that led to the decision to develop the initiative or program, including opportunities and partnerships that made that decision possible and obstacles surmounted. (Tip: address relevant policies, pressures, incentives, and sources of support.)

Initiative/Program description: From design to implementation, describe the plan/course of action taken to address the problem or challenge. Consider these elements:

Partners: Identify all contributors, including the institutions, units, and individuals involved, and describe the roles these played in relation to the overall initiative or program (e.g., as sponsors, champions, key contributors) and to one another (e.g., organizational structure, team structure).

Design: Describe the stated goals and measurable outcomes of the initiative or program, the hypotheses it was designed to test, the underlying theoretical premises that influenced its design, and the framework selected to evaluate it.

Implementation: Describe the implementation process (step-by-step narrative). Address any unexpected hurdles, distractions, or other challenges that arose during implementation and how these were—or were not—overcome.

Supporting technologies: Describe the process used to select supporting technologies appropriate to the problem/challenge and selected plan/course of action, including the nature and shape of the partnerships between faculty members, librarians, technologists, students, and others involved. Identify the technologies ultimately selected and the pedagogical, scholarly,and/or practical rationale for selecting these.

Evaluation and outcomes: Describe the learning and/or institutional outcomes of the initiative or program and the results of the evaluation process. How and to what degree did the initiative or program contribute to the educational success of students and/or allow those involved to meet institutional or curricular goals in a new or improved way? Did the initiative or program ultimately address the original problem or challenge? Is it a viable solution that others should consider?

Analysis, discussion, lessons learned: Looking back, what were the essential factors leading or contributing to eventual outcomes—for example, timing, policy, communication, relationship management, availability of resources, decision-making? What factors advanced or interfered with the achievement of desired outcomes or made it necessary to redefine those outcomes? What lessons were learned in executing the initiative or program?

Future plans: Looking forward, describe your plans—if any—for ongoing development, iteration, integration, and programmatic growth, particularly in relation to institutional strategic plans and objectives and relationships and resources required. Given hindsight, what will you do differently? What elements will you seek to preserve?

Conclusion: Offer final thoughts and considerations. In your experience with this initiative or program, what conditions must be in place for institutions, units, and/or individuals to collaborate deliberately and successfully? What makes collaboration work—or not?

Additional Information

We encourage authors to acknowledge the collaborators, supportive colleagues, and funding organizations that made their work possible.

If you use materials not in the public domain to support your case study, you must contact the current copyright holder to request permission to use the material. NITLE staff are not able to assist with obtaining copyright permissions. Authors are responsible for determining the copyright status of materials used and for pursuing permission. Consult appropriate personnel at your institution or organization for additional guidance.

Citations and References
If providing citations, authors must format them in the Chicago style. Depending on their disciplinary background, authors may use either the notes and bibliography style (common in the humanities) or the author-date system (used in the natural, physical, and social sciences). See the Chicago Manual of Style for detailed guidelines.

Submit appendices as separate .pdf files, divided according to how they are referenced in the main text of the case study. Include the case study title and author name(s) in the header.

If you have any questions about these guidelines, please contact NITLE at