Monday, May 6th, 2013

About Me

Hello, my name is Will Monroe, and I am the Head of Instructional Technology at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I have not written for a blog before and I am very excited to have been asked to do so here during the month of May. I have worked as an educational technologist in a university environment for nine years. For six of those years I was also working on my Ph.D. in educational technology which, I am happy to say, is now done!

As some of my colleagues have noted, answering the question, “What do you do?”, can be difficult. I provide direct support and manage instructional technology services, I help design and lead audiovisual projects, I am responsible for the development of training and support materials, and I lead workshops for and provide consultation to faculty and students. These roles require me to schedule time acquiring new information each day, to refine how I learn, to share what I have learned and expand my connections with others, and help others to overcome their own limitations. So having said all this, it becomes easier for me to recognize that I am a teacher who happens to be an educational technologist.

These last two years, I’ve discovered much more interest from our faculty about blended/flipped classroom methodologies and the possibility of conducting online courses. Maybe this is due to the attention given to MOOCs or the surge of financing for ed tech startups. Maybe the possibility of more relaxed rules for online courses in legal education is responsible. But regardless of the reason, this faculty-driven interest has resulted in an increased amount of time I spend consulting and leading small workshops. It’s also meant that I need to stay abreast of developments in how online courses are being developed and supported. I find all of this to be very exciting. But it’s also demanding, as the scope of the instructional technology support services I manage (and provide) has also increased. Consequently, the biggest question I confront in my job right now is: how can I successfully transition into a role that includes instructional design and online course development while continuing to succcesfuly manage our support services?

So as I blog this month, I hope to be able to share my ongoing attempt to answer that question. One topic I will write about is the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education, a small but growing group of folks in law schools from whom I’ve learned a great deal. I will also host a guest blogger who has developed an highly-sophisticated approach to streamlined course development that combines instructional design and project management. I hope that some of you will take part in this conversation with me as I’d really like to learn what challenges you face and how you have met them.

More to come!

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

“+1” for Google+?

Well, as so often happens with me, my goal of posting every week this month fell through.  But for this, my last post, I want to look at social media.  One of my first projects when I was hired as the Educational Technology Librarian last July was to set up our social media presence.  Instinctively I started with Facebook and Twitter, expanding a couple months later to Pinterest.  But there I stopped.  As strange as it would sound to some people, actively keeping up three social media accounts takes a considerable amount of time; and too often you find businesses and professionals with social media accounts that have clearly been created because they thought they needed it, but they haven’t touched the accounts in months or even years.  To me, that’s a blatant example of jumping on the emerging technologies bandwagon just because it’s new and popular, rather than with a well-thought-out purpose in mind.

I hate to be too self-promoting here, but if you’d like to hear more about our experience with social media so far, I did just publish an article in this month’s AALL Spectrum, detailing both our experiences and the results of a member survey on social media in law libraries.  It’s actually reaction to that article that has inspired this post.  Immediately after the article came out, I started getting emails from LIS students all across the country who had questions about our experiences and my research into various social media.  One student was particularly interested in the survey result that showed such low usage of Google+ by law libraries, and was curious whether I had come across anything in my research that would show why it’s been so slow to catch on.

To be honest, the article was not research-based!  It was one-part personal reflection, one-part survey results.  However, his question did get me thinking.  Before I was even hired in this position, I had a curiosity about social media use in law libraries, and had taken it upon myself to see what types of social media other libraries advertise.  By far, the most prevalent, unsurprisingly, were Facebook and Twitter, and from there, as with the survey results I reported in my article, usage dropped off, scattered among Google+, Digg, and a few others.  So when I was hired and tasked with creating our social media presence, I’ll admit that I didn’t even think about using Google+.  I’ve been using Gmail as my personal email service for years now, but even with my integration into all things Google, I personally hadn’t ventured into Google+ either, so it frankly didn’t cross my radar.  But after receiving this question, I began to wonder why.

Google+ certainly isn’t a failed project.  From our law library Twitter account, I knew that Google+ Hang-outs were popularly used by the White House and the UN.  And from my involvement with various technology groups and publications, I knew that this world, too, commonly used the Hang-outs feature.  So to begin my research, I did what I so often do in these situations – I bit the bullet and signed up for a Google+ account so I could explore it myself.  While I found the layout to be very foreign, there were unsurprisingly many familiar features: I can “Share what’s new,” much like sharing my status; I can “+1” someone’s post, much like “liking” something; I can share photos and videos, create events, join groups (“Communities”); it even has hashtags that are trending.  From my initial exploration, I was not particularly blown away.

So I started reading some articles about Google+ and became a little more interested.  While it’s been slow to catch on, its popularity is growing, due perhaps in part to Google’s efforts to integrate Google+ into all of its other products, as well as Google+’s use by high-profile entities like the White House.  A recent Forbes article discusses just how quickly Google+’s popularity has grown, making it the second most popular social media site (behind Facebook) as of January.  The article discusses various reasons for this surge in popularity, the most interesting to me being Google’s “promise[] that Google+ profiles will factor more in search rankings over time.”  That is a very powerful proposition that will certainly cause people to rethink their views on Google+.

My research will certainly continue, but I cannot say that I’ve been convinced either way as of yet.  I am glad that I personally have forayed into Google+, given that nearly every article I’ve read at this point suggests that those who use Google+ are more technology-oriented, a good crowd for me to run with in my line of work.  However, I will need a little more convincing before I decide to start a page for our library.  If I had to predict, I would say that eventually we will make this addition to our social media presence, but I’m not sure it’s the right move just yet.  I’m open to being convinced, however, so if you have thoughts on this, do share!

