Let’s Talk About Teaching
By Meg Butler
There is a value to saying things out loud. Talking and reflecting on experiences can make them more memorable or meaningful—many people make sense of their experiences through talking or writing about them. I am not afraid to say that I love legal research and teaching legal research. On evaluations, my students regularly say that my enthusiasm “helps,” given the material we are covering.
In my library, we talk about teaching a few times a year. The teaching librarians share a common class—a required first-year one-credit course. In the past, we discussed our course readings; this year we identified a textbook to require. We share information about innovative or just plain different things we are planning on doing in the classroom. We also talk about how these things have worked for us. How much do the students like clickers? A lot. How much do they like being cold-called? Not much.
I find these conversations interesting and inspiring. Hearing from others exactly how popular the clickers are, I tried using them last fall—and they were a huge hit. These conversations have helped us identify when an assignment has reached the end of its useful life—too many people seem to have too many friends who have told them what to expect.
At the Southeastern Chapter American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting, Carol Watson and I were catching up and we hit upon a new idea for us: Why not invite all the teaching law librarians in the Georgia law schools to come to Georgia State University to spend a day talking about teaching? We congratulated each other on the idea, set a date, invited our teaching colleagues, and planned a day of it!
We cast a broad net in our efforts to develop an agenda—folks from each of the libraries were invited to contribute questions, concerns, and topics for our discussion. Carol Watson did an excellent job of organizing an agenda that had us considering course content and format, student engagement and assessment, and real life experience. People shared copies of their syllabi and some other assignments as well.
Through our conversation, we identified areas of common ground—which online research systems we were planning on focusing on next year, how much (or little) we planned to teach print research resources. We also identified areas that we thought might be interesting to add, particularly in an advanced legal research course: research management software, practice management tools, and practical technology skills, such as how to compare versions of a document.
The costs for our teaching workshop were minimal—and largely shared. Each participant brought his or her main course for lunch, and each school participating brought complementary items: chips, drinks, fruit, dessert. The sopapilla cheesecake was outstanding—even people who don’t like cheesecake were talking about how yummy it was.
If you are not already in the habit of talking about teaching with your colleagues, I recommend you develop the habit. You can talk with colleagues at your own law school, and you can talk with others—from the same state and beyond.
If you want to practice talking to yourself about teaching, in preparation for your course’s next offering or to remind yourself of things you would like to share in conversations with your colleagues, you can try to keep a teaching journal. I have heard positive things about them and intend to keep one in the fall so I can do a better job reflecting on the teaching strategies that work and that could use improvement.
Have you kept a teaching journal? Had a great conversation with your colleagues about teaching? Used or contributed teaching materials to the RIPS National Legal Research Teach-In Kkit? Please share your thoughts about ways we can leverage our law librarian community to improve our teaching skills and practices.