Using Multimedia Case Simulations for Professional Growth of School Leaders


Case method application inthe area of school leadership has proven a valuable tool for theprofessional training and continuing development of educationalleaders. In recent years, the integration of computer technology withthe case-based approach has yielded a convergent methodology &emdash;technology-integrated case method &emdash; that holds promise forinvigorating yet again the potential of the case method for providingreality-based, simulated thinking and learning environments forschool leader development.

Specifically, as anevolving developmental resource, technology-integrated case methodand CD-ROM case simulations have potential for creating career-long,professional learning and growth opportunities for preK-12principals, teachers, and other teaching and learning school leaders.This article presents an overview of project activities and initialfindings of one funded multimedia research and development effort&emdash; the Administrator Case Simulation (ACS) Project &emdash; todesign, develop and use CD-ROM case simulations as reflectivethinking tools for school principals.


The Administrator CaseSimulation Project, based in the College of Education at Texas TechUniversity, focused on the study of adult thinking and professionallearning processes of educational leaders in preK-12 schools.Beginning in 1994, and continuing with major funding support through1996 and 1997, the project's central activity was developingmultimedia case simulations about school leadership practice.Specifically, the goal of the ACS Project was to develop an initialset of CD-ROM cases informing an eventual case simulation library forschool leaders' career-long assessment and professional growth keyedto National Policy Board for Educational AdministrationStandards.[1]

ACS Project multimediacases were conceived and designed to artistically integrate a varietyof text, graphic and video databases into real-world, usefulmultimedia professional learning tools for school principals andother school leaders. ACS project development teams &emdash;consisting of a variety of individuals interested in schoolleadership, including school principals, superintendents, buildinglevel professionals, community leaders, multimedia and dramatic artsspecialists, and university researchers &emdash; designed anddeveloped a prototype, five-case Collaborative Leadership CaseLibrary Set as an initial installment toward an eventual CD-ROM caselibrary for school leaders.

The prototype CD-ROM caseswere produced using state-of-the-art multimedia software and CD-ROMproduction technology to involve preK-12 school administrators andother school leaders (teachers, counselors, curriculum specialists,etc.) in the study of their own adult thinking processes and theleadership decisions they make affecting students in Americanschools. More specifically, the case simulations developed addressedissues/problem areas relating to several important facets of schooladministrative (both organizational and instructional) leadership,including the ways in which school principals and staff:

1. Accurately (andinaccurately) define school problems;

2. Navigate thegray area (complicated and fuzzy) problems of schoolpractice;

3. Chart optionsand analyze consequences within an overall problem frame;and

4. Make ethicaldecisions and engage in valuative judgments affecting the processesand outcomes of individual, context-specific problems.

The ACS CD-ROM casesutilized video portrayal capabilities of 2D computer simulationsoftware to engage principals in a powerful flight simulation-typedecision making and advance consequence analysis/reflective learningexperience. The overall aim of the ACS CD-ROM case librarydevelopment effort was to provide a 21st century, multimedia-enhancedlearning environment in which school leaders can study their ownreflective leadership thinking.

Content andContext

School principalsprofessionally lead and learn in context and through time. That is,school principals begin with a basic set of core knowledge and skills(content). However, for individual principals, the importantprocesses of developing and maturing as school leaders often occur ina variety of school contexts and typically over a career ofapplication and experience. Thus, for ACS project developers, one keyto understanding the challenges of developing useful career-long,professional learning opportunities for school principals was torecognize the central importance of reflective leadership thinking inguiding the professional content application and context-specificdecision making of school leaders.

Acknowledging theimportant developmental role of reflective leadership thinking inprincipals' day-to-day decision making, the ACS CD-ROM case librarywas designed to be a fully-integrated, 21st century professionallearning curriculum for principals &emdash; a career-long curriculumthat helps principals make logical connections among the content ofnational standards knowledge and skill bases, and their applicationand assessment within individual professional leading and learningcontexts.

