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Monday, February 21, 2011

Video Review and Self-Evaluation

I just finished reading 42 video review self-evaluation memos from my trial advocacy students, and I thought I'd write a quick note in praise of video review. This is only my second semester using it as an integral part of the course; for several years, I rejected video review as being a labor-and-time intensive process in which the results did not justify the effort. After teaching at a NITA course with newer recording and playback technology, I decided that I might be able to adapt video review to meet the needs of my class and the manpower constraints I have. I have to say, I'm delighted with the results so far.

In my class, the students record every advocacy exercise on an SD card. Each student must purchase and provide their own SD card for the course. We provide the camera. Most laptops have an SD card slot, and for those few students who don't have one, we have SD card readers on the computers in the law school computer center. The whole set-up is very inexpensive. We have a mid-range camera that costs about $250. The cards themselves are between $10 and $20, depending on size. Each card is large enough to hold every performance during a semester. I've found the SD technology to be very easy to use. It requires very little support from our IT department, whereas on-line streaming, which I've tried in the past, requires considerable support and IT time.

After a performance, and prior to the next class, the students must review the recording of their performance and turn in a self-evaluation memorandum. This memorandum includes a set of general criteria--voice and inflection, movement, gestures, distracting mannerisms--and also a set of criteria specific to each exercise. For example, one of the criteria in the direct examination exercise is whether the advocate listened to the witness and adjusted the examination accordingly. They also grade themselves using the same grading guide that our faculty use.

My course is structured in such a way that I don't see most student performances. I teach a plenary lecture session each week, and we have labs taught by adjunct faculty. All the performances take place in the labs.

With 42 students in the class, I don't have time to watch videos of all the performances, but I do have time to read all of the student self-evaluation memorandums each week. This helps me stay in tune with what's happening in the labs, but more importantly, it lets me directly witness the growth from the students.

Often, they comment on things that no one has ever critiqued them on, and in surprisingly insightful ways. Today, several students wrote that they could tell from the video that they were not actually listening to their witness, but were rather looking down at the paper and thinking of their next question. They comment on their body movements, gestures, placement, voice control, organization, form of questions. Many of them maintain a "running commentary," comparing this week's performance to last, so I can tell they are tracking their own growth.

It is gratifying, and sometimes revelatory, to see the students develop their self-evaluation skills. If they are going to improve as advocates in practice, they will need to learn how to dispassionately examine and critique their own performances and identify areas for improvement.

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