A.B.A. Standard 302 or How I learned to stop worrying and love outcomes-based assessment

The A.B.A.’s new version of Standard 302 requires law schools to identify specific learning outcomes that students should be able to demonstrate upon graduation. This is part of the A.B.A.’s turn towards emphasizing legal skills in an attempt to promote more “practice-ready” law graduates. The ability to conduct legal research is explicitly listed as a required learning outcome by Standard 302(b). While the fact that students will need to be able to conduct legal research in order to practice law shocks precisely no one in legal academia, law schools will now need to account for this outcome by “mapping” it to particular courses and then assessing how students actually perform. As highlighted earlier on this blog, librarians are well positioned to play a valuable role in the turn to “practice-ready” outcomes.

The A.B.A. did not invent the concept of learning-outcomes-based education, which has been around for a while, but anytime an accrediting body mandates specific assessment methods, at least a little bit of trepidation awakens in the minds of educators. (If you don’t believe me, try googling “teaching to the test.”) This may be particularly true for librarians, because we tend to value things like order and continuity and tend to react suspiciously to rapid change. Indeed, when my Library Director and my Legal Writing Director cornered me and told me to organize the development of an outcomes-based rubric for the 1L course, my first reaction was an internal cringe. However, having now used an outcomes-based rubric for a major assignment, I actually highly recommend it.

I suspect the vast majority of librarians already use outcomes-based education, consciously or otherwise. Research is a vast subject, and we get precious little time with 1Ls. Thus, we are forced to pick and choose what we want our students to learn, which is the question at the heart of outcomes-based education. Also, librarians tend to be very structured as educators; many of us probably provide our students with learning objectives for particular lessons, another key feature of outcomes-based education.

I would also urge that mandated skills-focused outcomes for law schools are good for skills professors. Beyond legal research itself, research courses also advance other mandated outcomes such as legal analysis and problem-solving. To benefit fully from the A.B.A. standard, however, we will need to demonstrate that our students actually learn the outcomes we desire. Thus, using outcomes-based assessment will allow us to capitalize on methods we already use.

Finally, though I was worried that outcomes-based assessment would make grading more difficult, I found it actually made grading both easier and more precise than the grading I had done with my former rubrics. The reason for this, I think, is that the grading is based more closely on what the students do instead of on how well the students conform to the results of what I have already done. Furthermore, my students probably received more valuable feedback under the outcomes-based rubric than previous students received under an objective results-based rubric.

In conclusion, just because something is being thrust upon us by an outside force doesn’t mean that it has no merit in its own right, as I found when adopting outcomes-based assessment.

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How creative is your legal research instruction?

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a law librarian colleague who is developing a new class. It is similar in scope to a class I have taught several times, and I was glad to forward my lectures, homework assignments and other miscellaneous documents.  As I was reviewing the materials, I found everything to be very traditional, and to me, with two years of hindsight since I last taught the class, rather stale.  It prompted me to re-evaluate how I will address this material in the future and made me wonder how creative I am with my legal research instruction.

I have tended to be old-fashioned with my instructional methods.  This often includes lectures, in-class demonstrations, scavenger hunt style homework assignments, and research guide final assignments.  The material is getting across but maybe not in the most exciting of ways.  Whenever I read anything on legal research instruction, it shows there are so many librarians out there doing great and creative things.  Topics of particular interest have included achievement awards and the concept of storytellingContinue reading

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Developing Community in an Online Learning Environment

My school is preparing to welcome its first hybrid J.D. cohort this January, when the students will be on campus for a full-to-bursting “Preparation Week.” As we figure out the best way to disseminate important information to our students before they arrive, I have been immersed in the question of how to create communities for online students. During Prep Week, hybrid students will undergo an intense, immersive, and incredibly busy week of law school education more akin to a non-stop, 40+ hour mediation certification course than the very first week of law school. Thus, they need to be able to hit the ground running as soon as they arrive in a way our more typical 1Ls do not. We will have no time to walk these students through signing up for Wexis, to make sure their email and network passwords are synced, to introduce them to the financial aid office, etc. Continue reading

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Keeping tabs on your virtual resume

RIPs blog post snip

My smartphone is beeping and chirping every few moments. My laptop and iPad are engaging in inappropriate behavior. More importantly my online research and scholarship pages (IUPUI ScholarWorks, SSRN) and professional sites (Faculty Bio, LinkedIn) are out of date! Teaching, professional travel, conference presentations, and publishing obligations in the last few months led me to accept every app upgrade, ignore notices of changes to platforms, download program upgrades without pre-screening, and simply select click here when instructed to do. In short, I’ve been an absentee owner of my virtual existence during the last few months.