As principals grow intheir repertoire of useful knowledge and skills, they also mustcontinually deepen and refine their understandings and abilities toapply these knowledge and skill bases in context. The ACS CD-ROM caselibrary employs the enhancing power of simulation technology to makethe cases themselves individually interactive &emdash; that is,principals at differing levels of professional understanding andexperience can engage individual case problems and study theirleadership thinking and reflective decision making at their ownproficiency levels and with their own school contexts inmind.

In fact, reflecting onone's own professional actions and decision making and encouragingprofessionals to think about the how and why of their day-to-day,professional activities can be valuable, worthwhile endeavors thatform the core of the most carefully articulated professional learningprograms.[2] As a technology-integrated, professionallearning curriculum, the Administrator Case Simulation Libraryfocused on the development of principals' career-long, reflectiveadministrative thinking.


The ACS CD-ROM casesimulations utilize a case design that represents a convergencebetween the traditional text-based, educational case method approachand multimedia simulation technology. This technology-integrated casesimulation approach offers a new synergy between case method andtechnology that can provide CD-ROM case simulation users with apowerful multimedia learning resource.

The ACStechnology-integrated design provides an interactive, simulated 2Denvironment within which individual or group users can:

1. Navigateseamlessly among diverse text, graphic and videodatabases;

2. Communicatedirectly with colleagues and mentors through electronicmeans;

3. Focus directlyon analyzing professional performance behaviors through navigatingwithin and responding to the case simulation presented;

4. Receiveperformance-based feedback in the form of data-specific assessmentprofiles based on user case simulation performance; and

5. Applycase-generated assessment profiles to the development of data-driven,continuing professional growth plans.

Multimedia authoringsoftware was used to create a fully-interactive, simulatedprofessional learning environment within the CD-ROM cases. Auser-responsive, simulated office interface serves as a navigationalframe for exploring relevant information and leadership challengesportrayed in individual cases. Within this interactive environment,users have access to a variety of text and graphic informationdatabases typically found in real school principals'offices.

Upon entering thesimulated office environment, users obtain information on relevantNational Policy Board for Educational Administration (1993) standardsaddressed in each case. A series of interactive communication linksconnects users through online telecommunication services tocolleagues and virtual mentors. Personnel files, school performancedata and other text-based information are available in file folderscontained in an electronic filing cabinet. Bound text informationsuch as district policy manuals, administrative code and specialeducation resource manuals are accessible from the electronic officebookcase. When accessing these information databases, users can makenotes about case-relevant information in an electronic "notepad"provided on the office desktop. Navigational help features for eachelectronic database are provided to facilitate user interactivity andease-of-use.

A unique feature of thesimulated office environment is the Case Video Scenes Viewing Area.In this area, users can access a number of short digital scenesportraying multiple case situations and stakeholder perspectives.Videomark icon and notation capabilities enable users to "mark"individual video frames for further reflective analysis. Electroniclinks to office environment databases encourage users to explorereflective connections among case situations, multiple informationdatabases and performance standards.

Following exploration ofinformation databases and review of case scenes, users are directedto the CD-ROM case Reflective Decision Making Area. Users arechallenged here to further explore their own reflective thinking anddecision making by vicariously assuming the school principal's rolein each case and responding to a series of focused, open-endedquestion prompts. Users can record their reflective case analyses anddecision making strategies, and access expert panel video sequencesproviding relevant perspectives on case-specific issues.

Collectively, theinteractive portrayal, multiple database access and reflectiveanalysis features of the CD-ROM case design provide users with arealistic, simulated professional learning environment for studyingtheir own action strategies and decision making responses to realschool leadership challenges. The overall purpose of the interactivecase design is to provide users with a multi-stakeholderperspectivist approach for examining critical issues and exploringcreative solutions to tough, real-world leadership challenges facingschool principals and other school leaders.


