Multimedia Cases and Simulations Blend Technology, Storytelling, and the HBS Case Method
Harvard Business School Information Technology’s (HBS IT) Multimedia and Simulations teams strive to enhance the HBS Case Method with interactive, media-rich cases and simulations. In this edition of Up Close, we explore how combining technology with the art of storytelling brings HBS case studies to life.
14 Feb 2020   Steve Church
Catalog of multimedia cases and simulations.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the HBS Information Technology’s Multimedia and Simulations teams may have have created several epic novels by producing more than 250 multimedia cases, supplements, and simulations for over 100 HBS faculty since 1995. These internally created products are filled with powerful videos, photographs, graphics, and interactive elements that expand on the traditional HBS case study, enabling faculty and students to dive deeper into challenges dominating the business landscape today.

The Multimedia and Simulations teams work closely with HBS faculty to create products that further distinguish the HBS classroom experience. Not only are the teams involved with technical design, but they have a deep understanding of HBS case method pedagogy. Partnerships with HBS’s Global Research Centers and Harvard Business Publishing help advance these projects through the product lifecycle from development to teaching, publication, and worldwide distribution.

Origins of Multimedia Cases and Simulations at HBS

Multimedia team members, HBS faculty, and case protagonists shooting on location.

Multimedia cases and simulations at HBS grew out of an initiative started by Dean Kim Clark in the mid-1990s to transform HBS IT and infuse technology into the HBS case method. At the time, HBS was a pioneer in streaming video technology and infrastructure, and Dean Clark saw an opportunity to differentiate HBS from other academic institutions with multimedia technology in the classroom. The first multimedia case was a simple web page with links to streaming video — primitive by today’s standards, but still 10 years before YouTube made streaming video ubiquitous.

In the early 2000s, HBS IT began to transform paper-based exercises into online simulations. These made the student experience more interactive and facilitated the rapid compilation of student data for classroom debriefs.

Impact of Multimedia Cases & Simulations

Columbia’s Final Mission multimedia case.

Flash forward 25 years, and multimedia products and simulations are used in about 16 percent of all cases taught at HBS every year. For external audiences, Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) sold more than 365,000 multimedia and simulation products to customers between 2007 and 2017.

Top-selling multimedia cases at HBP include Columbia’s Final Mission, which explores events at NASA leading up to the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. This multimedia case replicates the desktop environment of six real-life NASA managers and engineers involved in the decisions leading up to Columbia's failed re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Each case user is assigned one of six roles and enters their own version of the first eight days of Columbia’s mission. Users review actual emails, watch videos of experts and former NASA employees, listen to audio re-enactments of crucial meetings, and read NASA documents. This enables first-hand experience of the organizational dysfunction that led to the Columbia tragedy in an effort to learn from those mistakes and prevent similar events in the future.

Other widely distributed multimedia cases include Terror at the Taj: Customer-Centric Leadership, which provides a gripping look at courage and resilience in the face of terrorism; IDEO: Human-Centered Service Design, which examines one of the world's leading design firms and its human-centered innovation culture and processes; and Threadless: The Business of Community, an early look at the crowdsourcing movement two years before the founding of Uber.

The Multimedia team has won three Telly Awards, which recognize excellence in media production for education, for Terror at the Taj Bombay, Tongal, and The Reinvention of Kodak.

The Beer Game simulation.

The Simulations team develops several simulations each year, with accompanying learning tools and in-classroom support. These immersive, hands-on experiences put learners in the shoes of a protagonist and ask them to unravel real-world leadership challenges. Students and participants make strategic decisions and see their effect in a competitive environment.

Popular simulations include two with Professor Michael Toffel: The Beer Game and Shad Universe. The Beer Game is a role-playing simulation designed to showcase the benefits of taking an integrated approach to supply chain management for a beer distributor. Shad Universe is a hands-on competition simulation where students are challenged to design the best production-line processes and methods while increasing cash flow and maintaining a steady state of production.

Shad Universe simulation.

Strategic Brew, developed with Professor Ramon Casadesus-Masanell, simulates the real-life challenges facing strategists as an integrated set of choices and alignments. Students work as a team to run a brewery, making decisions about beer design, production, and advertising in competition with other breweries for customer market share.

Dave Habeeb (senior multimedia producer; left) and Ruth Page (associate director; center) of the Multimedia team with Professor Ryan Buell (right) in Lima, Peru, for the IDEO: Human-Centered Service Design multimedia case.

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