I got my class evaluations for my 1L Legal Research course yesterday. Happily, they were all positive with regards to my teaching contribution to the course. So I must totally know what I’m doing, right?
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING.
Okay, I’m being slightly hyperbolic. I know how to run a classroom. I can create an organized lecture, appropriate slides/handouts, and (when I haven’t had too much coffee) speak in a slow, clear and understandable manner. I took Bibliographic Instruction in Library School, which wasn’t the greatest course, but did provide some tips. I’ve also picked up some neat tricks from people, such as Iris’ Subversive Handouts. (Actually, while you’re there, check out all of Iris’ teaching posts – she has some great stuff there.) I’ve also developed some nifty ones of my own, such as using a wiki in lieu of a handout and/or powerpoint presentation.
So, for the most part, I’ve got bibliographic instruction down. (Although I know there’s always room for improvement. ) However, I don’t just do basic bibliographic instruction. Like many other law librarians, I teach a substantive, for credit course on Legal Research to 1Ls. This is where I start to wonder if I’m providing the most effective instruction possible.
I took many classes in my JD and MLS coursework. (MANY classes.) Not a single one of them was on learning theory, assessment or curriculum development. Granted, not many other professors around campus have taken these types of courses either, but I’m not trying to completely change all of higher education. I would just be content to know I’m doing the best I can in my classroom.
- Are stand alone research courses better or should the research curriculum be blended with a writing one?
- Should it be done when students first enter law school? Before they start? At the end of their third year? (All suggestions I have heard.)
- What is the best way to test research skills – Exam? Practicum? A series of homework assignments? Combined with a written work product such as a brief?
- Is it a terrible thing to ban laptops in classrooms? (I did…accidentally…this year. It seemed to make for a more engaged classroom and not a single student complained about it in their evaluations. I’m very inclined to continue this practice in the future.)
- What’s the best way to present a print resource (assuming you don’t have 20 copies of the Index to the USCA to hand out)? Copies of relevant pages? Scans and power points? Hope they see it when they do their homework?
- When do you incorporate electronic resources – right from the beginning or give them limited Wexis access until second semester? And, for that matter, who teaches Wexis…librarians or reps?
I have no answers to these questions. (Although I wouldn’t mind hearing your opinion on them if you have one.) I have decided that I’m going to take some education school courses, if possible, in the near future and try to get some actual theory to chew on in addition to my trial and error. And I’m spending all day tomorrow in an assessment training session sponsored by MPOW. If you know a good “how to teach legal research” resource this younger librarian can utilize, I would be very much interested in hearing about that too.
Note: In case you’re wondering, that picture is of Christopher Columbus Langdell, creator of the case law method of teaching law.