With April incredibly already here, this will be my last post for a while, however, I will be at CALI and AALL this summer, and I look forward to seeing and meeting many of you then!

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Infographics in Legal Education

Have you noticed that data use and distribution has hit the mainstream lately?  Data visualization is becoming a popular field of study.  Empirical research is gaining greater ground in fields not usually associated with high levels of data analysis, such as law.  2013 has even been declared the International Year of Statistics.  Perhaps more so than any of these previous examples, infographics have spread like wildfire across the internet.  Covering topics ranging from silly to serious, infographics offer a dynamic and visual means of displaying data.

Ask virtually anyone involved in empirical research, and they’ll tell you that you have to let the data tell the story.  I’m relatively new to empirical research, having begun conducting my own studies only a couple of years ago.  And while I heartily display my data results in bar graphs and pie charts, I often wonder if this does enough to truly convey my data’s story?  Infographics are a great tool for doing so (though, admittedly, within a print journal article, a lengthy infographic probably wouldn’t work – we’ll have to reserve the infographic as another means of communicating your findings, beyond the journal article!).

I’ll confess that I consider myself an infographic junkie.  I just can’t get enough!  And while I’ll admit that some of the infographics I enjoy are less than scholastic in nature, I have found so many that are brimming with educational content – I had to keep exploring.  The more I dug, the more convinced I became that infographics are a relatively untapped educational resource in law schools.  My next question was how best to apply them in this environment.

I’d love to say that I was immediately inspired and I have a secret library of brilliant infographics I’ve created for the law school setting, but such is not the case.  Instead, I began by looking for various platforms for creating infographics.  I came across this article on powerful infographic tools, and started exploring.  My personal favorite – Piktochart.  Even at the basic, free account, the designs they provide are very easily manipulated to create the chart you want, and as with similar platforms, paying for the more professional licenses gives you many more themes and allows you to eliminate their watermark.  (Of course, if you’re an Adobe savant or a graphic designer by trade, you could also just create your own from scratch!  Alas, such is not the case for me – I’ll take all the help I can get!)

I’m still in more of the exploring stages now, but I’ve begun creating a few infographics pertaining to legal research, as well as infographics that advertise our library services and social media accounts.  I also quickly realized what a useful tool an infographic is for creating posters for poster sessions, and am currently using Piktochart for a few projects for some upcoming conferences.  Additionally, in my explorations, I have found (and continue to find) several law-related infographics, which I have pinned to our library’s Pinterest account.

It’s no secret that different people learn in different ways – some by rote, some visually, some by teaching others.  Adding to that the fact that the majority of today’s students have grown up with the internet and therefore expect and engage most with quick, visual stimuli, infographics could be a very powerful educational tool.  Is it preferred by every student?  No.  Can it replace a traditional lecture?  Certainly not.  But can it supplement course materials?  I think so.  We’re working in a time that legal education is being reevaluated and renovated.  I am not here to argue that infographics are the way of the future for legal education, but we as legal educators are being called upon to think of new ways to convey legal education to better prepare our students to become lawyers; infographics are not going to create lawyers, but their ability to convey information visually might serve as a powerful tool for helping students see the bigger picture, understand difficult concepts, and better retain lecture content.

(I should note here that there are some obvious cautions that should be noted when working with infographics.  If you create your own, it’s certainly not as much of a problem, but if you’re using someone else’s infographic, first of all you’ll want to make sure and attribute it to its creator, but also you may want to verify its information for accuracy.)

The more I explore infographics that others have created and continue to create my own, the more possibilities I see.  If any of you are creating infographics for your schools, I would love to hear about them.  If you’re interested in learning a little more about infographics and education, here are a few resources:

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Changing of the Guard

Hello everyone!  My name is Ashley Ahlbrand, and I’ll be the resident blogger this month!  In this first post, I’ll just introduce myself.

I am the Educational Technology Librarian at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.  I began last July, so I’m rounding out my first year.  This is a new position at our library, so we’ve been enjoying exploring the bounds of this position.  I balance my time between technology projects for the library and technology projects intended for faculty, while also devoting my time to reference duties and teaching responsibilities.  I’m guessing many of you can empathize, but my answer to the question “What do you do?” is not a simple answer!  In fact, one of my favorite aspects of working in a library is that my days are unpredictable, and each one is unique.

The technology aspect of my job takes many forms – from creating and maintaining our social media accounts, to researching for and creating research guides, to creating slides for our digital sign, and so on.  Most recently I’ve begun exploring infographics and their use in libraries and legal education.  As you know, a large part of this job is keeping abreast of changes and trends in technology, so I find myself constantly attending webinars, reading the literature, and participating in training sessions that I believe will be useful to our library and the faculty and students of the law school.  I had the pleasure of attending the CALI conference for the first time last year, and I look forward to this year’s as well!

Being new to the position, there is a lot for me to learn from others in the field, but I think I have a few insightful thoughts and ideas to share as well.  Hopefully you can expect to see one post each week from me this month.  I don’t want to give away too much up front (and not just because I don’t have my posts completely hammered out yet!), but you can expect my posts to be primarily tech-in-the-library focused, particularly exploring different ways newer technologies can help us reach out to our students and patrons, bridge formality with informality, and remind patrons of the library’s continued role and importance in a digital age.

