Revised Lessons and my Vanishing “L”

I recently learned a new phrase “noisy learners”* to describeCALI_drawing successful online learners. The same day, I noticed that the lettering for the “L” key on my laptop was wearing away. On the surface these appear to be unrelated events; yet I’d like to explore them both in this post, as there may be a tangential connection.

The term “noisy learners” is used to describe successful online “learners who are visibly engaged with one another and with the generation of knowledge.” (Palloff & Pratt) When I read this passage I started to think about students working through CALI lessons. With a couple of exceptions,** CALI lessons are designed to be a solitary learning experience. The lessons are online, but they’re seldom worked in community. The lessons do allow students to generate their own knowledge through interactive questions, which often include branches taken as a direct result of a student’s choice.

So are CALI users “noisy learners”? Perhaps not as the word is usually used. The engagement, however, may occur over a longer period of time than the term usually means and with faculty rather than their peers. For example, students are engaged with the lesson’s author through feedback to CALI. All comments filter through CALI’s staff to the lesson’s author. And, often the student’s comment either generates a response that CALI’s staff shares with the student or a change in the lesson.

Which leads to my second observation – the writing for the letter “L” key on my laptop wearing away. When I first noticed this, I was puzzled. “L” is not one of the most frequently used letters in the English alphabet, coming in at around 11th place among all the letters.*** Although a personal Wordle would probably show the words CALI, lessons, and eLangdell, accounting for upwards of 70% of my word usage. This only accounts for a fair but not staggering use of the single letter. Seventy percent of course, is just a rough estimate. It’s likely my emails also include prepositions, articles, and adjectives that may require the letter “L.”

My working theory is related to the student comments I mentioned above. A couple things cause a lesson to be reviewed. First, comments from students or faculty will cause me to look at the lesson again, and in some instances this will initiate a full faculty review. Second, lessons are routinely reviewed every few years and for the past 8 months we have been involved in the most ambitious review project in my memory. It’s possible that CALI’s recent revision project has indeed worn away my “L.” I have typed “thanks for revising your CALI lesson” many, many times in the last 8 months, as faculty have reviewed close to 40% of CALI’s 950 lessons and revised roughly 200 lessons.

The project has of course been valuable. The law changes and in some areas of study, CALI’s lessons need near constant attention to stay current. All of the faculty members who author CALI’s lessons share our desire to maintain the accuracy of the lessons.

So what does it take to review and revise so many lessons? It takes literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of work. I logged some of these hours, as did Justin Shlensky, CALI’s Lesson Revision Project Manager brought in exclusively for this project. CALI’s student workers accounted for additional hours.

Unquestionably though the faculty authors, and faculty who stepped in to review and revise lessons for retired authors, contributed the most. It was their expertise and years of teaching experience that ultimately made this project possible and successful. To date, faculty have revised lessons in contracts, legal research, family law, and professional responsibility. This round of revisions is nearly done, although additional subject areas are still being revised. While it might be possible to binge watch a season of Game of Thrones, lessons can’t be revised in the same manner.

So to all the faculty assigning CALI lessons and to all the students using the lessons to generate their own knowledge, please keep up the good work! And, I’ll be thanking more authors in the next 3 months, as some are still reviewing and revising their lessons. Together we can make the lettering for my “L” key completely disappear from my keyboard.

Deb Quentel
CALI – Director of Curriculum Development & Associate Counsel
dquentel at cali.org

* Palloff & Pratt, Lessons from the Virtual Classroom, p. 135 (2013) citing Nipper.

** Some faculty do have students work through lessons in small groups during class. And, one lesson asks students to pair off to work through the lesson.

*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_frequency

The drawing is from CALI’s collection of over 400 drawings posted to flickr.com/caliorg – all with Creative Commons License. http://cca.li/vl

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About Deb Quentel

Deb has been Director of Curriculum Development and Counsel for CALI since 1997. She's worked with more than 100 faculty and law librarians and guided more than 500 lessons from start to website.
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