With our first year instruction I have noticed that many students have a difficult time navigating
web pages and interfaces on their own. They seem reticent to look around on the page or to think through the research process. Part of this comes from a lack of understanding about legal publishing and documents. They don’t know yet what it is they should be looking for or how these items may work together. Many of them just want to know “which button do I click next.” Having been in their shoes not that long ago, I understand this impulse. They are overwhelmed with their course work, they have briefs to write, and they just want to know what to click next and have little patience for learning the big picture. I don’t think it is that they are not interested in learning the bigger picture altogether, they are just so nervous about getting through the next task that they become very focused on the immediate how to rather than the why.
For example, this past week I taught a Shepard’s/ KeyCite training. We were looking at a Supreme Court case originating from the 10th Circuit, and they were supposed to find a case from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decisions citing the Supreme Court case. Even though I had walked them through the process and explained the difference between the prior and subsequent history and the actual citing references or cases, inevitably they would try to find the 2nd Circuit case by looking at the case history and not the citing decisions. It was frustrating, because in Shepard’s, if you scroll down a few more inches, the “Citing Decisions” section begins and the 2nd Circuit case was one of the first mentioned. It was also frustrating in that they did not seem to consider that if our Supreme Court case originated from the Western District of Oklahoma, which is in the 10th Circuit, a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decisions was probably not going to be found in the case history. I spent much of the class going from computer to computer showing students what to click next. And for these students, I worried the bigger picture was being lost. ( I should note that there were many students who were not struggling and actually thinking through the process)
Yesterday, when talking to my boss (the awesome Katie Brown) about our recent first year student citator training, she reminded me of the pitfalls of basic point and click instruction. Interfaces change and students need to not only understand the “clicking process” but the mental process involved in doing legal research. She pointed out that it is always important to remind students that as the tools and interfaces change, the basic principles generally do not. If students become too dependent on where the buttons are rather than what they mean then they lose out on the bigger picture and have an even harder time navigating things on their own once they graduate. This is something that I discussed in my training session, but I too became a little absorbed in showing students what buttons to click next, rather than reiterating or stressing the mental process involved in deciding where to search next. It is a difficult balance to strike when working with students who just want to know what the answer is so they can move on to their next task or reading assignment. As an instructor, I am still working on striking this balance of meeting the student’s perceived immediate need and their long term legal research skills and competency needs. Do you struggle with this in your instruction? How do you balance the two?