More to come – have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

The Optimist and the Skeptic

To generalize wildly, many people who work with educational technology like technology for its own sake. Not all teachers love it quite as much, especially in traditional fields like law. So how do you move from the enthusiasm of the early adopter reaction – “yay! Toys!” – to encourage widespread adoption of useful technologies in a field that may include more tech skeptics?

It takes trust and some clear applications to prove any learning curve is worth it. And it is the job of the tech guide to make that learning curve as gentle as we can, applying the same learning theories in our internal tech training that many excellent faculty use in the classroom.

Avoid information overload. Give the big picture and the step-by-step perspectives succinctly. Scaffold new concepts from familiar ones using relevant examples. Use questions and activities to gauge comprehension and reinforce new concepts. And, of course, peer to peer explanations and collaborations will usually be the most effective.

Besides these teaching strategies, the other basic requirement to build trust is empathy. Sometimes this means we need to take a step back from our own enthusiasm for the new and innovative and shiny. What is fun to us may be frustrating, confusing, and possibly intimidating to others. This doesn’t mean we need to hand-hold each person through every process, but we do need to factor in the basic barriers that people are likely to face.

Faculty and students have limited time, so how do we make sure the product and our training is as simple and effective as possible? We’re living in a multi-platform, multi-device world: pushing products that require universal adoption means a lot more preparation work on the start up side. Of course technology can also work to solve these problems, but any steps we can take to make the tool get out of the way will help when you’re dealing with a tech skeptic. Jump as quickly into the benefits as possible.

As an example, take anonymous in-class feedback, a teaching strategy that deals directly with confusion or competition that leads to intimidation and prevents full comprehension. A non-tech solution would be index cards, distributed to students and collected for later perusal. This gets the job done, but slows down the class and doesn’t you to directly address the issues raised.

Clickers were the first solution, but the hardware was an added expense that students often didn’t see pay off when faculty found the software cumbersome to work with and didn’t apply it in the classroom. Frustration with a failed product often leads from skepticism to cynicism and makes it harder to bring up the original problems they were intended to address.

CALI’s Instapoll (free) and other products like PollEverywhere or ClassPager (which include a variety of pricing plans) address the issues directly. Setting up the questions is painless – simply type them into the websites. Answering them doesn’t require any specialized devices for students to buy (they can use laptops or smart phones). The results appear on the screen quickly.

Weave seen how a few faculty adopting tools like this, designed to solve a specific need quickly and easily, will spread easily because it just works. Faculty are happy to tell each other about the benefits. Students ask more faculty about it after experiencing the benefits. We can use a few good experiences to encourage more use, but we’re still looking for further steps we can take: with classroom computers, would adding a clearly-labeled bookmark to all the browsers also encourage more use?

As we invest time in training and funds in new equipment, finding ways to gauge their impact can be tricky. Tracking actual usage can be very subjective.  Alleviating problems quickly is only possible when you hear about them immediately, and not everyone reports them. Faculty and students can be quickly disillusioned by a few frustrating moments, unwilling to invest in new experiments.

This can be a discouraging for anyone who’s hoping for immediate payoff, but many times asking questions about goals and barriers can refocus on the larger issues. The more positive examples you can offer that show the immediate benefits in the classroom, the easier it is to build trust as you take on the stubborn problems.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Blending the First-Year Legal Classroom

Introduction to our Contracts Pilot
With all the talk about blended learning, flipped classrooms, and the like, we wanted to visualize what that might look like in the legal classroom, but first lets take a peek at a situation that could be a catalyst for blending a legal classroom.

The first-year courses are widely taught using the Socratic method. This method is a very useful and effective way to teach content to learners. This method works really well in smaller groups, so all students have an opportunity to “test” their knowledge on a topic in class. I like to think of this dialogue as a mini formative assessment, where the teacher can probe the knowledge of the student and foster an environment where that student can scaffold their knowledge and build it up to a level the professor deems satisfactory, causing the student to consider all sides of a particular issue.

In today’s world, class sizes of 50+ can often dampen the effect of the Socratic method. As Schwartz said in his 2001 paper titled Teaching Law by Design, students are asked to learn vicariously when they aren’t “on call”. Vicarious learning happens when the students in the class imagine themselves in the shoes of the student engaged in Socratic dialogue with the professor.

Many students in class do not take advantage of this “watch and imitate” environment (Schwartz, 2001). In doing so, they miss out an opportunity to engage with the content and imagine how they might answer the questions posed by the instructor. Further, with computers, iPhones, and iPads entering the classroom in droves, its likely the student is anywhere but imagining themselves in the shoes of their peer.

In-class time becomes an issue. Though it is nearly impossible to hit all fifty students each day in class, if the faculty member had more time, more students would have an opportunity to be tested, quizzed, and in turn, tested on their understanding of the topic. With so much content to cover over the course of the semester, faculty find it difficult to “find more time” in class to create more opportunities for dialog, assessment – or even better – create activities for the students to put their knowledge into play.

This is where the concept of blended learning can come into play. By taking some of the more rote or routine information that is usually conveyed by lecture or PowerPoint, we can save some time in class that can be used to engage more students, be filled with active learning opportunities, or anything else.

Implementing a “Blended” Legal Classroom
We aimed high.  We wanted to try this out in a first year class and chose contracts – because two professors (as opposed to four) were teaching the class. They had larger sections (50+ students), and it was easier to implement this pedagogical change with two professors. In all, our first year student body is approximately 101 students.

