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Looking Down The Lens – Bringing Skills Into the Curriculum

The second contribution in the series of our ALT Conference 2020 blog posts comes from Sabine Walsh from the Mediator Academy. The work she was going to present looks at the use of educational videos and in particular how they might be used to enhance the teaching and learning of skills. Read the summary of her work below and feel free to leave comments, questions and feedback

Looking Down The Lens – Bringing Skills Into the Curriculum

Can you imagine life without YouTube? How would you figure out how to cut your own hair? For today’s generation of students, the default is go to YouTube rather than read a user manual, whether that is to learn how to tie a tie, draw a unicorn, or delete an instagram account. 

Video is a fantastic tool for teaching new skills. It doesn’t matter what it is, YouTube can show you how to do it. But not all video is equal, particularly when it comes to education. 

This article will highlight key features of effective and engaging educational video, why they are so effective, and how you can design video to help law students learn essential skills. 

Why Video?

Video has a number of specific affordances for skills development, as has been recognised for some time in other disciplines such as medicine and nursing. (1)

  • The fact that you can watch them over and over again;
  • The flexibility of engaging when and where you want;
  • Greater clarity of instruction;
  • A reduction of anxiety.

All these factors and more have been reported in various studies over the years. (2) 

Our own evaluation of a series of pilots we carried out over the past year, have further underlined these factors, and also uncovered some surprising insights. Our online course content in dispute resolution was piloted by a number of law schools and used in completely online and in blended format. 

The Experiment

Our online course content features different types of video to teach skills to law students including scenario-based role-play simulation and expert insight and commentary from professionals. The following findings give some insight into why students found these videos so useful for learning dispute resolution skills and the benefits they received.

  1. Analytics showed that in the weeks leading up to their practical skills assessments, students watched the role-play simulation videos over and over, pausing and playing back repeatedly specific sections of video demonstrating strategies and skills.
  2. The students who engaged most with the videos before their practical assessment performed better, notwithstanding that all students attended the same number of face to face skills workshops before the assessments. This showed that students watching and re-watching skills videos, in particular, were more likely to achieve their intended learning outcomes in the skills assessment.  
  3. Students reported that they preferred observing someone proficient in a skill, like the characters in the role-play simulation or the expert practitioners, before trying them out themselves. This is also known as the “social cognitive model of sequential skill acquisition” and shows that this preference results in positive learning outcomes. (4)
  4. Having had the opportunity to observe and practice these skills in private first, when it did come to practising the skills “live”, students reported significantly reduced anxiety when it came to demonstrating their skills in the classroom and assessment settings.
  5. Watching the experts comment on the simulation and discuss the highs and lows in their own practice helped students understand the nuances of practice and engage critical and reflective evaluation of their own performance. This approach models reflective practice to students and allows them to be more open to feedback on their own practice.

In order for these and the many more benefits of video as a skill development tool to be realised, the videos in question must be designed with the outcome in mind. Just showing something on a video is not enough. Video, particularly educational video can be meaningless, overly long, lacking focus and downright boring. Since research has shown that students’ average attention span is no longer than a maximum of 10-15 minutes at the best of times, some careful planning must go into the creation of these videos. (5)

Unlocking Great Educational Video

The key to unlocking great educational video is to think about it differently at every stage of its development, from conceptualisation to deployment. A really helpful framework for implementing this is Hughes’ “RAT” Framework (2008) which presents three evolutionary steps in the use of technology for education: Replacement, whereby technology serves as a different way of, essentially, doing the same thing; Amplification, where technology allows you to do the same thing a bit better, and finally Transformation, where technology transforms the way in which teaching and learning occurs. (6)

To attain transformation and realise the full potential of video to teach skills, video needs to be designed to create learning experiences that would not be available through other means. It must be used intentionally and the learning experience must be built around what video has to offer, rather than it being used to replicate what happens in the classroom. There are many ways to do this, and we have found that students respond particularly well to the following strategies:

  • Intentional Design – Applying the principle of constructive alignment, identify the learning outcomes for each video or video segment in advance and then think about what needs to happen or be shown in the video to help the student attain that outcome. The video could show different responses to a particular situation, for example.  
  • Real Life and Real Dilemmas – Students learn best from stories and real experiences. Theory only comes to life when it is integrated with practice so faculty / practitioners should focus on real practice dilemmas and how they were resolved (or not!). It is important to maintain some editorial direction here, as there can be a temptation for some experts to focus on war stories and the heroics of their practice to the detriment of the intended learning outcomes.
  • A Little Humour – Learning from video can be fun too, and a little laughter is a good thing for students, particularly in these difficult times. Educational videos need not be dull and serious to be effective. Resist the temptation to edit out all the mistakes and out-takes. It can be very valuable for students to recognise that “experts” are humans too. 
  • Quality matters – Invest in quality – both in terms of content and production quality. The best educational experience is easily undermined by visual and audio interference. This does not mean that a Disney-level budget is required; a few easy filming hacks and some good editing can achieve a very professional outcome. 
  • Video for Everyone – Modern video technology is designed with accessibility in mind, so remember the student with different needs and abilities and ensure that you use the native accessibility features and design videos in accordance with WCAG 2.0 Guidelines, for example.

At the end of another day of lockdown, struggling to move everything you do online, when you collapse in front of Netflix, think about what you learn from what you watch. Notice what really engages you in the video and how you might apply this to your teaching. Make a note of some clips of effective skills demonstrations, but maybe stay away from some of Saul’s Goodman’s negotiation strategies…and if you haven’t seen Better Call Saul, put it on your list.


    1. Forbes, H., Oprescu, F.I., Downer, T., Phillips, N.M., McTier, L., Lord, B., Barr, N., Alla, K., Bright, P., Dayton, J., Simbag, V., & Visser, I. (2016). Use of videos to support teaching and learning of clinical skills in nursing education: A review. Nurse education today, 42, 53-6 .DOI:
    2. Mediator Academy (2020) How to Teach Legal Skills at Scale 
    4. Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (2002). Acquiring writing revision and self-regulatory skill through observation and emulation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 660–668.
    5. Geri, Nitza & Winer, Amir & Zaks, Beni. (2017). A Learning Analytics Approach for Evaluating the Impact of Interactivity in Online Video Lectures on the Attention Span of Students. 13. 215-228. 10.28945/3875. 
    6. (Hughes, J., Thomas, R. & Scharber, C. (2006). Assessing Technology Integration: The RAT – Replacement, Amplification, and Transformation – Framework. In C. Crawford, R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber & D. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2006–Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1616-1620). Orlando, Florida, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)To read more about the RAT framework in this context see Mediator Academy (2020) How to Teach Legal Skills at Scale.


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