In an act of desperation, I set aside a morning to wrangle my electronic life back in order, or at least back to a state of controlled chaos. I decided to first tackle updating the online posting of my research and scholarship. All it took was 2.5 hours and the closing of my mind to the oddity that all those cut-and-paste clicks were simply duplicating the same information in a variety of venues. When it was done, I was singularly unsatisfied.  LinkedIn required that I truncate or arbitrarily arrange the content to prevent bumping up against character limits; SSRN rejected my AALL Spectrum editorial writing and recent book reviews for lack of “research;” and IUPUI ScholarWorks may not be the best place to preserve my blog posts.

Putting off the planned tech audit of the rest of my virtual life, I went in search of a better solution for managing and preserving online my research and scholarship. Here are a few of the options I explored.

figshare. This repository allows researchers to share figures, datasets, media (including video), papers (including pre-prints), posters, and filesets. Once uploaded, the content is available for use by others under the most liberal Creative Commons license.  figshare is also seeding the repository with open access publications. Similar to other repositories, it is easy to create an account, upload, and/or claim any materials that may already be in the repository.

Google Scholar. Clicking the “My Citations” link (located at the top center of the page) opens a profile automatically created by Google.  Although not very attractive, you could easily use this page to keep track of your publications. It is easy to claim and customize your profile (i.e., add a professional photograph and current employer). It is also easy to delete items so it isn’t all that troublesome that Google picks up a wide variety of content. For example, my list of publications included committee minutes and materials that I authored. Your portfolio may also include duplicate entries for the same publication if you maintain pages in both SSRN and a personal or university repository.

Citations are counted and linked, which is always helpful. My serendipitous find was a book review that I had written and submitted some time ago showing up as a November 2014 publication!  I quickly backtracked and uploaded it to LinkedIn, SSRN, ScholarWorks, and my faculty page.

You can easily add publications that have not been automatically pulled to your page. It is interesting to see the timing of when publications are pulled in by Google Scholar. I plan to watch the page for awhile to better understand how to better code my work to enable Google to identify and pull it to my site. Click here if you are curious to see my in-progress site.

ImpactStory.org A site dedicated to measuring the impact of your research, ImpactStory discovers and shares how your research is “read, cited, tweeted, bookmarked, and more.” There is a 30-day free trial and on-going annual fee of $60. You can link directly to your Google Scholar account and other repository pages to upload articles, datasets, posters, presentations, and other research. I’ve created a free 30-day account to see if my ImpactStory page picks up data that differs from my Google Scholar page.

ORCID.  The “My Citations” option on Google Scholar revealed another author named “Catherine Lemmer.” I find it ironic that she lives and works in Pretoria, South Africa, a short drive from Johannesburg. It would have been fun to meet her when I was in South Africa last year. As a result of finding my digital doppelganger, I investigated an Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID). ORCID’s goal is to prevent name ambiguity through the use of a central registry of unique identifiers.  My ORCID is 0000-0003-3296-6603. Although it takes just a few clicks to create a profile, you still have to key (cut & paste) in all your information (biography, education, and scholarship). I liked the interface and how easy it was to upload the information so I am going to put all my information in over time because it seems to be the most likely option for a universally accepted site that might cross-pollinate with other sites in the future.

PublicationsList.org.  How can one resist a site that describes itself as follows: “PublicationsList.org exists to let researchers and research organizations maintain a reliable web-based record of their academic output without any fuss.” This repository site serves as a free hosting site for individuals; it supports links to standard bibliographic sites and provides host space for full text versions of papers.  See the sample site created by Publicationslist.org.