Instead of trying to cover all possible areas of content, we chose one specific area that typically lends itself to lecture – the Restatements. Jointly, the two professors reviewed their syllabus and identified roughly 40 videos that could convey the information in the Restatement that’s typically delivered by presentation/lecture in class. The senior faculty members were granted course release time to develop these videos.

The faculty members partnered with an instructional designer (me) who would facilitate development of the multimedia. The process went like this. The faculty members would write a script that would articulate the information to be conveyed. This process typically took 3-4 hours per script. Upon completion and approval of the script, it was given to the instructional designer. The instructional designer would then review the script (as a novice learner) and came up with a rough sketch for the content. If there were any revisions to be made, they were done after this point.  If the instructional designer had a difficult time understanding the information, the faculty member would work to clarify the script.

This was actually a serendipitous occurance… many times expert teachers have difficulty viewing their content from the perspective of a novice.  Since the majority of the learners are novices, my preview of the script was a good test for comprehensibility. If I couldn’t figure out what they were saying, I was either: not trying hard enough, or it truly was worded incorrectly.

After final, final approval, the script was read and recorded by the instructional designer. The audio was married with the multimedia and produced as a video.  This video was then uploaded to YouTube.  The process from start to finish could take anywhere up to 15 hours per video. In comparison, we aimed to have the individual videos no longer than 10 minutes in total viewable length.

The original aim was to have the modules complete one week prior to when they would be relevant in class. Though we originally stuck to this timeline, the time burden of creating the videos caught up to us and we wound up delivering them a day or two before they were to be covered. Fortunately, this only occurred the last two weeks of the semester

We wanted the students to watch the videos prior to class. Instead of spending 30 minutes lecturing about the Restatements and then discussing them, the students came to class prepared to do the discussion. This reduced the time necessary in class and also facilitated a deeper discussion.  The time savings was used throughout the semester for more in-class group work. In class time was constructed assuming the students had watched the videos.

At the conclusion of the course, we administered a survey that covered four primary areas of interest: questions about the videos themselves, questions about their use in class, questions about student satisfaction and motivation, and general study habit questions.

Wanna check ’em out? You can see the playlist of Contracts videos on YouTube.

How were they made?
All of the videos were made using Keynote – an Apple presentation product.  Surprisingly (or not) Keynote is a powerful tool for making animations like this. I don’t like to add a lot of extraneous movement to the slides… like those you’ll find in crazy transitions. The ease of use and availability make this an ideal tool for making multimedia presentations. Also, these could be used live, in class to achieve the same effect.

I plan on applying for a CALI slot to walk people through the steps in making their own, from script generation to export of the final movie. It would be catered to a non-technical audience – there are plenty of programs like iMovie, Vegas, and Final Cut that could be used to achieve the same outcome for the power users.

Survey Results
Of the 101 students that took the class, 69 of them responded to the survey. They were split virtually even with 34 females and 35 males replying. Here are some very interesting results that came out of the survey:

Regarding video questions

  • Roughly 97% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the modules made the Restatement content easy to understand.
  • 10% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the length (8:30 on average) was too long.  40% were neutral. This answered our hypothesis that most students would be ok with a length lower than 10 minutes. A few students noted in their qualitative feedback that some of them were too long.
  • Students were mostly neutral (37%) or agreed (36.2%) when we asked if there was desire to have a way to clarify questions after watching the module.  We asked this in anticipation of a message board or discussion forum or something. This conflicts a little bit with a more direct question later.

Module use in class

  • Students typically watched the modules before class time (49%). Unfortunately, due to unforeseen scheduling (one professor was ahead of the other), the modules were sometimes released very closely to class, if not after.
  • The previous point was supported by the fact that nearly 85% of the students reported wanting more time with the modules prior to class.
  • Students also reported using the modules as a review after class (70%)
  • Not surprisingly, 42% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that they would rather watch the videos than read about the restatements. 29% were neutral.
  • 50% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that the videos allowed them to pay better attention in class. 31% were neutral. We were very satisfied with this response, because it speaks to the idea that moving the non-interactive content outside of the classroom can facilitate a better learning experience in the classroom.
  • Nearly 60% of the students wish they had a way to assess their knowledge after watching the videos. This question was asked in anticipation of administering the videos with a formative assessment to allow students some idea of their comprehension.
  • Interestingly, over half of the students reported that they wouldn’t have used an online discussion board to talk about the content in the videos.
  • Several questions asked the students if they used the videos as a substitute for outlines or note taking in class, overwhelmingly the students replied. “No.”
  • Finally, students would choose a class that implemented videos over one that does not (85%)

Qualitative Feedback
There were a few common threads through all of these:

  • Contrary to what multimedia theory says, the students wanted me to read the text of the restatements. They hated the silent time I gave them to read to themselves. Confused?  There’s a multimedia principle called the Redundancy principle.  Basically, it says that if you have a bunch of text on a screen, and you read it to the viewer, they spend more cognitive energy reconciling what you’re reading out loud to what’s printed on screen.  The unfortunate side effect is they aren’t reading to comprehend, they’re reading to reconcile.This was probably the most surprising to me… and I’m willing to admit that I was wrong.  Just proof that what is proved in a “lab” may not be the best thing in real life.  If you’re interested in reading more about it, you can pick up the book on Amazon.  I think anyone who uses technology to create learning environments, especially multimedia ones like videos, animations, or the like, should understand the principles in this book.
  • As stated in the survey, many wanted them far ahead of time. This was strongly emphasized in the feedback. Having already made the videos and a better understanding of their use, etc… this shouldn’t be an issue for future iterations, but this is something to keep in mind if we want to do new courses in the future.  We definitely need more lead time.
  • A funny one: Students were tired of “widgets”. A few feedback statements and some verbal feedback (given to me in Torts class) told me they wanted real examples and not theoretical “widgets” as part of the examples. There must be something too theoretical about a widget… something lacking in their prior knowledge. Next time, we’ll use something like iPhones or paintbrushes. Maybe we can make some money with product placement!  Just kidding…
  • The students really, really liked the videos, and found them extremely helpful. They noticed towards the end of the semester when we were a little rushed to get them all out… but I thought we still stayed on a pretty good release schedule considering the amount of time that went into them.
  • Captioning or script availability – this is a feature on YouTube and might just need to be mentioned in class.

Putting these videos onto YouTube has been one of the best decisions we’ve made so far. Of course, Utah has the most visits and minutes watched, but even more amazing is the use outside of our school – especially because there was no advertising anywhere for it.  Many people found these just by searching around YouTube.

We ended up with 37 videos for a run time of 5:35:28 (335 minutes). Average video length was around 8′ 25″.

Here’s a look at the relevant YouTube statistics for our videos (as of 8/15/2012 – 12/7/2012):

  • 8,373 views; 38,810 minutes watched
  • Top three videos based on views: Promissory Estoppel (618), Unjust Enrichment (598), Statute of Frauds 1 (502)
  • Top three videos based on minutes watched: Unjust Enrichment (3,287), Irrevocable Offers (2,723), Consideration (2,446)
  • Top five countries based on views: U.S. (7,720), U.K. (173), Canada (75), Hong Kong (38), Jamaica (38)
  • Top five countries based on minutes: US (37,446), UK (430), Trinidad (205), Canada (186), H.K. (103)
  • Top four states based on minutes: Utah (21,538), Cali (3,859), Florida (1,906), North Carolina (1,183)

I’m absolutely thrilled that other states had so many views and minutes watched.  Someone in the other states had obviously found these, used them, and potentially shared them.  I don’t anticipate the numbers climbing much higher than this from here on out, but it will be interesting to see after finals are done across the nation.

This does show that certain pieces of blended learning can be repurposed into review sets.  Since this is fundamental knowledge, if it’s designed right, anyone can use it to get the shallow, surface level comprehension of the topic.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Again, I want to thank Profs. Debora Threedy and Terry Kogan for the tremendous amount of work they put into this project over the course of the semester.  After reading the survey, feedback, and checking out the YouTube statistics, the students – here, nationally, and globally – benefited from their hard work and effort into this project. I really do think we’re onto something with it and look forward to the next iteration of the project.

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

The Rise, Fall, and Re-creation of the Counter-terrorism Simulation (Part 2)

Part 2: The Re-creation

This isn’t a joke!  They are learning!  Aren’t they?
Try this. Watch this three-minute video about the Simulation.  Make a note every time someone mentions learning, learning objective, or outcomes for the students. Make another note when someone says something about a feature or a technology we used.  Who wins?

Were the students learning?” Further, if they were learning something how would we prove it?

I talked with one of the faculty members here at the College of Law (CoL) and asked her what was going on with the Simulation. She said that although Alumni were familiar with the simulation, it had a lukewarm response every year – like a soap opera that the students were playing in. I mean, we were streaming it online and had documentaries made about it, but there was nothing that outlined what the students were learning through the use of this Simulation. What were the objectives? What were the outcomes? What was the rubric?

What are the students learning?  No one could answer that definitively. Sure we could make things up. We could say they are learning decision making in a high pressure environment. We could say we’re operating under the situated cognition theoretical framework. We could say they are learning valuable decision making and communication skills. Fine. They do that through the course of life in law school, don’t they?

Man this bugged me. We invested so much time, thought, energy, and ideas into the Simulation. We wanted this to be successful for EVERYONE involved – all stakeholders from the students to the donors.

We had to stop and reflect as a group. We needed to push the reset button. We had to identify problem areas and address them before we made the simulation “bigger and better.”

What should come first: realism through technology or learning objectives?
We needed to change the model. We equated high technology usage and realism with good learning outcomes. We never stopped to ask ourselves and assess ourselves if the technology facilitated a good learning environment to the students, or was just something extra to add to the pomp. What learning purpose does all this technology have?  We had the right idea on some things… the reporters were a good mechanism for feedback to the students as they “learn” in the simulation, but good learning environments don’t happen by chance.  They happen through good planning.  By setting our your learning objectives in advance, you can be assured that the technology you implement has a direct effect.

The class structure was wrong
The class was virtually all theory or readings. They went through the chapters in the book, talked Socratic style, and learned and discussed terrorism in various capacities. Two weeks before the end of the semester – the Simulation was dropped on them.

What’s wrong with that?

No opportunity to practice.  It’s like reading a book about Vince Lombardi and then playing a football game for their final test. Students spent 99% of their time in class learning, scribing, listening, and no time practicing and performing skills important to doing well in the simulation.  We invested all this time and energy into using technology to create a realistic scenario, but we didn’t even assess whether this technological environment was conducive to learning based on what they were taught. Shouldn’t the students have an opportunity to have some practice with skills that we were grading in the Simulation? How much of the Simulation was them trying to “survive” and how much was an actual test of whether or not they’re doing it right?

