9. Determining the length of a lesson or tutorial and deciding what a lesson should cover

Lesson Length

There is no set rule about exercise length. Your exercise can be as short as 2-3 screens with a few questions, or hundreds of screens and questions in length. While CALI Author has no limitations or standards for tutorial size, there are several points you may wish to consider when authoring a lesson. And, if you are part of a CALI Fellowship team and writing a lesson as a commissioned author for CALI, CALI's staff may have some additional guidelines for you to follow.

First, there are several practical concerns about writing a long lesson. Is your goal that students complete the lesson in one sitting? If so, then any one lesson probably shouldn't take students more than 45-60 minutes to complete. The model for CALI's lessons is even shorter, with a typical lesson taking students, 25-40 minutes. A good reference for gauging the length of an exercise is that each screen of text or interactive question takes students approximately 1½ minutes to complete. This includes reading the material, considering answer choices, selecting a response, and reading and analyzing the feedback. Of course, this is just an estimate. The difficulty and complexity of the problem, along with the number of popups associated with a screen can alter this estimate. Longer lessons demand that the student spend more time focused on the materials without a break. An alternative to creating several short lessons is to create a longer lesson that can be easily divided into parts (using the Menu structure) that the student can return to as time permits. This allows students to take breaks from their studying and to return to the exercise refreshed.

A second benefit to smaller lessons is their "buildability." You can write materials that create "just in time" learning nuggets that focus on a particular concept or idea in detail. Perhaps you want to create an exercise that explores a particular misunderstanding that students typically have about one theory or topic in the course. Rather than covering this material extensively in class, a small lesson allows students to learn much of the material on their own, freeing up class time for a more advanced level discussion that explores the intricacies of the material.

You can write small exercises, just as you would write part of a single class lecture. That is, small exercises need not cover everything about a topic, but only enough to accomplish your intended teaching objective. Smaller lessons also allow you to better direct students' learning. You can decide whether students are assigned the smaller lessons prior to, concurrently, or after you cover the topic in class. With smaller exercises you can dole out the information in the proper sequence, rather than giving students access to all the materials at once, which might cause confusion if they encounter topics not yet covered in the course.

In addition, smaller lessons allow for greater organizational flexibility. Smaller lessons allow you to assign the interactive materials more in accordance with the particular topics covered in your course and in the order you cover the material. Since you can easily restructure the sequencing of smaller exercises, you will not be forced to adapt to the sequence established in a larger lesson. Finally, a smaller lesson allows students to focus their attention on one idea at a time and to build the interrelationships between topics on their own. This assists students in developing the critical thinking and reasoning skills so important in law school. At the same time, students acquire a sense of completion and accomplishment when they successfully master the material in a small lesson.

Typical CALI Lessons include the following "standard" elements:

  • Introduction – page or two that explains what this lesson covers, and what students should know before they work through this lesson. Is this lesson geared toward an introduction to the material, a review of the material, a supplement to the casebook, or a stand-alone coverage of a point that time doesn’t permit covering in class? Lastly, consider what the learning objectives of the lesson are.
  • Example of problem that illustrates why this knowledge is important or brief overview of where this material fits in the big picture.
  • Series of questions that cover the material. They can start easy and become more difficult or they can all be the same level of difficulty and cover various aspects of the issue. Branching questions can be included. A good target is probably about 15 –25 questions with extensive feedback. Although this number slides based on question length and complexity. Consider what aspects your students have trouble grasping when you discuss this point of law in class, and you probably have a good starting place for a lesson.
  • Pull it all together for the student at the end with an essay if possible. As the lesson covers one concept, issue spotting isn’t really applicable; however, students will still benefit from writing an essay and putting the concepts and ideas into their own words.
  • Popups are useful for definitions, sidebars and other explanatory material that is relevant but not critical to the lesson. Don’t assume all students will look at every popup. Thus, don’t put the secret to the material in a popup – any “secret” to understanding the material should be in the body of the lesson.
  • "Show your work." Throughout the exercise walk students through the steps in your analysis in reaching conclusions. Students find this to be very useful.
  • Conclusion – review what the lesson covered and what you expect the student now understands. Perhaps leave students with a hypothetical that can be discussed in class or in their own study group. Likewise, leave your “answer” (or your best guess at the analysis to reach the answer if the question taps the gray area of this point of law) under the “Info/Notes” tab in the lesson. This material will be used for the Teachers Manual.


Lesson Coverage

You don’t have to include everything about a point of law or that area of the law in a single lesson. Assume that someone else taught the students something – or will teach them something later in the semester. Decide whether your lesson is meant as: (1) an introduction to the material; (2) a supplement to the material; (3) a review of the material; or (4) as the students’ sole coverage of this point of law. Each type of lesson is used for a different purpose and is best suited to some areas of the material. The lesson description in the catalog and the opening page of the lesson tells students and faculty which approach you are using.

  • Category 1 - An introduction to the material – these lessons might step students through core concepts for this area of the law and give them a basis for understanding the foundational points for this concept of law. As an author, you can assume that students will receive additional coverage of this material in class.
  • Category 2 - A supplement to the material – this type of lesson is another pass at the material and can serve several functions. First, the CALI exercise can be assigned along with casebook readings, as one would assign a law review article. Of course, a CALI exercise differs from a law review article because of CALI’s interactive quality. Second, a lesson written as a supplement also aids the confused student. Suppose a student comes to your office hours complaining that he did not understand yesterday’s class. When you query where he got lost, he replies, “When you entered the room.” Chances are you don’t want to repeat the whole class session for him. Instead, you might engage the student in a series of questions to determine exactly where in the class discussion he got lost. Finding the one part that the student misunderstood/didn’t understand, you begin to explain the material again, perhaps by explaining or engaging the student in question/answer conversation. After much discussion in your office, the student continues to be lost. At this point you can’t think of another way to explain the material. Or, as I like to say, there isn’t another way to tell someone how to make ice cubes. It’s a good bet that both of you are frustrated at this time. This is where a Category 2 CALI lesson is useful. It gives the student another pass at the material. Lastly, a Category 2 lesson can be used to give the student an additional opportunity to work with the material covered in class. While the number of hypotheticals you can explore in class time is limited, a CALI lesson has no such limit. The only time constraints belong to the students.
  • Category 3 - Review of the material – these lessons provide a review of the material. A review can take place at several points in the semester. For example, a review can come right after the material is covered in class, or it can come at the end of the semester. A review at the end of the semester is likely to be different than a review during the semester, as we assume the student brings a larger and more robust understanding of the material with him at the end of the semester. This is the benefit of branching questions, since the lesson can be different each time the student works through the material. A Category 3 lesson assumes the student knows something and is a chance to let the student work with related fact patterns or spins on the basic rules to better understand the parameters of the subject area.
  • Category 4 - The students’ sole coverage of this point of law – or what CALI calls call “Week 15” – material you wish you could cover if you had one or two additional weeks of class. Generally, these lessons cover material that you want the student to have a rough understanding of before they leave law school; however, you lack time in class to cover it all. A lesson designed for “Week 15” may go into more depth about background for the point of law, underlying policy, black letter law, and questions that allow application of learned material plus an opportunity to play with some of the more ambiguous concepts in this area of the law. This lesson is more apt to try and do it all.