SSRN. The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a great place to house PDFs of your publications. Both abstract views and downloads statistics are tracked. You may upload any materials to the database. The content managers will associate all publications with your account for display on your author page, but what they deem “non-research work” will not display in subject or author search results. See comment above regarding book reviews and AALL Spectrum editorial essays.

WordPress. Free and easy to use, WordPress is my go-to option. It offers any number of visually appealing templates, and even the free options can be customized a bit.  Many of the templates also offer a static (non-blog) home page option. It took me a matter of minutes to paste a static resume into the pages. I plan to fully develop the site (spend the time adding links for all my presentations and publications) because the WordPress site gives me the flexibility to add Work in Progress, Teaching, and Service information. I can easily update to a low-cost option if any unwanted advertisements become problematic. For a fully developed site, see the WordPress site of my colleague Ben Keele.

Perma.cc. I created a Perma account. Perma.cc is a service that allows users to create stable citation links. When a user creates a Perma link, Perma.cc archives a copy of the referenced content, and generates a link to an unalterable hosted instance of the site. The archived version will always be available through the Perma.cc link. I plan to use Perma to archive all the blog posts and other digital native content that is part of my portfolio.

I briefly looked at Microsoft’s beta project, Microsoft Academic Search. The lack of a “law” discipline discouraged me from exploring it too deeply.

It was an interesting exercise to explore the various options. The planning challenge going forward is to decide which link will control. If you use more than one depository or site, you may dilute your downloads and page views. I plan to use, whenever possible, the SSRN url across the various platforms. In the end, it is your individual online resume, and you need to find the one option that works best for you.

I plan to use those few halcyon days between Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays to complete the WordPress and ORCID sites and Perma work. In the coming weeks, I also hope to find another bit of time to complete a tech audit on the rest of my virtual life:  Facebook, email, Flickr, and Instagram privacy settings, site stored credit card information, and password control. I can hardly wait!

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Law Library Involvement in Law School Incubators

In recent years, many law schools have started incubator programs to help graduates transition to practice. According to the ABA, the City University of New York started the first incubator program over 10 years ago, and incubator programs have really started to pop up since 2012. Currently, there are around 30 programs nationwide.

The Akron Legal News recently reported on Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s new incubator program. See Sherry Karabin, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law helps graduates transition to solo practice, Akron Legal News (Aug. 1, 2014). Like other institutions, Cleveland-Marshall decided to create an incubator Continue reading

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Preparing Research Ready Law Graduates

The American legal landscape is transforming, a process in large part precipitated by the national economic downturn that began unfolding in 2007. The American Bar Association, law schools, and other legal institutions are desperately trying to respond to this transformation, all in an effort to make sure the legal educational system continues to  prepare students for a shifting job market. One substantial change being addressed is the demand for “practice ready” graduates who are prepared to handle real-world legal transactions right out of the gate instead of needing extensive on-the-job training during their associate years. This “practice ready” push has created an exceptional opportunity for law librarians to address the disconnect between the skills needed to conduct research for legal practice and the skills currently taught in law schools.

At many law schools, librarians teach the first-year legal research class, advanced legal research courses, or both. Even at institutions where this is not the case, librarians provide students with research and reference services through class presentations, one-on-one Continue reading

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

We Met in the Middle: A Review of ORALL’s Annual Meeting

orall-meeting-logoThough a faithful attendee at AALL’s Annual Meeting each summer, I had not immersed myself in the regional associations. So I was pleased to attend the Annual Meeting of the Ohio Regional Association of Law Libraries this month to experience programming and networking opportunities at a more local level. This year’s ORALL Annual Meeting was held in Columbus, Ohio, October 15-17, and attendees were privileged to attend programming and events at the Ohio Statehouse and the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center (home of the Ohio Supreme Court), both striking locations.

Day One

The opening dinner reception at the Statehouse featured the Honorable Charles Schneider of the Franklin County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas. A long-time friend to county law libraries, Judge Schneider sits on the board of the Consortium of Ohio County Law Libraries. He spoke of the history of this consortium and the current endeavors and achievements of the Ohio county law libraries. Continue reading

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