A new year and new methods of instruction

This time of year is my favorite in the law library.  Whereas January 1st marks the beginning of a new year for many people, August 1st marks my new year. This is the time of year when, after a slow summer of brainstorming and planning, new projects comes to fruition, new students arrive, new employees settle in, AALL committees and sections see new leadership, and with all of these new faces and projects come new opportunities for growth and development.  It’s a hectic time, but it’s fun and invigorating. And after one full year of being a law librarian, I have the very new experience of having experience.

With this new-year our library has expanded its offerings and redesigned several programs. We started providing more direct outreach to the clinics, revised and expanded our role with the Legal Research and Writing Courses, and are going into our second semester of offering legal research certificate classes.  I am most excited about our new approach to LRW instruction. In the past we were invited into some, but not all, of the LRW classes for a few class periods.  The classes were often combined and we would find ourselves in front of 50-60 students at a time covering case law research, administrative law research, statutes, and other introductory topics.  While we enjoyed the opportunity to present to these classes, all of the librarians felt that there had to be a better way to instruct.

We wanted the students to be more engaged in the topics by encouraging active inquiry and participation in the class rather than the passive learning that sometimes occurs in large lecture sessions. We also wanted some means of assessment for our own records and class development.  Over the summer we proposed a new course of action to the LRW faculty. Instead of coming to their classes, we would offer training sessions in the library. The training sessions would be limited to 16 students per session.  In the fall semester we would provide the following 50 minute trainings: 1) Secondary Sources +library tour 2) Researching Statutes 3) Researching Case Law, and  4) Citators.  One topic would be covered per week running through the month of September. Included in each session would be a quiz, interactive assignment, or poll questions. Training would take place outside of the normal LRW class time, so professors would not lose any time with their students. The LRW faculty accepted our proposal, and all of them are participating.

For each topic, we have scheduled 13 sessions that students signed up for via TWEN. The sessions are scheduled around the other 1L classes.  Though we planned to cover one topic per week, in order to accommodate the various LRW faculty syllabi some of the sessions are broken up over several weeks.  Needless to say, scheduling as been one of the most difficult aspects of implementing this program. We also had to accept that other projects and responsibilities may have to wait during the month of September.  With the smaller class sizes, we are able to incorporate more opportunities for student participation. One of the tools we are using is an online based Audience Response System, LiveClass tech, which functions as a web based clicker system without the hardware to keep track of and its associated costs. (More to come on this tool in future blog postings).

While this approach to LRW is not practical in many academic law libraries, the basic instructional concepts are useful in any type of library offering instruction, whether it is to the public, new associates, long-time practitioners, or students. With smaller classes and opportunities to interact students become an active part of the learning process and tend to retain more.  In smaller settings students also tend to feel more comfortable asking questions and participating. As the year progresses I will update you on the outcome of our new LRW structure and if it we are correct in our assumptions about instruction.

What is new in your library this “year?”

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3 Responses to A new year and new methods of instruction

  1. Renee Rastorfer says:

    That was really interesting – thanks for sharing your new approach and I look forward to hearing how it goes!

  2. Helen Frazer says:

    This seems like a very good way to help students learn legal research. Are these students required to attend the classes by some means other than motivation to learn?

  3. Great post! What other tools are you using?

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