Ah, fall. The time when the thoughts of law review staff turn to cite-checking, and 1Ls are introduced to the bane of Judge Posner’s existence.
I actually love the Bluebook. No, really. I even have the credentials to prove it, hand-made by one of our profs for me:
But I know not everybody shares these sentiments, particularly first-year students. So, as part of the library’s first-year research instruction responsibilities, I volunteered to create tutorials that would hopefully make students’ lives – at least with respect to citation – a little easier. Ideally, this would also make the reference librarians’ lives a little easier, too – at least with respect to citation. (Prior to this, the library had not done any formal citation training for first-year students; we took questions individually at the reference desk).
I wasn’t going to tackle every rule in the Bluebook, just the rules for those sources covered in the research practice questions required of the students. This narrowed my scope down to: dictionaries, encyclopedias, ALRs, journals, treatises, cases, and statutes. Add in a couple of “introduction to citation” tutorials, and you’ve got yourself a full summer.
I’ve created tutorials before (most often with Camtasia, which is what I used for these tutorials), and I find the whole process fun, if sometimes frustrating. I wanted these tutorials to be streamlined and simple, consistent in look and feel with each other and with the other research tutorials we were creating, and as short as possible. From a pedagogical standpoint, I wanted not only to show students how to cite the various sources but to teach them how to actually use the Bluebook. I wanted to deconstruct the rules and, as much as possible, clearly lay out the citation elements for each type of source so students could use the information to help them figure out how to cite less common sources going forward.
I had attended Jill Smith’s presentation, “Going Hollywood on Your Desktop: Creating Great Screen Capture Video,” at CALI in June and found it very informative, so I followed many of her suggestions – especially her first one, on the importance of creating a script. I had every intention of creating a script and then creating the visuals in Powerpoint slides to go with it, but the truth is those processes typically became intertwined. One thing I did do consistently at the beginning of the process was to create an Agenda slide (“this is what you will learn in this tutorial”) and a Conclusion slide (“in this tutorial, you learned…”). That helped me stick to the most important objectives of the tutorials, and, I hope, will help ground the students so they know what to expect.
I had to submit my Powerpoint slides and narration to one of the first-year research and writing directors as well as to one of the long-time adjuncts for pre-approval before production. At first I chafed at this a bit, but after a while I came to enjoy the additional eyes and suggestions for the most part. Even the adjunct’s cite-checking of my narration, which I first found ridiculous, became helpful. First, I ended up cutting-and-pasting my narration as closed-captioning, so it did turn out to be important that it be Bluebook-ready. Second, it became the equivalent of the “no brown M&Ms” rule in a rock star’s contract rider – if the narration was that thoroughly checked, I knew the text in the slides was, too.
Originally, I had wanted to be fancy and include animation during production using Powtoon or the like (another tip I got from the CALI conference). But this never panned out. I had a hard time figuring out how to animate Bluebook rules without being too cheesy, plus I just didn’t have the time. I did include animation-lite using Camtasia tools such as zooming in and/or highlighting pertinent sections of the Bluebook rules. My later tutorials also included some pretty snazzy arrows (also courtesy of Camtasia). I tried to be judicious with animation, as I know it can get tedious and distracting. But I think when used appropriately, it can keep viewers’ interest better than text alone.
I still have a couple of tutorials left to create, but by and large the project is finished. What would I do differently next time? I included a couple of quiz-type questions in a few of the tutorials, but not all. In the future, I would like have one or two prompting questions in every tutorial as I think it holds viewers’ interest more. It also provides a chance to highlight the one or two really salient topics that the viewer should have learned. Furthermore, when I edit these going forward, I’m going to try again to make them shorter. I was really surprised that most of the tutorials ended up in the 7-minute range; I was trying hard to get them all under five minutes. One thing that I did do that will be very helpful going forward, and which I encourage others to consider, is to produce every slide of the tutorial separately as its own clip. If you have to edit something, it’s much easier to do so on a 20-second clip rather than one that is five minutes.
Will they work? I can’t wait to find out!