How do I Teach a 1-credit pass/fail Transnational Legal Research Class in 7 Weeks?

Initial Questions

  1. To which students should I market the course?
  2. How do I maintain positive morale in the classroom while affording them the opportunity to learn as much as possible?
  3. What and how much should I cover?
  4. How should I present it?
  5. How can I evaluate the students?
  6. How can I evaluate the success of my teaching methods?

Strategic instructional tactics

  1. Market the course to students who have a specific goals.
  2. a. Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law staff members (Law Review)
    b. Jessup Moot Court Team (Jessup).

  3. Build mutual trust and foster student autonomy
  4. a. Provide students with the necessary information to choose learning objectives that support their goals.
    b. Demonstrate research and instructional expertise
    c. Provide accessible guidance

  5. Focus on measureable skills – AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards for Law Student Information Literacy.
  6. Competency building activities should be scheduled based on specific criterion.
  7. a. Class-time

      i. Active collaborative learning.
      ii. Shared-goal Competencies.
      iii. Analytical skills.

    b. Pre-class preparation

      i. Self-directed learning
      ii. Goal-specific competencies
      iii. Mechanical, process-based skills.
  8. Evaluate skill acquisition.
  9. Monitor student progress closely by evaluating frequently and be prepared to adapt the course material to student needs and to respectfully offer individual help before things get out of control.

1. Audience: Jessup & Law Journal students

Their research involves

  • close examination of a legal argument, and/or
  • analysis of law and policy.

My students are highly intelligent, educated, motivated, and extremely busy. Although they have varying levels of legal research competence, whatever they can conceive of, they can achieve.

2. Morale: Mutual Trust & Student Autonomy

With guidance, my students can discern

  • what they need to know now,
  • how much time they have available to learn what they need to know now,
  • which of the suggested activities will provide them with their desired learning outcomes,
  • what they can teach themselves later when they need it,
  • how to find websites, books and people who can help them learn what they need to know when they actually do need to know it.

2a. Student Goals and Unknown Unknowns

To figure out what they need to know now, they need to understand

  • what competencies they need to achieve their goals
  • and which needed competencies they do not have.

Goal-specific entrance quizzes provide students with opportunities to methodically engage in tasks that test identified competencies. If they use the proper techniques, as described in the provided answers, to accomplish the tasks, it is an indicator that they have mastered that competency. This should raise their self-awareness with regard to which desired competencies they lack.

When doing work, the more autonomy people have, the higher the morale (See Devasheesh Bhave et al.). These entrance quizzes provide the students with the necessary information to successfully have autonomous control over what they choose to learn.

2b. Approachable Librarian

Students are encouraged to contact me for clarification and further instruction if they are unable to successfully master a desired competency after participation in the relevant learning activities. Students who are unable to successfully complete part of the overarching assignment are entitled to be coached until their work product demonstrates their mastery of the desired competencies.

2c. Librarian as Expert

Trust may be earned by demonstrating my expertise in the development of polished learning materials that make appropriate use of available technology. Learning activities that teach students the relevant competencies for completing assignments and logically sequenced, thoughtfully designed activities, such as, an overarching assignment that builds on the research results of smaller assignments, inspire student respect.

I want students to leave this class with

  • the firm belief that law librarians are experts
  • and with the skills and confidence to politely and effectively approach experts for help as needed.

3. Course Coverage

Given this course’s brevity, the students’ 2 goals and students’ varying types and degrees of skills. My intentions for this course are modest and fluid. Students should acquire:

  1. awareness of AALL Legal Research Competencies and Standards for Law Student Information Literacy,
  2. knowledge of how to obtain research help when they need it,
  3. and sufficient mastery of some legal research competencies, to successfully apply them to the analysis of transnational legal problems in pursuit of their goals.

4. Strategic Scheduling of Learning Activities

Low hanging fruit” competencies are relegated to pre-class preparation because they can be mastered through online tutorials. In-class work builds on the pre-class preparation and entails collaborative, creative and analytical activities such as simulation scenarios.

4a. Pre-Class Preparation

Examples of Standard Mechanical Research Process Competencies

Related Learning Objectives

“Documents research strategies”

Able to create and use a research log and keep track of citations to information

“Considers the full range of potential sources of information, regardless of type or format”

“Selects appropriate research sources”

Able to identify, find and use free and subscription databases containing foreign and international legal material


4b. In-Class Activities

Examples of Creative & Analytic Research Process Competencies

  • “Modifies initial research strategies as necessary”
  • “Synthesizes research problems in an analytical approach to legal research”
  • “Applies and integrates research into a persuasive document”

5. Evaluating Students

Mandatory weekly quizzes, and the brief research assignments with cumulative effect, provide opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of competencies. Although students select particular competencies for study, they are tested on all so they may discover and demonstrate both intentional and incidental mastery of competencies.

6. Evaluating the Course

Unsuccessful completion of an activity or weekly quiz question will not count against students, however, it does provide some evidence that the instructional activities provided were inadequate. There are some ways to track whether or not students completed assigned learning activities (eg. CALI quizzes using lesson link) but did not acquire the expected skills.

Concluding Thoughts

I expect Jessup and Transnational Law Journal students to take this course. Fostering a team environment with high student autonomy and frequent but low-pressure evaluation of skill acquisition should boost morale whilst enabling me to keep track of their learning progress. Both the routine mechanical and creative analytical aspects of legal research will be covered. The former by online homework materials, the latter by in-class simulated scenarios. Quizzes and homework assignments are designed to afford students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of legal research competencies and they are only responsible for the competencies that they select. My teaching methods and course materials will be considered successful if students are able to demonstrate mastery of their chosen competencies.

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.
This entry was posted in Foreign & International Research, Legal Education Standards, Legal Research Instruction, Transnational Legal Research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How do I Teach a 1-credit pass/fail Transnational Legal Research Class in 7 Weeks?

  1. Sergio Stone says:

    Drexel Law Review symposium on teaching international and transnational law should be published soon.

    • Thanks, Sergio. Based on the overview that you linked to, they focused largely on training students how to think about the big picture or at least to learn to view legal problems using more than one cultural, national and sociopolitical paradigm. I am looking forward to acquiring the related documents because I think it would be useful to support an approach to Transnational Legal Research that raises student awareness about strategically seeking the kinds of information that would qualify and enrich their standard U.S.-centric approach to International research. For instance, students may want to consider how their proposed solutions to transnational legal problems would be received by persons with diverse culturally informed ideas about the legitimacy of particular arguments and the weight of particular types of evidence. Students who think in this way are likely to generate culturally aware research questions, such that their search strategies may lead them to types of information that would be uniquely useful in making culture-specific plausible arguments that are more likely to successfully persuade non-U.S. parties to a Transnational legal dispute or legal negotiation.

      I also liked Professor Larry Backer’s result oriented explanation of the need to be aware of the difference between nationalist and internationalist models. Many of the articles that I have been reading about Transnational Law have framed this difference in terms of ethics and social justice politics, but Backer’s reason is apolitical and that is how I would like to teach my students. I want them to know the difference between the two models so that when they generate a research question, they can craft a research strategy that enables them to find the types of empirical data and legal commentary that would support the kind of argument that appeals to the aims and values of the intended audience such that my students final legal analysis can effectively persuade them to take the proposed actions. Moreover, awareness of both models allows students to research the issue from both perspectives so that they can try to find mutually acceptable legal solutions that might appeal to global actors no matter which model they ascribe to.

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