What kind of changes did we make?
Alright, so instead of thinking of ways we can make it more real or bigger & better for next year, we put out an analysis of what we thought we should have.  Instead of finding ways to project outwards, we decided to do some self-reflection.

  • More quantifiable outcomes: The Simulation is a highly qualitative event. There’s so much going on, it’s hard to objectively quantify student outcomes during the event. We’d like to facilitate an environment in which the students can be quantifiably rated on their performances – something like a performance score
  • More practice with relevant skills and constructs: Because the only exposure to the Simulation environment occurs during the Simulation at the end of the semester, there isn’t time allocated to the students to identify and practice the skills necessary to facilitate a successful Simulation. We want to give the students more time to develop the skills directly relevant to the Simulation.
  • More formative feedback on student progress: Students learn best with appropriate feedback.  By providing formative structure for feedback, students can further develop their skills in areas they are deficient. This will provide the students an opportunity to continue to work on their skills as relevant to the Simulation, and carry these skills with them into the work place.
  • An overall assessment of student skill performance: By providing the students with an aggregation of the quantifiable scores along with the constructive qualitative feedback, students will essentially have a formative assessment report that provides insight into their strengths and weaknesses and take the necessary steps to work on their performance in the main Simulation.

These changes came about:

  • Breakdown of skills and constructs: We’ve identified four skill areas necessary for successful performance in the Simulation. The four primary skill areas are: decision making, teamwork, information gathering and analysis, and advocacy and articulation.
  • Mini-simulations to test/reinforce relevant skills & constructs: For each of the identified four skill areas, we’ve created four mini-simulations that target development of these skills. Each mini-simulation is approximately one hour in length and is developed in parallel with the coursework. This will allow the students the ability to work on these specific skills prior to the main Simulation – in a Simulation context.
  • Formative feedback given to students pre-Simulation: Performance rubrics have been created for each identified skill. With the rubric, we can provide two different types of useful feedback for the students as they work through the mini-simulation. First, we can provide them with quantifiable information (a score) on their performance as it relates to the rubric. Second, qualitative feedback is provided for each criteria of the rubric.
  • Assessment reports were created and given (feedback): After each mini-simulation, the student is given a printed report that aggregates the quantitative and qualitative feedback provided by the raters of that mini-simulation. This clearly outlines the student’s performance and allows the student to identify and improve on weaknesses. It is also the basis for individual meetings the students schedule with the professor.
  • Main simulation changed to become more efficacious: In order to focus on the quality of the learning experience, we’ve made some changes to the main simulation. Instead of one giant nine-hour simulation, we are separating the students into three groups. Each group participates in a four hour main Simulation. This will level the importance of each role within the simulation and provide a better opportunity for the students to be rated on their performance. Each of the three groups run through the same simulation scenario, so in addition to within-student comparisons, the raters can also provide between-group comparisons of performance.

These questions and answers brought about the creation of a simulation design course. Instead of relying on a group of students doing this in their spare time, or even as a research project, we wanted to provide students an environment in which they can learn how to write a good simulation.  One in which the students can learn the skills and not just perform them. One where each activity is deliberate and chosen to reinforce something we feel they should learn. To refer back to our football example, if we feel blocking is a good skill for our students to learn, we should not only talk about it, but have practice actually doing it.  That way students can receive feedback on their performance, hone their skill, and have an opportunity to implement what they learned in an overall activity. Not only are the students in Amos’ class learning about Counterterrorism, the students in the design class are learning how to train effectively. Everyone wins!

We rely heavily on technology to facilitate this course. We use Canvas as a Learning Management System to manage the course schedule and readings.  We bring subject matter experts in through Skype (or even Polycom if they’re advanced) to give lectures on the skills – to assist the students in creating their learning environments.  The students use Google Docs to collaborate on script writing for both the main simulation and mini simulation.

Technology’s new role
Technology is awesome. It can facilitate learning opportunities and learning environments that didn’t exist prior. Technology can bring content experts from all over the world to your classroom.  Technology can turn brief writing into a collaborative experience for students. Technology can even be the learning environment for students.

Technology is not a substitute for good pedagogical planning. Technology can not take a broken class and make it better, just because we’re using clickers. Technology needs good planning.  Technology needs good insight. Technology needs to be collaborative. Technologists need to understand what the professor is trying to do with their class. Professors need to be receptive to new technologies that can make once tedious or impossible tasks easy. After all, that’s what technology is there for, right?

The role of technology in the Counterterrorism simulation is now tied to a learning objective. Some examples?

  • Streams aren’t recorded or pushed out to the public for promotional purposes, rather we now have time for the simulation writers to watch the recording and give feedback to the students. They rely on the archive of the stream after the fact to create this feedback, the external stream is just a convenient result of this need.
  • Technology was created to facilitate feedback and rating of students.  The iPad app isn’t just a fancy promotional piece, rather it’s something used to make the aggregation of scores and feedback streamlined, so the simulation writers can get it done efficiently and effectively, and get the feedback to the students in a timely manner.
  • Technology helps us communicate those results to the students and the community. By informing other students, faculty, and alumni. Using websites (authenticated of course) or even printed reports, we can get information to students quickly, so they can reflect on their performance and prepare questions for skill review. We can also tell sponsors, donors, and alumni how the students are performing in the simulation.  Instead of anecdotal stories, we actually have some hard evidence of student outcomes.
  • Websites like our fake CNN site are now tied to a skill: information management.  We can write the simulation around what the students do (or don’t do) when information is coming at them a mile a minute. Having this allows us to run the mini-simulations in a much more efficient manner.

