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Tales from an Instructional Technologist in the world of legal education and beyond…

Joining Deliberate Practice Methods with Technology to Advance Legal Skills

Professor Larry Farmer, Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School

Professor Clark uses deliberate practice to master a skill set. Typically this involves a component of a larger skill set, precisely defines the task, selects level of difficulty and prepares to practice the task. Practicing the task requires concentration, is not inherently enjoyable, organized and systemic. Reflective analysis of the practice experience (e.g.,informative feedback, performer evaluation, identification of errors, monitor improvement and goals) helps one to figure out what was wrong, modify and then repeat the process.

What are the challenges transferring this to legal education? 

  • dissecting the skill set
  • articulating a set of well-defined tasks that leads from sub-skill learning to a functional, integrated skill set
  • motivate effective participation
  • providing enough practice experiences
  • cost effective performance evaluation
  • timely expert feedback

In the end, he found he needed to rely heavily on technological resources that he could bring to the class and the students to facilitate the discussion. He used a video capturing device to record reflections of students. Then, he used MediaNotes for evaluation/feedback. Finally, he used a SharePoint site for the distribution of video and project files.

He states that if you are going to get a lot of recording done, you are going to have to do it in the classroom. It has changed the class configuration for him. There is an attendance requirement. What is done in class does not follow the traditional format. At the beginning, there is a one hour training but from then on students are required to be self-sufficient. Students pair up and work for the whole hour on interviewing and practice skills. He stresses you need to use noise-canceling lapel microphones, web camera and headsets.

It can be challenging to overcome technical hurdles and competing noise since there is simultaneous recording. The task of evaluating video is also challenging.  Managing the real time demands of video review, mastering the mechanics, guiding the evaluation process and preserving context while focusing on specific events can be difficult.

Each student becomes a standardized client. They retain the role throughout the semester. They are assigned to work with specific roles. The students come to the Sharepoint site where they can go to prepare themselves to do the exercise. They pick up the exercise files (e.g., gives graphic of what they should accomplish, what issues they need to attend to [skill they need to demonstrate]) and it takes about two hours of preparation. They spend another hour performing and then another hour evaluating.

Former students who have performed well are now in practice. They can become reviewers to 4 or 5 students to provide feedback on exercise evaluations and as virtual tutors and mentors. Sharepoint automatically notifies reviewers. The reviewers can catch mistakes, give them feedback and mentor students over time. Because this is all done digitally, it makes the location of the reviewers irrelevant. It makes it scalable.

In summary, this kind of setup helps promote scaleable skills instruction, avoids instructor burn out, connects practitioner experience and law school instruction in a mutually beneficial way, reviewers provide new ideas and feedback, closer to the coaching experience and TAs can be trained to be reviewers/mentors after entering practice.

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