ACS case developersbelieve school leader preparation and development can be enhancedthrough involving principals and other school leaders in activelyconstructing and using cases that are about real-life schoolleadership &emdash; that is, what is really happening out there&emdash; "instrumental" issues and challenges to school leadershipthat are continually evolving and changing.[3] Furthermore,school leaders already know how to solve routine problems; what theyneed help with are the "gray areas," the non-routine problemsreferenced in the 21 NPBEA domains &emdash; those kinds of problemsthat require school leader professional development.[4,5]Focused development through case simulations can potentiallyfacilitate the identification of these gray areas, which can alsogenerate potential new contributions to the existing knowledge baseon professional learning and development needs of schoolleaders.[6,7,8] The multimedia case simulations developedthus far focus specifically on these real-life, non-routine problemsof school leadership challenging school principals.

An important dimension ofthe CD-ROM case simulations is the direct linking within thesimulated environment of national standards, assessment (both self-and team assessment) and professional development. This represents anintegrated approach to school principals' professional thinking,leading and learning that is career-long and developmental. Withinthe CD-ROM simulated learning environment, school principals haveopportunities to build reflective connections among nationalstandards (professional domains), and compare their own performanceson domain areas with simulated benchmarks at a number of performancemastery levels. Users input simulated performance/response datadirectly into the computer, which are then analyzed, resulting in thegeneration of a data-specific assessment profile mapped directly tosimulated performance benchmarks on domain areas.

Individual user assessmentprofiles can serve as custom, data-specific process information toinform the development (by the individual user, along with assessmentteam members) of continuing professional growth plans. Thiscontent-specific design focuses school leaders on:

1. Directlyaddressing national standards;

2. Comparing theirown performance on multiple domain areas in simulated environmentsagainst realistic benchmarks; and

3. Linking thesesimulated performances via custom profile analysis to ongoingreflective assessment and professional learning.

Collectively, thesemultidimensional design features represent a promising step towardproviding school administrators with opportunities for integratingstandards, performance assessment and development into a meaningfulprofessional learning and growth process.


Prototype CD-ROM caseswere designed to simulate as authentically as possible the complexityof real-world school leadership dilemmas and the professionalenvironments in which these occur. Individual cases were baseddirectly on real-life challenges of school principals who volunteeredto share their experiences as case team leaders. ACS case developmentteams consisted of school principal team leaders workingcollaboratively with a variety of school leaders, includingsuperintendents, curriculum coordinators, teachers, counselors,professional resource personnel, parents and community members. Theseschool community leaders worked cooperatively with university projectpersonnel throughout the process of designing, developing and fieldtesting individual multimedia cases.

Tough, challengingproblems centering on a variety of issues (e.g., parentalinvolvement, special school populations, staff development,site-based decision making) faced by school principals in theirday-to-day professional lives &emdash; along with the prospect ofreflectively examining these problems using the case simulationapproach &emdash; provided the motivation for participating schoolprincipals and other team members during ACS case simulationdevelopment efforts.

Following are briefdescriptions of five prototype case simulations comprising an initialCollaborative Leadership Case Set developed by ACS project teamsduring 1996:

Collaborative Leadership.This case addresses challenges involved in developing genuinecollaborative leadership in schools and the difficulties schoolleaders often face in attempting to build shared leadership visionamong school community stakeholders. A Title One school improvementinitiative involving the integration of technology into thecurriculum provides the frame for a goal consensus and collaborativeleadership dilemma confronting the principal and other school leadersin this case.

Resistance to Change. Thiscase portrays some of the complex challenges often encountered byschool leaders involving performance assessment and development ofschool personnel. Issues contributing to difficulties in theappraisal process, including conflicting teacher beliefs abouteffective teaching practices, team collaboration and curriculumplanning, are explored in this case.

Equal Access. This caseaddresses the issue of student equal access rights in schools.Increasingly, student groups are challenging school leaders toprovide a variety of co-curricular and social opportunities (studentorganizations, clubs, etc.) to meet student interests and needs.Important legal and organizational considerations involving issues ofequal access, student rights and the responsibilities of schoolleaders for providing responsive and equitable school learningenvironments for all students are examined in this case.

Inclusion. This caseexplores the challenges school leaders face in providinghigh-quality, inclusive learning environments for students.Difficulties school leaders can encounter in providing adequateclassroom learning environments for all students, meeting individualstudent needs, ensuring teacher preparedness and confronting parentalconcerns are important dimensions of inclusion addressed in thiscase.

