PeerCounselingCandace McClain is an assistant professor in the counseling department at Colorado Christian University, with a Doctorate in Counselor Supervision and Education. She is currently working with the university to create an online Master’s program in Counseling, which will admit its first students in Fall 2014. Over the past few years, she has developed online courses in Counseling Skills and several others. A primary component of the online Counseling Skills course is video-role play. Dr. McClain spoke with ACCLAIM about the goals of her new program, and how she is using video to offer constructive feedback and instruction to her students specific to core counseling competencies such as foundational skill building.

ACCLAIM: Tell me a bit about the development of the program?

CM: The program is part of a university-wide initiative to make more of its classes available online. Our intention was to be able to reach students who do not have a lot of resources for psychological counseling, or who come from social pockets that may not even accept it. The applicants for the program can come from remote areas across the country such as rural Colorado, and the Deep South. Hopefully the students in our program can go back into their communities and bring the mission and purpose of CCU and the MAC program and our ideal of Christian charity to their areas.

The Skills class can be taught in both online and classroom contexts. In fact, the development of online course has influenced the classroom course for the better. We have found that it’s better to start with a curriculum designed for the virtual classroom, because in the developmental process it allows us more creativity and flexibility. It’s much easier to create the in-seat components after the online structure is already in place.

ACCLAIM: How do your online classes work? How is the content taught?

CM: In Counseling Skills, the students taking the class will come into the University from a distance for a week in the beginning of the term so that they can get to know the instructors, peers, and so that we can build a community. We found that students really want to connect with me before receiving an assessment. We also find that it helps us to get a good sense of their skills and disposition. During this week, they have three four-hour long blocks of classes.

While I do spend some time lecturing, most of our class time this week is for experiential learning. I alternate shorter in-class role-play activities that last two to three minutes with six-longer videotaped practice sessions that they work on in separate groups. The responsibility for reading, watching lectures, and becoming familiar with resources happens when they are outside of the classroom, on their own.

Over the course of six weeks, after they return home, they gradually receive their assessments and commentary from the longer role-play sessions they did in the first week.
At home, they receive another set of three video role-play activities that they can do on their own with partners in their communities. They have one or two live opportunities to converse and check-in with faculty. Their final exam is their last video role-play session.

ACCLAIM: Describe some of the video role-play activities.

CM: In the first intensive week of the Skills class, the students go off into their own private areas to practice skills like challenging a client, or asking on a hunch. They form a triad, in which there is a client, observer, and patient. The observer is in charge of videotaping. The sessions last ten minutes, and then they rotate roles.

ACCLAIM: How do you offer feedback after viewing a role-playing session? How are the students assessed?

CM: I use Acclaim to give feedback at time-stamped moments in the video. My comments are preserved an Excel document transcription form after the class. I actually teach an entire session on my feedback methods, which follows the research of Dr. Diana Hulse on Corrective Feedback. In short, this method emphasizes offering supportive corrective feedback. Their assessments are not only based on their counseling skills, but also on their ability to receive feedback, and to follow a growth plan.

ACCLAIM: How do you see your students develop and modify their clinical techniques over the course of a series of assignments?

CM: Their responses to feedback make a lot more sense, since they can identify the specific types of comments in the video and change their behaviors based on these ideas. My students appreciated that there is lots of room for self-reflection. I think that over the course of the semester, their skills increased about fifty percent as compared to using pure video with sumarritive reflection.

ACCLAIM: In some of your role-play exercises, students work with patients (children or adolescents) of their own choosing. Have there been any problems?

CM: For general video usage, in practicum and internship, there have been no challenges in having our students choose their own patients, because our clinical program coordinators have built a firm foundation and rapport with our supervisors, sites, protocols and procedures. We are hoping to build a counseling center in the future.

ACCLAIM: How have these tools changed the counseling program in the years since you were a student?

CM: When I was a student, we had only one video or audio assessment in which we received feedback. I felt like I did not have good understanding of my skills. I believe it helps them develop a lot more in a short period of time. I wish I had had this technology. I actually use videos now to look at myself and reflect on my own teaching in counselor education and supervision to view strengths and needed areas for ongoing growth.