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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Improving Class Performance with Technology

I tried an experiment this summer with my trial advocacy course. I got rid of my weekly lecture and replaced it with an assignment to watch an on-line lecture. I described my plan to do it and the structure I used in an earlier post. A few weeks later, I reported (here)on the success I'd experienced with this particular teaching method. I happened to use the materials available on the Stetson Advocacy Resource Center site, because they are already tied in to the advocacy book I use, but I believe the process would work equally well with self-produced lectures, demonstrations, podcasts and the like.

I also added a rigorous self-video-review element to the course. We recorded every graded advocacy session on SD cards, and the students were instructed to watch the recordings and evaluate themselves according to the evaluation criteria for the exercise and a video review worksheet I created (by the way, please e-mail me if you'd like a copy of the video review worksheet or the evaluation criteria I used for different exercises). Students also had to grade their own performances. In most cases, their video review grade was identical, or nearly so, to the grade I had actually given them on the day of the performance.

This combination was enormously successful for me; my summer advocacy class was the best one I've ever taught, and I almost always have great experiences teaching trial advocacy.

I'm not teaching a trial advocacy class this semester, so I haven't had the chance to put these principles to the test again to see how valid they are. But one of my colleagues, Mike Carr, an adjunct professor at SIU and an assistant U.S. attorney, has used the very same methods in his fall trial advocacy class at SIU. We spoke at some length this past week about his experiences, and they are nearly identical to mine. The students show up to class better prepared than we've experienced in the past, they benefit from a class period spent on coaching and mentoring rather than lecturing, and when it comes time to perform for a grade, their performance is elevated. And the video review seems to help them increase their performance level every week.

Having just read David Thomson's book Lawschool 2.0: Legal Education for a Digital Age, I am convinced that one reason for this method's success is that it taps in to the learning styles and needs of the Millenial Generation. They seem to need something to bridge the gap between reading about a skill and practicing it, and they seem to respond especially well to the on-line materials. The video review element, which uses an SD card that plugs right into their laptop computers, also seems to work well for them, in a way that I haven't experienced with video review before. I feel that the technology helps to amplify their learning experience.

I know there are many other techniques besides what I've just described that leverage technology to produce better learning and performance outcomes. If you're using some of these techniques, please take the time to comment about what you're doing, how it works, and why you think it is effective.

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