Powerpoints, Screenshots and Legal Research Training as a Team

This has been a really busy semester already and we are only four weeks in. I have been in charge of contacting the faculty, offering research training in the Legal Writing and Upper Level Writing Requirement Courses and then scheduling our staff of three full-time public services librarians (including me) and 1 part-time reference librarian to cover the training. Even our Interim Library Director pitches in when he is needed to give library tours or teach online legal research.

I have also been creating a lot of new training material and creating and updating research guides to go along with the training material. In addition, this semester I am teaching a section of Advanced Legal Research for the second time. There is so much to do that I have found that I need to compromise somewhere.

Although I know that PowerPoints are a distraction from the person speaking and that we should have only a few slides in each presentation, I have found that in practice, our PowerPoint presentations often become default research guides for the students. This is in part because we mostly only get one shot in front of the class, and the students cannot really absorb all of the information we give them in one session. We provide them with the slides so that they can review what we taught them. This means that the slides have to be detailed enough that students can understand them and get value out of them after the in-class presentation.

In an ideal world, we would have a slick presentation with just a few slides and then a Research Guide Handout. But in practice, there are several reasons why we instead end up with over a hundred slides for a one-hour presentation. First, with such a small staff, we really only have time to prepare one document. Second, we do not have much time to rehearse, so we need the one document to remind the presenter of the topic to be covered. Third, there are several different librarians, and we are trying to provide the same or similar experience to different groups of students; so we need a standard presentation that can be shared and used by us all.

So for the time being, complex, lengthy slide presentations are at the heart of our legal research training offerings. For my own ALR class though, I am moving away from PowerPoint slides. With only eight students in my class, it is easy for me to keep track of what they are and are not learning based on their Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) lesson scores and on the weekly questions on the readings. So I have begun to use fewer PowerPoint slides for my ALR class.

The PowerPoints emphasize the things that I know they have not learned from the readings, because I can see it in their homework. The PowerPoints also outline the flow of the class. Most of the remaining classes, however, are going to be largely a matter of walking the students through research questions, so the PowerPoint presentations get shorter and shorter the more familiar I am with what I want to cover.

Last semester, the students each wrote a reflective essay based on one week of readings. This semester, we are trying something new. The students are coming up with research checklists for using different types of legal information sources. So far, students, in groups of 2-3, have come up with research checklists for using practice guides and legal encyclopedias both in print and online. Then they did a group presentation to show the class how to answer three questions using print books and using Lexis and Westlaw.

What I have noticed is that it is much easier to demonstrate live than to demonstrate using screen shots. Although screen shots are useful for situations where a live demonstration is not possible, live demonstrations are much easier to follow.

This is a useful piece of information, and it has led me to change my strategy with regard to creating presentations for other legal research training. A recent presentation I created to help students avoid plagiarism is an example of my compromise between live training and PowerPoint slides. Instead of scripting the whole presentation on the slides, I provided a few illustrative slides and the presentation contains hidden slides that allow the presenter to know when to stop the presentation and do a demonstration.

At the request of the Interim Director, I have also added in the plagiarism hypotheticals to the slides, so the students can view the source document and the sample student work side by side. The students will use these hypotheticals to practice identifying incorrect paraphrasing and other problematic writing behaviors. I provided links in the presentation to the documents I drew on for the hypotheticals. I also provided the students with hardcopies of the two full documents with plagiarism hypotheticals.

Each librarian uses this same presentation, but the presentation is not 100 slides long, and the links to the handouts are on the presentation. When it’s time to demo the use of the online plagiarism checker, we stop the presentation and do a live demonstration. If there are any problems with internet connectivity, at least the students have the link on the slide so they can find the appropriate plagiarism checker and the sign up process is intuitive enough that even without the demonstration, they still should be able to use it, once they are alerted to its existence and value.

How do you manage time at work? Where do you cut corners to give yourself more time for something else? Do you have any presentation tips?

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About Catherine "Deane" Deane

Catherine Deane is the full-time Reference Librarian at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library. She performs in depth research for the faculty in support of their scholarship, and assists students with their legal research. She will be teaching the Advanced Legal Research course beginning in Fall 2011. She is also responsible for developing topical legal research guides for the TJSL community. She has created eight research guides since arriving at TJSL in November 2010, and has updated several more. She is also a regular contributor to ThomChat, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library Blog. Catherine Deane spent two years working closely with Vincent Moyer, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Librarian at the University of California, Hastings School of Law, where she created and curated ten research guides on varying topics in U.S., foreign, and international law. With Mr. Moyer, she published two book reviews and a foreign law research guide on the Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (her home country). Prior to working at UC Hastings, she spent a year and a half doing contract work at an international law firm in downtown Los Angeles and she spent a year teaching academic writing at the University of California, San Diego. She has a J.D. with a Certificate in comparative and international law, which she acquired while studying abroad in Ireland, England and Belgium. She also has an M.L.I.S., an M.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology, and a B.A. from Princeton University in Cultural Anthropology with a Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests include Native American Legal Issues, Domestic Violence, and Legal Information Literacy.
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One Response to Powerpoints, Screenshots and Legal Research Training as a Team

  1. Pingback: Saturday Evening Posts | jkbeitz

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