We’ve also developed a sort of primer that other faculty can use when creating their own experiential learning exercises. This outlines the different stages of planning and also offers ideas on how technology can be used to develop ideas at each stage. This helps us create a sort of “menu” for technology and situations in which it might be best used to facilitate learning in their simulation.

I know this is long and sort of technology – sort of not. Either way, it’s a learning process. Hopefully in telling this story, we can offer it as a thought experiment for you. Hopefully the path that we’ve moved along will help you when you try to integrate technology into your school’s activities. These are the sort of things we’re hoping to accomplish with our Center for Innovation in Legal Education.

Next week is a little more technical.  I have a blog post telling you a little bit about a blended classroom environment we created for a first-year Contracts course.  We wrapped it up with a survey and I have some interesting thoughts and ideas to share with you.  Look for that one on December 18th!

As always, if you have any questions, thoughts, advice, or comments, leave them in the section below or drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you. You can always follow me on Twitter as well.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

The Rise, Fall, and Re-creation of the Counter-terrorism Simulation (Part 1)

Sometimes, we get lost in the excitement of technologies. When you’re a hammer, all you see is nails, right?.  It’s like that for us.  Every problem or situation we see can be “improved” with technology. Last year at CALI, I talked a little about this… the “shiny object syndrome” we often develop… looking for places technology can be used.

My story over the next few postings will be just about that.  We had carte blanche over a newly created program at the College of Law (CoL) called, “The Counter-terrorism Simulation.”  Like kids in a candy store, we saw this as an opportunity to show the awesomeness that is technology, and make the other faculty come knocking at our door.  Unfortunately, the story wouldn’t play out like that.  I’m going to tell you how it did.

Part 1: The Rise and Fall

So, what is the Counterterrorism Simulation, anyway?
The Counterterrorism simulation is an annual exercise put on by Professor Amos Guiora as part of his Perspectives on Counterterrorism class. Amos came to the CoL in the Spring of 2006 and immediately connected with the IT group to help facilitate this simulation exercise.

Of course, we jumped at the chance.  See, it was our job to help facilitate the realism of the simulation, so the students could have an approximation of what life would be like in a real-life situation. Plus, there’s a major learning theory out there that students can learn just by taking part in an activity called situated cognition.

It worked like this:  about 20 students total, take part in a full-day Counterterrorism simulation (8-9 hours).  The class was run like many law school courses are run.  The course is centered around a book Amos’ has written about Counterterrorism.  Each day was a lecture/discussion/dialogue about whatever chapter was currently being read. At the end of the semester the students were put in this Simulation and asked to “play out” a scenario put before them: dirty bombs, international border disputes, torture, and whatever the hot topic was for that time. The students took on roles of the Cabinet.  Someone was President, someone was Vice-president, Secretary of State, and so on. They made decisions based largely on what they had learned in the chapters they had read.

Amos had experience running simulations during his tenure in the Israeli Defense Forces, and found it a good way to train soldiers for situations they might encounter in the field. This experiential learning experience was very valuable for learning. He liked it so much, he brought it to Case Western (where he started teaching) and created a simulation to train students for the decision making environment they’ll see themselves in after they leave law school. When he came on board at the University of Utah, he brought the Simulation with him.

First year was slow, second year exploded…
As you can imagine, the first year was a little dance between Amos and IT. The technology we interjected wasn’t terribly advanced or well thought out. We just wanted to impress him with our application of technology.

The Simulation separated the students into three or four separate groups. Each group was “somewhere else” in the world: France, DC, NY, etc.  We facilitated this by putting the student groups into different rooms. So, some technology implemented was to contribute to the illusion of this distance and facilitate communications. We set up phone lines, video conferencing, pseudo-email accounts, etcetera.

We pre-recorded news clips, burned onto DVDs, to be delivered to the students at preplanned times throughout the scenario. These clips helped progress the storyline of the Simulation. We also tried to simulate television news in bringing information to the students in a way they might receive it in real life – through video.

The first Simulation was slow and simple, but we already had ideas for improving it the next year.

The second year saw tremendous improvement.  First, Amos recruited a student volunteer to help write out a new simulation scenario. This person consulted with IT to discuss how we could better “tell the story” and “make it more real” for the students.  It was this person’s (singular) job to draft a scenario that would last 8-9 hours.

We injected a little more technology. We did away with the DVD’s and created a mock CNN website, complete with embedded video news clips. The website was modeled after the real CNN site to contribute to the realism.  We contracted with the University’s Media Solutions team to help us make our news recordings look more realistic, complete with graphics that CNN might use on-screen during a real time of crisis.

The biggest increase in “technological innovation for realism” was a bit of a mistake. Some students made an off-hand comment to Amos about talking to the CEO of Home Depot. He passed my phone number (my personal phone number, mind you) to the students and said, “The person on the other end can help you.”  Sure enough, they called me and I acted out the role of the CEO. Soon after that another call came asking for the Governor of Maryland. Then the Police Chief of New York.  At the end of the day, I had over 300 missed calls and 70 voicemails.

