by Beau Steenken
Teaching the 1L legal research class is one of my favorite parts of my job. In fact, my colleagues and I enjoy it so much that we are developing an entire slate of specialized legal research courses that will be offered to 2Ls and 3Ls so that we can teach even more. I think a lot of our sense of fulfillment from teaching comes from the reference librarian’s natural inclination to share information. In teaching research, we are not only sharing information but we are sharing information on how to find other information. Unfortunately, as rewarding as teaching is, it does not come without its downside.
I am, of course, referring to grading, which is generally an awful, excruciating process. Interestingly, I have had multiple students tell me that the process is my just deserts for making them go through the equally excruciating process of turning in 20-30 page Research Plan & Reports, as we style our major research assignments at U.K. I tell them that the practice is good for them. Furthermore, my grading the assignments is not good for me so much as it is good for them, as it allows me to diagnose and correct any missteps before they write the appellate briefs based on their research. They don’t seem to appreciate fully the sacrifice.
As agonizing as grading is for me, though, it leads directly to mandatory student conferences for feedback on their research, and that leads back to the joy of teaching (so, I guess I’ll begrudgingly say it’s worth it). Last year, I wrote about how we at UK switched to outcomes-based rubrics, and the benefits of outcomes based assessment were later covered in more detail by Ashley Ahlbrand. Now that I’m in my second year of using them for the major research assignment, though, I can honestly say that there’s another benefit to using the outcomes-based rubrics: they make the student conferences much more productive.
For each category of each outcome we expect of our students, we create a chart (pictured below) that shows the range from “beginning” to “highly proficient,” with “developing” and “proficient” in between. Each level provides some description of the sort of work that would fit into that level. Individual student papers can then be assigned to their spot on the chart, so that the more proficient a student is, the further to the left of the page their score appears. This creates a really handy visual for students to use in assessing what areas they need to improve. Furthermore, I give them the completed rubric chart to take with them so that they can continue the process of self-assessment based on my external assessment. I feel like having this tool has made my student conferences much more productive than in past years where we ended up talking more about results than process.
Having found a silver lining, I must now return to the remainder of the 43 Research Plan & Reports requiring my attention….