Instructional Leadership.Challenges to school leadership related to improving schoolperformance and instructional effectiveness are explored in thiscase. Several important leadership dimensions of the schoolwideinstructional improvement process are highlighted, including needsassessment, collaborative planning for curriculum integration andgroup ownership in the improvement process.

ACS project team effortsduring 1997 focused on validating these cases with preservice andinservice school principals in a variety of school leadership andlearning contexts.

Field Testing

Initial field testing ofthe five prototype ACS case simulations was conducted during thespring and summer of 1997. Preliminary versions of the cases wereiteratively field tested as well throughout the project's 1994-95pre-development and 1996 development phases. Participants in fieldtesting activities included 35 preservice principal preparation(intern) students and 25 inservice school principals. The internstudents participated in the simulation activity as part of theiruniversity professional certification training program. Thepracticing principals completed the simulation activity as onedimension of a summer inservice professional development program at aregional education service center.

Reflective simulationresponse data were collected from preservice and inserviceparticipants through:

1. Electronic casenotepad, videomark and decision making entries of individualparticipants responding to reflective thinking prompts embedded inthe case simulation interactive design (entered by respondentsdirectly into the computer and recorded on floppy disks);and

2. Focus groupinterviews with small subgroups of participants before, during andfollowing the simulation activity.

In addition, focus groupinterview data were collected from simulation program facilitators(university instructor and regional education service programpersonnel) before, during and following administration of the casesimulation activity. All response data were coded and analyzed byproject team personnel for emerging participant-generated,interactive patterns and themes that might contribute to informedinsights regarding the potential usefulness of the case simulationsas value-added, reflective thinking tools.


A number of positivebenefits emerged from initial field testing of CD-ROM casesimulations in both preservice and inservice settings. Among thesebenefits, the case simulations were found to provide users withenhanced opportunities for individual and group learning. Inaddition, the customized performance profiles highlighting individualperformance strengths and weaknesses generated from simulationresponse data were found to be especially useful to users informulating meaningful professional growth plans. Importantly, thecase simulation designs were found to provide additional stimuli tousers to engage in more careful reflective analyses of their ownleadership and decision making strategies &emdash;and to internalizethis process as a conscious part of their ongoing reflectiveleadership thinking &emdash;through vicariously thinking and actingwithin the reality-based experiences presented in the casesimulations.

The integrated,multidimensional design linking standards, assessment andprofessional development facilitated the use of CD-ROM casesimulations in both preservice and inservice professional trainingand development contexts. ACS research and development activitiesinvolved field testing prototype CD-ROM cases in both preserviceuniversity, educational leadership program settings with principalinterns and in inservice contexts with practicing schooladministrators. Intriguingly, the case simulations appeared to servewell as reflective thinking resources for preservice interns who canuse the cases to contemplate and refine their repertoire of mentalleadership strategies and responses to a variety of schoolchallenges, while providing practicing principals opportunities toanalyze their own leadership actions in real-world situations andenvision alternative leadership strategies (as well as actuallyexperiment with the effects of these alternatives within the casesimulations).

In summary, results frominitial field test efforts indicated that CD-ROM case simulations mayhave some usefulness in both preservice and inservice contexts toenhance school leader reflective thinking and decision making and,hence, to be potentially useful as career-long developmentalassessment and learning resources for school leaders.


Preliminary findings fromACS Project prototype development and field testing suggest a broadagenda for continuing research and refinement of the multimedia casesimulation method. The reflective power of the simulated learningenvironment design, in conjunction with the multidimensional databaseand customized, data-driven assessment and professional growth planopportunities, provide for a wealth of continuing researchopportunities. Key among these will be continuing to study schoolleaders' reflective thinking processes and how the case simulationmethod might be used to help inform the development of collaborativeleadership practices that can empower and enhance school learningcommunities.

