by Katie Hanschke
Editor’s note: This post comes from Katie Hanschke at North Carolina Central University School of Law Library. We’re grateful for her interest in writing about the Legal Research Instruction Roundtable discussions at AALL 2015. Thanks also to Pam Brannon at Georgia State, who contributed notes from her discussion table for Katie to use.
While the AALL Annual Meeting offers a plethora of opportunities, I found attending the roundtables to be particularly informative. I had the pleasure of participating in RIP-SIS’s Legal Research Instruction Roundtable and was able to glean some helpful and worthwhile insights from my colleagues during our in-depth discussion. We all agreed that this information might be useful to members outside of the discussion, so I am sharing it here today.
Three groups of attendees dealt with three different topics during the RIPS-SIS Legal Research Instruction Roundtable. The topic assigned to my group was assessments. Pam Brannon, who sat with another roundtable group, generously shared her notes, so I have included what that roundtable group discussed as well.
One of the first questions we asked was whether instructors took time to review out of class assignments in class. Most participants did not spend class time reviewing out of class assignments. For many, lack of time limited the review, and feedback was limited to outside the classroom. The group discussed a variety of ways to compensate for a lack of time and implement a review. Some suggested utilizing flipped classroom techniques to reiterate various concepts and as a way to review assignments while not displacing valuable class time. Others suggested limiting extensive feedback to subjects that were problematic for a large number of students. Several members of the group emphasized utilizing Instapolls. Instapolls are useful in that they emphasize self-reflection for the students, prevent an instructor from having to single out one student, and offer an opportunity to foster discussion amongst the students.
Another aspect of assessments that the group discussed was how the instructors conveyed feedback to the students outside of graded assignments. Group members generally allowed time at the end of each class to review in-class exercises, and the group agreed that time should be allocated to emphasize both positive and negative feedback for the students. Two ways of assessing students during class time were discussed during the roundtable: exercises and presentations.
For in-class exercises, one of the strategies we discussed was to allow the students—perhaps those with an excellent grasp of the topic or those who are otherwise reticent to participate—to present their answers at the end of class. We also talked about enhancing in-class exercises by breaking students apart from their normal groups and/or providing the students with the same question but require that they each use different resources. This latter option in particular facilitates a better understanding of a variety of materials and helps them to begin preparing to make decisions based on the resources available to them when they practice.
Another way to assess students during class time is through in-class presentations. One participant suggested requiring that students within each class provide feedback to their colleagues after presentations. The instructor would grade the students based on the feedback they provided to their fellow students. The student then has access to his or her peers’ feedback prior to his or her paper submission on the same topic. The student can then edit his or her paper to reflect the feedback. We also agreed that time management is a huge part of a successful presentation. Many participants said they would require students to complete a presentation within an allotted time or they would deduct points. The only instance where presentations could go over the allotted time would be when the students continued an independent discussion of the topic.
The group that Pam Brannon sat with discussed co-teaching legal research classes with writing faculty. Team teaching with legal writing instructors can take many forms. In one instance, students receive a completely separate legal research and legal writing grade, but the legal writing and legal research instructor collaborate closely on the topics for discussion. The instructors alternate weeks in which they teach. In another instance, the writing instructors teach in the fall semester, and the research instructors teach in the spring semester. The two instructors collaborate on the brief problem. Many of the participants discussed starting the integration process since the two courses have yet to be integrated fully at their respective institutions. Willingness on the part of faculty members was mentioned as an important aspect of integrating the two courses. A strategy discussed to implement such a course was to characterize the collaboration as a way to improve practice-ready skills.
The roundtables at the Annual Meeting demonstrate the importance of collaboration and communication within this profession. I hope, like myself, that my colleagues who participated in these discussions walked away from this workshop with a new perspective and a fresh take on legal research instruction.