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June 19, 2008

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Deliberate Practice and Skills Instruction

Picture_1 Larry Farmer of BYU School of Law is describing how he set up an intensive skills course -- which may not be cheaper than other methods, but which he believes to be superior in quality and results (largely because it requires adding adjunct instructors).

The problem: In his 8 years of observing lawyers practicing, Larry saw that interviewing and counseling skills levels would plateau quickly after some improvement over pre-existing skill set and remain relatively static. So: (a) What would it take to graduate students with greater skills, and (b) provide them with the tools for reflective practice to continue to improve in practice over the long haul.

The solution: Emulate how experts learn in other areas of practice such as sports and performing arts: deliberate practice.

In practice, this entailed:

  • Dissecting the skill set: what were practitioners doing wrong?
  • Motivating the students and providing them with sufficient practice experience to learn.

Attempts at reflection didn't succeed: They were shallow and didn't provide insight into actual performance. So they turned to recording. This changed the nature of class and what happened in class -- classes are often practice-centered, while much of the learning happens virtually, afterwards.

The core goal is to provide students with practice time and maximize their deliberate reflection on that practice. One effect of recording is to focus the students on the task of practice.

Evaluation challenge -- guiding feedback, providing technical ability to annotate; largely addressed with MediaNotes.

Management challenge -- how to move the video artifacts and feedback back and forth? BYU is using Sharepoint to manage documents and workflow. (Requires students to name files carefully). Students are paired up: in each pair, each student plays both a lawyer and a standardized client. Students inhabit that client role for the entire semester, but paired up with different student-lawyers, which improves their roleplaying skills over time as well.

In summary:

  1. Lay out a sequence of skills
  2. Provide a standardized client with whom to practice the skills
  3. Provide the context in which to engage that client
  4. Record the exercise
  5. Provide a workflow within which to push the video to the reviewer and then back to the student

In the case of BYU, the expert reviewers are former students who performed well -- in part, a motivation and reward. These reviewers receive additional training in evaluation and feedback techniques, on top of their existing performance knowledge/skills. These adjunct faculty, who are in practice, also provide feedback to the simulations to ensure verisimilitude. This feedback is critical: just viewing videos of "good" practice doesn't seem to be enough for students to correct performance. These reviewers also reduces instructor overhead and burnout.

Despite initial skepticism, the BYU administration is expanding financial support to this program because of student feedback indicating expanded confidence in their own skills and efficacy.

How to get started when you don't have graduates to come back as reviewers? During the first few years, focus on developing this cadre of reviewers and offering less evaluation, except from the professor.

June 19, 2008 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Excellent, and true to the heritage of Woody Deem and others.

Glad to see this pushing forward.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | Jul 25, 2008 8:15:10 PM

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