Charting a New Course: A Foray into Instructional Design

by Ashley Ahlbrand

In my last post, I mentioned that I have started taking courses to earn my certificate in instructional design. I received a lot of feedback on this and thought I would post periodically on the topic. I am fortunate to have an online program available at the university where I work, so I am enrolled in Indiana University School of Education’s Instructional Systems Technology Certificate program. These programs take different shapes at different universities. Mine, for example, puts an emphasis on technology use in instructional design for various course environments. To see the range of programs available, I recommend this article from eLearning Industry.

I am currently in my first course, Instructional Design & Development, which takes us through the phases of instructional design using the ADDIE model:

  • Analysis
    • Concept and Procedure Learning – what is to be taught?
    • Learner Analysis – student characteristics, prerequisites needed, special requirements
    • Contextual Analysis – needs analysis, instructional context, transfer context
    • Topic Analysis – detailed breakdown of concept/procedure
    • Instructional Objectives, Strategy, and Sequencing
  • Design – designing instructional materials (for both instructor and student)
  • Development – testing out the instructional materials and revising as needed
  • Implementation – developing a procedure for training both the instructors and learners on any procedures or tools they’ll need for instruction
  • Evaluation – how instruction and instructional materials will be evaluated using both summative and formative assessment

Our first project for this class asked us to focus on the analysis portion of ADDIE, by choosing a concept relevant to our own careers and designing instruction on that concept. While considering legal research instruction, I always think of teaching how to research a particular topic or source. However, we learned in the course that these are not concepts – they’re procedures. As a rule of thumb, a procedure is anything that can start with “how to.” A concept is a classification used to group similar things, so it begins more with “what is.”

Step 1: Select a Concept

In January, I will teach a 1-credit, one-week course for our international LLM students called “Introduction to American Legal Research,” so I decided to focus on that audience. My concept was the foundational primary versus secondary sources. It occurred to me that this is a concept that we always talk about in legal research instruction, but, in my own teaching, I don’t traditionally delve deeply into. Yet this is a critical concept when you’re planning to teach a population of students who come from countries with legal structures far different from the U.S.

Step 2: Learner Analysis

This step looks at factors that could impact the instructional experience, such as the age of the learners and their attitudes and expectations for the instruction. For my population, I also analyzed cultural backgrounds and language skills. This analysis also includes any prerequisites (i.e. base understanding of American law) and special needs.

Step 3: Contextual Analysis

This begins with a simple, yet critical question: Is there a need for this instruction? I then had to describe the instructional environment (i.e. that it would be an in-person class, in a classroom with typical technology offerings) and the transfer context – where the students would use these skills later on. For this I discussed the fact that there are very few required courses for our graduate students, many write LLM theses, most will at least have seminar papers to research, and the students either remain in the U.S. after school to practice law or return to their home countries as scholars, practitioners, or both. Most will, therefore, use their legal research skills as an integral part of their careers and could use this foundational instruction.

Step 4: Topic Analysis

The next step was the topic analysis that broke down my concept into small sub-concepts with definitions and examples. I gave a lengthy description of each, and provided the following diagram:

concept chart

I also included an appendix that delves further into the concepts and examples, accessible here, if you’re interested.

Step 5: Description of Instructional Objectives, Methods, and Assessment

Here I stated that students should be able to identify each type of source, first as primary or secondary, then between the sub-concepts. To assess this skill, we would begin with an identification exercise for each sub-concept. For example, if we were studying statutes, I might give them an exercise with ten samples, nine of which are statutes and one of which is a regulation; students should be able to identify that the regulation does not belong. We would then progress to a labeling exercise, wherein students would get a set of ten samples that include everything from statutes to articles in a constitution to excerpts from a case opinion to regulations, and they should be able to identify each. If we can progress to this level, the students have mastered the underlying concept.

For this first project, we did not progress to the design, development, implementation, or evaluation phases, but we did have to describe what we thought would be included in the instructional materials. I discussed introducing the concept through both a graphical handout, describing all concepts and sub-concepts, and a brief lecture overview as reinforcement.  To engage the students, I discussed ideas such as beginning the instruction with the “Three Ring Government” video from Schoolhouse Rock and showing examples of citations in a case and a law review article to demonstrate how primary and secondary sources are used in different kinds of research. Finally, I discussed culminating the exercises with a research prompt where the students are asked to identify what sources they might use to answer the research question and why, showing not only that they know what the sources are, but also why each is helpful.

I received positive feedback from both classmates and from my professor on this project, so I intend to utilize this instruction in some form for my upcoming course in January.  Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up post at that time to let you know how it went!


About ashleyahlbrand

I am the Educational Technology Librarian at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. I am deeply interested in exploring how emerging and existing technologies can be used to enhance library services and legal education.
This entry was posted in Continuing Education, Legal Research Instruction, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Charting a New Course: A Foray into Instructional Design

  1. Pingback: Learning Theories and Law: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism | RIPS Law Librarian Blog

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