Should all legal research instruction look alike?

My library recently expanded our advanced legal research course offerings.  As part of the expansion, we are teaching two sections of a traditional advanced legal research class and have been using instructor-librarians, for which this has been their first foray into teaching a for-credit course.  In preparation, we provided a list of the topics to be covered, discussed pedagogical issues, and even allowed for mock classes.  The results have been great.  But one theme has been prevalent in our post-class discussions:  can we provide even more standardization for our traditional advanced legal research classes?

What do I mean by standardization?  Essentially, it would involve each class looking the same.  There would be similar presentations, homework assignments, and in-class exercises.  As we continue the discussion about moving to this model, we are having regular, evolving conversations on the issue and are in the process of creating a shared network folder to act as a repository for the materials from prior legal research classes.  Come to think of it, we may be building our own version of the National Legal Research Teach-In.

So what do we view as some of the benefits and drawbacks of a standardization model for legal research instruction? On the positive side, the library, law school, and students would know that a common theme is being introduced in the classes. Over time, there would be a well-established understanding of exactly what was going to come from these classes. There would be no surprises. Standardization could also cut down on preparation time for the instructor-librarians. Everyone spends a lot of time putting together PowerPoint presentations, homework assignments, and discussion topics for in-class. If the classes were standardized and this type of work was accomplished on the front end, the classes would be ready for anyone to step in and assume the instructor role if needed.

Obviously, there are also negatives to standardizing our instructional efforts. Does everything need to look the same? As I mentioned earlier, we have two instructor-librarians teaching the same class this school year. They have each taken a unique and very interesting approach to teaching the same topics. They have different personalities and styles, and this variety has generated positive responses from the students. Standardization could stifle this individual voice. If we asked each of our classes to look the same, we may not see excellent examples of innovation such as storytelling or the flipped classroom.

With all of this in mind, how does everyone else handle the substance of your legal research classes?  And who out there has found that happy medium of standard subject matter with the individual voice included?

This entry was posted in Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Planning, Teaching (general) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Should all legal research instruction look alike?

  1. This year, we have three people teaching for-credit Legal Research to the 1Ls. We have the same syllabus, meaning we cover the same materials in the same weeks, have the same assignments, and the same final exam. However, we do NOT limit individuality in any way. Each of us have a very different approach in the classroom, we use different class activities, and we’re free to cover the material as we see fit. Although there might be some fear in this approach since all the students take the same final, it has worked out quite well this year and last year. And let’s face it — it’s not 100% about the students. Increased standardization is quite likely to decrease the satisfaction one derives from teaching. The opportunity and encouragement to individualize, be creative, and experiment with varying classroom approaches is what makes teaching special.

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