How creative is your legal research instruction?

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a law librarian colleague who is developing a new class. It is similar in scope to a class I have taught several times, and I was glad to forward my lectures, homework assignments and other miscellaneous documents.  As I was reviewing the materials, I found everything to be very traditional, and to me, with two years of hindsight since I last taught the class, rather stale.  It prompted me to re-evaluate how I will address this material in the future and made me wonder how creative I am with my legal research instruction.

I have tended to be old-fashioned with my instructional methods.  This often includes lectures, in-class demonstrations, scavenger hunt style homework assignments, and research guide final assignments.  The material is getting across but maybe not in the most exciting of ways.  Whenever I read anything on legal research instruction, it shows there are so many librarians out there doing great and creative things.  Topics of particular interest have included achievement awards and the concept of storytelling These innovations are great to see as we owe it to our students to think about different alternatives.

As I revamp one of my classes for the spring semester, what am I thinking about to add new life to my legal research instruction?

Why not introduce some new topics?

I have talked about this before but one of my favorite teaching experiences was a new class focusing on technology in legal practice.  I was able to research and discuss a completely new area of information, and the experience was energizing.  If you aren’t in the position to create a new class, then what about adding a new topic for a session of an established class?  It will still allow you to look at something different and add another notch in your expertise belt.     

Move away from the normal assignments.

Students appreciate something outside the norm.  You will appreciate grading a different project.  I have become a fan of the memo-style project that I have seen several librarians employ.  These librarians created a hypothetical situation, often based on real events, and asked for students to submit a memo not unlike what they would be asked to do in a law firm setting.  This is quite similar to legal writing assignments but greater emphasis can be placed on the research aspect of the project.

Ask the students to be creative too.

Of course, we must keep things professional and we do need to assess their work for the all-important grading portion of the class, but you can do things to force the students to step outside a comfort zone.  Maybe you have the flexibility to allow the students to choose topics for major assignments.  They know what they like better than you do, and allowing them options will keep them more vested in the project.  I like to give maximum word counts to projects, and I keep these numbers relatively low.  Brevity is key and the better someone can succinctly articulate a response the better.  After all, writing is creative, isn’t it?

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