UofL dental students took part in the simulation exercise.
UofL dental students took part in the simulation exercise.

Recognized for creating positive learning experiences through distance and online education, a team of University of Louisville faculty has earned the 2021 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Teaching and Learning.

UofL Brandeis School of Law’s Jamie R. Abrams and UofL School of Dentistry’s Valerie Harris and Marija Sasek, worked together to design a law-dentistry medical malpractice expert witness deposition simulation for law and dental students.

Abrams says work to develop the project began several years ago, and the team launched the simulation while she was a visiting professor at the University of Baltimore in Fall 2020.

“COVID-19 helped pull the trigger. We wanted to seize the moment in which remote teaching was standardized and give students a novel experience in that isolated moment when building professional community was more important than ever,” Abrams said.

University of Baltimore law students and University of Louisville dental students spent one month in their respective courses preparing for the simulation. Law students studied negligence, products liability and lawyering skills to prepare to take and defend the depositions of medical experts – the dental students. Dental students studied dentistry standards of care, patient care ethics and practice management to prepare to testify as dueling expert witnesses for the plaintiff or the defendant in the civil lawsuit.

In October 2020, the groups convened via Zoom for a live deposition simulation that included participants from multiple cities, universities and departments.

The final program divided students into a dozen deposition groups, each containing upper-level mentors, faculty observers and UofL School of Law alumni facilitators for a total of more than 200 participants. The students spent two hours conducting each step of the deposition. The expert witnesses for both sides presented their affirmative testimony and then were subject to cross examination by the opposing side. Students received support from their mentors, along with feedback from the alumni observers.

Harris says it was truly a unique opportunity for the 120 UofL dental students to understand what it is like to be part of a deposition – to know how to present themselves and what questions they could be asked.

“It was a pleasure to work across disciplines and consider how we approached learning for both law and dental students,” Harris said. “It was a robust learning experience for me.”

“It brought the two professions to life individually and at their intersections. By role playing as professionals instead of students, it also built a stronger professional identity, pride and camaraderie in the respective disciplines,” Abrams said.

The simulation was based on Abrams’ book published by West Academic, Tort Law Simulations: Bridge to Practice.

The large-scale collaboration now serves as a template for future interdisciplinary teamwork bridging subject matter content and skills. A second virtual dental-law simulation to include all first-year UofL law students and fourth year UofL dental students – about 250 people – is scheduled for this October. This will be the first time UofL law students have taken part in the exercise.

UofL won the Blackboard award alongside other prestigious organizations including Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.