FCIL Librarians: Thoughts on Research Instruction

By C. Deane

Web Usability: Don’t Make Me Think

When I was an online student working on my MLIS one of the things that most troubled me was how poorly organized the course pages were on Blackboard. Now that I teach my own course in Advanced Legal Research, I appreciate two things. The eye for Web usability that I have that helps me to develop a course website that becomes more usable with every new incarnation and the time that I have available during work hours to spend on this task. To really do a great job in preparing an online course page I think one needs a lot of time, or a couple of clever research assistants, preferably with a background in design or information technology. You also need to be ready to adapt the material to the needs of your users. They key is user-centered design,which requires a willingness to walk away from prototypes that do not work and user testing. I like to use the user testing ideas provided by a company called IDEO in their IDEO Cards.

Empowering Adult Learners

Another thing that struck me when I was a student is that professors often did not provide information in the way that was easiest for me to understand. Additionally, rather than testing on the concepts you should be learning, they tested on whether or not you read every line of text. I think this is patronizing and unnecessary. What should be tested is whether or not the student has mastered the learning objectives for that week of class.

Learning Objectives

In order to help students focus on the learning objections or concepts I have to do two things. First, I have to share the learning objectives with the students so that they can participate in their own learning experience fully cognizant of what it is they should be learning. The second thing I have to do is provide my students with information in multiple formats so that they can select, based on their own understanding of how they learn, which kinds of materials they want to use to master that week’s learning objective.

Catering to different learning styles

I have chosen to provide my students with video tutorials, interactive online tutorials, and written materials. Since some people prefer to read a book, there is an optional legal research textbook and I provide the page number range where they can find the relevant supporting information for that week’s homework. Each format covers the same concepts and the students may choose which format to use. In addition, the legal research exercise texts that I have chosen explain step by step how to conduct the research. My intention is that they try a few exercises in class and then try a few more exercises at home with the tutorials and written material available to support their just-in-time learning needs. When they return to class they first correct their homework together and then attempt in groups to do a more complex version of the same type of questions that they did for homework. For a course in International Law, I recommend the International Legal Research casebook by Mary Rumsey and Marci Hoffman.

LibGuides: Best Practices

Although I am discussing using a platform such as TWEN or Blackboard to provide targeted resources for students to learn particular concepts, this is the same type of thing that can be done with a platform such as LibGuides. The difference here is that with TWEN, you are taking the research guides to their territory. The students are already used to using these course pages for their classwork, and it is not a big stretch for them to access the tutorials and other materials available to them for their homework. They can go to the calendar, click on the link for their homework for that week, and begin working on their assignments. If they hit a snag, they can check to see if any of the available tutorials on that topic will help them.

Flipping the Classroom

In order to give them the most time for working on exercises in groups under my guidance, I can record any lecturing I need to do and post it online so that they can view it before class and review it as needed. This saves our precious class time for group work.

Video Tutorials

To create a tutorial, all you really need is Jing, Camtasia or any other video creation software, a quiet place and a good mic. When I can find a good tutorial already created online by someone else, I embed or link to that rather than spending the time to create a new one. I feel that my time is better spent filling in the gaps rather than reinventing the wheel. In the case of International and Foreign legal research, there are few if any freely available video tutorials, which means that I may need to create new video tutorials to embed in our research guides. I could also share these with other FCIL librarians who may want to use them in their classrooms.

Conclusion

I strongly believe that the future of FCIL librarianship looks like this:

  • Close collaboration with FCIL librarians at other institutions
  • Research instruction provided in real-time in hands-on workshops and
  • Research instruction provided asynchronously in Web-based just-in-time tutorials in multiple formats to meet the needs of students with different learning styles
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