Multilevel ResearchQuestions. Preliminary findings from prototype research anddevelopment activity suggest a number of additional researchquestions worth investigating. Given preliminary results, furtherresearch is needed to explore ways to continue refining the 2Dsimulated learning environments, as well as to explore the potentialof 3D virtual reality as a viable interactive learning environmentfor school leadership cases. Much work still lies ahead in terms ofcharting the limits of incorporating database content and contextflexibility into the case simulation designs. In addition, continuedexperimentation with interactivity and a variety of communicationvariables is also needed. An especially important area requiringfurther work is the ongoing process of assessing the impact,applicability and usefulness of the multimedia cases in a variety ofschool leadership regions and demographic contexts.

Creating CollaborativeLeadership Density. An important discovery made by ACS project teamsduring the development of individual CD-ROM cases was thatparticipants (preservice interns, practicing school principals,teachers, guidance counselors, staff developers, etc.) involved infilming video vignette sequences and in researching and preparing thevariety of text, graphic and video databases informing the casesbegan to comment &emdash; with more frequency as prototype casedevelopment activities proceeded &emdash; that their own involvementin the case construction process itself was providing them withopportunities for a new kind of reflective, constructivist learning.Individual case teams quickly evolved into tightly bonded groupsenergized around particular issues and perspectives generated throughthe process of case researching, script writing and the videoportrayal of case dilemmas. Using team members' perceptions as thebasis for further focus group analysis, ACS research teams havegathered intriguing evidence supporting the potential of the casesimulation development process for serving as a stimulating, new formof staff development for building-level professional staff andadministrators. School leaders interested in exploring creative,collaborative enrichment possibilities might decide to engage in acase simulation development activity as a way of focusing theiryear-long, professional and organizational learning on a specificchallenge occurring in their school. In fact, this application of thecase simulation development process has already been usedsuccessfully by ACS Project team members in individual schools withschool principals, teachers, school and district resource personnel,and community leaders who became enthusiastic about exploring theirown school challenges using the case simulation approach.

This preliminary findingsuggests that, as an expansion of the initial prototype cases alreadydeveloped focusing on collaborative leadership challenges within theschool principal role context, the case simulation developmentapproach holds great promise for creating content- andcontext-specific cases to address instructional and organizationalchallenges involved in a number of other professional schoolleadership roles as well (e.g., classroom teachers, counselors,diagnosticians, curriculum specialists). Project case teams arealready beginning to explore these intriguing case developmentpossibilities with groups of school leaders.

Future Plans

Following completion offunded prototype research and development activities, plans have beenfinalized to initiate a Texas Tech University ACS Case SimulationLibrary National Consortium. This Case Simulation National Consortiumwill provide an organizing frame within which ACS project teams canprovide interested school districts, professional organizations,universities and other education entities throughout the country withsets of ACS CD-ROM case materials in draft form. The NationalConsortium network will provide an important testbed of regionalsites (with multiple and varying school leadership contexts) tofurther field test and refine the CD-ROM cases. This researchpartnership will enable ACS teams to work collaboratively with otherresearchers interested in multimedia case simulation design andapplication to field test and validate the case materials in avariety of geographic regions and school leadership contexts. It isanticipated that these consortium validation efforts might extend toongoing, collaborative partnerships with a number of universities,school districts and professional education organizations who have astrong interest and need to creatively integrate national standards,performance assessment and career-long professional developmentopportunities for their preservice and inservice schoolleaders.

Collectively, prototypeCD-ROM cases developed thus far as part of ACS project activitiesconstitute an initial, original contribution to the long-termdevelopment of a School Leadership Case Simulation Library. Resultsof preliminary efforts suggest this multimedia library can bepotentially useful to preservice and inservice school leaders, staffdevelopers and other interested individuals to: improve the qualityof reflective judgment in addressing real teaching, leading andlearning challenges; and further the application of multimediacomputer technology to enhance the prospect of developing useful,career-long reflective thinking and learning tools for school leaders&emdash; now and into the 21st century.

Joseph Claudet isassistant professor of educational leadership and Director of theAdministrator Case Simulation (ACS) CD-ROM Library Project at TexasTech University. His areas of interest include school organizationalchange, technology-integrated case design and perspectivist thinkingin teaching and learning leadership.
E-mail: [email protected]


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This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.