This phenomena showed us that if we want to increase the realism (which was our goal, right?), we need to have “shadow players”. People whose job it was to play these roles to contribute to the activity of the simulation. We had to facilitate web conferencing, cell phones, personal blogs, email addresses, Google docs, and more.  Technology had to step in to create this illusion of reality for the students. If there was a problem and the storyline called for it, we threw technology at it, then beat our chest as to how awesome technology was for the Simulation.

Everything can be better with technology!
We started to command a pretty heavy role with the Simulation design and planning. If the simulation script writer needed something, they often contacted IT to help facilitate whatever it was they needed. We were the go-to engine for virtually every aspect of the Simulation.

Eventually, we started to stream the Simulation out to the masses. We wanted to show the world everything that was going on in the Simulation rooms.  If we told the students that thousands of people could potentially watch their performance, we’re increasing the reality – creating the “high pressure” environment. Not only that, but technology would help us turn the Simulation into a big event – almost a giant social media event for the CoL.

Not only that, but we were able to recruit a local community college and their journalism department. To fill the mock CNN website with news, we had journalism students interview and write stories over the course of the simulation. They used their digital cameras and recorders to capture the conversation, then transformed them into news articles/video clips and posted them online.

So, what are some things we did by year three of the simulation?

  • Mock CNN website (WordPress) to deliver “news” articles and video streams to participants.
  • Rooms all outfitted with video conferencing hardware to facilitate communication between “countries and organizations”.
  • Live video streams of all rooms at all times.
  • Interactive dashboard where external viewers could “peek” into the simulation without intrusion and chat about what they saw.
  • Local and remote shadow players, complete with phones, email, blogs, etc. that could interact with the students
  • Student journalists to report on the activities

Are we doing it right?
Eventually, we started to grow a little too big for our own britches.  We enlisted full-time help from the Media Solutions team to help run the web streams and capture the events. We looked at adding outside groups (hospital, political science, communications, external professional organizations) to help add additional fuel to the “realism stew” we were creating. One volunteer simulation writer became a committee of students. We even had a documentary made about the simulation that won some ABA awards.

This is all good, right?  A win for IT’s involvement in CoL affairs. Legitimacy! Faculty loved us, trusted us, and wanted to collaborate with us – right?!  Our Alumni looked forward to it every year – right?! The fact that we integrated technology with the educational environment made it a huge success that everyone wanted to be a part of – right?!

Well, not quite.  Interest in the program wasn’t quite what we thought it would be. There was even word was going around that it was a distracting circus. It’s around this time that this question popped up – “What are the students actually learning?

That single question made us wonder, what ARE the students learning? And further, how do we know?

Part 2 on Thursday….

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Introductions are in order

Hey everyone, my name is Aaron Dewald, and I’ll be the poster for Dec/Jan.

I thought I’d take a minute to introduce myself and let you know what I’ll be writing about over the next month or so.

About Me
I work at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.  I’m the Associate Director for our brand new Center for Innovation in Legal Education. We’re trying to find ways to introduce a little learning science into the classroom. Combine that with some technology and hopefully it’s a recipe for success for faculty and students.

Anyway, I’ve attended the CALI conference over the past few years or so… and I try to give back by presenting at each one I attend. I’m a lurker on Teknoids (should probably respond more often), but I enjoy reading the dialogue back and forth on the forum.

The blog schedule 
I have a few specific things that I’d like to share with you over the next 4-5 weeks, I’m specifically going to write about:

  • Running simulations.  We run a Counter-terrorism simulation each year here. I’d like to share with you a story about technology and how it drove us to reconsider how we ran the simulation.  I’ll probably do this in two or four parts. It’s a fun little story. Likely going to present about it with our IT Director Mark Beekhuizen at CALI next year.
  • Blended classrooms and first-year courses We’re just wrapping up a project in which our two Contracts professors created multimedia modules based on the Restatement of Contracts. These were given to students a few days before class to get them up to speed about the restatements. The time saved in the classroom was then used for dialogue about the modules. The multimedia modules were uploaded to YouTube if you’d like to see them. I’ll write about the results of our survey, some interesting YouTube statistics, implementation, as well as report on what the overall findings were.  If there’s an appetite, I’ll propose a CALI session where we can learn how to make the modules for your own use.
  • Learning science I’m a PhD student in learning sciences, so sometimes there’s cool research that comes through that’s worth sharing with others. Most of it will have a technology spin, so it won’t be the academically dry stuff that’s out there. But I’d like to introduce a few things and write about its implications on technology in the legal classroom.
I’ll try to keep everything short and to the point.
I’m excited to write for you, share my knowledge with you, and learn from you. Drop me a line, if you’d like!


Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


Talk about an acronym that’s fun to say! MOOCs are a popular term in educations these days.

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course.

I first learned about MOOCs through the eduMOOC last year so I could learn more about online learning. Since then, MOOCs have been featured in national news sources and discussed at countless conferences.  While I don;t think the rumors of MOOCs becoming the be all and end all of education, I think there are some interesting applications of MOOCs in education today

Here are some links if you want to educate yourself on the MOOC boom:

The Language of MOOCS: by Inside Higher Ed

The Year of the MOOC: New York Times MOOC news from one of the term-coiners

Warming Up to MOOCs: Chronicle of Higher Education

What in the World is a MOOC?: Washington Post

There is a lot out there on MOOCs, but I’d suggest that if you are interested in learning more, take a look at the writing of Audrey Watters who seems to spend a heck of a lot of time writing about MOOCS and how they relate to higher ed.

If that isn’t enough, take a look at how one law school is responding to the MOOC boom.

Drexel and MOOCs

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