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Online Legal Research Instruction – Is It The Wave Of The Future?

November 15, 2013

In keeping with the theme of the evolving role of the law librarian, it may be time for law librarians to start thinking about online legal research instruction.

Currently, Standard 306 of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools allows for no more than a total of 12 credit hours in online or distance education toward the J.D. degree for courses qualifying under the Standard.

However, with the news that law schools are starting to dabble in online LL.M. degree programs (sub. req’d) and with the advent of the Massive Open Online Course or MOOC, there may be a time in the very near future when librarians might see themselves integrated in an online class.

After a survey of the literature on topic, the following is a list of initial considerations that a law librarian should undertake when performing online instruction:

  • Collaborating with faculty
  • The course management system (CMS) – Blackboard or TWEN, for example
  • Working with a learning designer
  • Delivery of tutorials, videos, guides, and webinars
  • Linking to library material
  • Facilitating discussion

Generally, libraries want services for distance learners to be equivalent to those provided for students and faculty on campus. It’s important to continue to increase student awareness of library resources and services. And librarians embedded in online classes keep the library visible and increase student comfort with the library.

But online classes present challenges that traditional on campus interactions do not. Hoffman & Ramin note that librarians must become involved in online education at the course level, or they risk being bypassed by the CMS technology and also risk losing relevance with students and faculty. Therefore, it is important for librarians to collaborate with faculty about their role in the class early in the planning stage.

In addition to collaborating with the faculty, a librarian may want to discuss their instruction methods with a learning designer. Learning designers are professionals charged with creating a seamless online learning experience, and if your institution is lucky enough to employ learning designers, they are a great resource that should not be overlooked.

Most of us can agree that student instruction is well received when a librarian instructs on the research topic assigned to the class. The students are engaged when they are learning about a pressing issue. This means that the librarian can do things like create videos, guides, or webinars specific to the issue. And the online students can watch the instruction live or asynchronous. There are various tools for creating online content, and I particularly like Adobe Captivate for videos and WebX for webinars.

The librarian can also create a research guide for the class that links to the various library materials on point. One of the key recommendations is to create a library-specific discussion board to answer questions regarding research issues. The discussion board facilitates discussion between all of the students and the librarian. It is helpful if students post their questions to the discussion board because all of the other students in the online class can see the question and answer thread as well.

As an alumnae of an online M.L.I.S. degree program, I can see the potential for law librarians to really integrate into the online learning experience. If you are aware of online or distance programming at your institution that could benefit from a librarian presence, please speak up and advocate for librarian involvement.

For further reading reading, please see the following:

Starr Hoffman & Lilly Ramin, Best Practices for Librarians Embedded in Online Courses, UNT Digital Library (2010).

Victoria Matthew & Ann Schroeder, The Embedded Librarian Program, Educause Quarterly (2006).

Julie Cornett & Lisa Fuller, Embedded Librarian: Fostering Research Skills in Online Classes, ITC Newsletter (2013). 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2013 1:49 pm

    Great article. Thank you!

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