Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Instructor: Robert Cavalier
Course: 80-130 Introduction to Ethics,
Philosophy Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Assessment: Assessing the Effectiveness of Using Multi-Media for
Case-based Learning


Teaching that uses ethical case studies often relies on a short, written case study, which is presented as an example that is discussed within the context of prior readings, tests students’ analytical skills, and asks students to explore the relation between the general and the particular. However, the complexity of real-life situations seems to recede in the written presentation of case studies. I wanted to draw out the reality of case studies, so I tried presenting them in a multimedia form. In this study, I wanted to see if learning outcomes were advanced by using multimedia—especially interactive multimedia—in this way.


Students in the course were divided into three groups, which received the case study in the medium of a written text, a film, or a CD-ROM. I chose the CD-ROM specifically because it is an interactive medium. In a subsequent class period, students completed a 50-minute essay exam. The exam questions focused on students’ knowledge of the case’s facts, principal participants, and central issues.


The grades on the essay exam showed that there was a statistical difference in learning outcomes based on the medium of the case study. The group who learned about the case through a CD-ROM had a higher mean score than the groups who used a written text or a film. In terms of the course’s learning outcomes, the group who used a CD-ROM also outperformed the other two groups in demonstrating (1) ability to understand the principal participants’ complex perspectives and positions and (2) ability to analyze the case with respect to its morally relevant details.


Publications based on this study have appeared in the journal Interactive Learning Environments (2002) and in the edited collection Applied Ethics in a Digital Age (2004).

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