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Thursday, September 5, 2013

University of Utah's Repository of Contracts Lessons on Video

ThreedyUniversity of Utah Law Prof Debora Threedy (left) has introduced us to a new resource for first year Contracts classes. The Center for Innovation in Legal Education at the University of Utah has produced 37 online videos dealing with topics from the Restatement of Contracts 2d. 

The goal of this project is to reduce the amount of in-class time spent on conveying doctrine so that more time can be devoted to active learning activities, such as group exercises or skills development. The Utah crew aimed to have short videos ready for viewing one week ahead of the class session during which that material was covered.  The students could watch the videos, which were usually less than ten minutes long, and then come to class with a working knowledge of the concepts covered in the next class session.  The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of in-class time spent on conveying doctrine so that more time can be devoted to active learning activities, such as group exercises or skills development. 

DewaldProfessor Threedy's colleague, Aaron Dewald (right), has blogged about the University of Utah's experience with the videos, which you can read here.  Here is his bullet-point summary of student survey responses to the project:

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 asubstitute 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.

[JT]

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Comments

Nothing about third-party beneficiaries or assignment & delegation? With the advent of 4-credit Contracts courses, are these topics being dropped from the canon?

Posted by: otto stockmeyer | Sep 6, 2013 8:42:46 AM

Those topics were not part of the five-credit contracts course that I took at NYU fifteen years ago, and NYU subsequently dropped contracts down to four credits (although I don't know where they are now on that issue). I have taught four-credit contracts courses since I started teaching, and I have never found the time for these topics. Not even close.
This is of course a huge problem, because in practice these topics are extremely important, and I do not believe they are covered in any other part of the curriculum. So, in short, I share your concern, and I suspect that those topics are not being covered at law schools that only devote four credits to the first-year contracts course. If there are folks out there who manage to squeeze in these topics, I would love to see your syllabus and learn how it is done.

Posted by: Jeremy Telman | Sep 6, 2013 4:08:27 PM

Did you survey students on how they would feel about an audio podcast? I am curious if they would want something that they listen to while doing other things, like driving.

Posted by: Ed Richards | Sep 9, 2013 8:53:50 AM

In response to Professor Richards' question: the videos can be loaded onto mobile devices such as phones, and we know that students were listening to them while driving and exercising, as we did indeed survey them. So we don't think a separate audio version is necessary -- although students did request that the narrator read the text displayed on the screen. We may consider that when we publish the second version of the videos, although learning science counsels against a voice reading text that is displayed visually because different parts of the brain process visual versus auditory material and confusion can result.

Posted by: Debora Threedy | Sep 9, 2013 9:42:02 AM

I thought I'd update my reply to Professor Richards: we've run some numbers and about 15% of our students are using mobile devices to access the videos.

Posted by: Debora Threedy | Sep 16, 2013 10:21:20 AM

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