by Dean Duane Strojny
A new course on the schedule often allows a new opportunity to have librarians reach out to students. This semester, the Research and Writing Department is debuting a new required writing course titled “Advocacy.” The course description states “[A]dvocacy will build on what students learned in Research & Writing, but instead of writing predictive documents such as in-firm memos, students will learn to write persuasive motions and briefs. And the class will culminate in oral advocacy.”
The schools unique curriculum has a large number of required courses, but some upper level courses were reduced in credits to make room for a stronger writing programs consisting of nine credits versus the old six. With a new department course comes the chance for librarians to participate in the course. Our faculty know the value of librarians’ bibliographic sessions. This is great. With the announced retirement of one of our librarians who would usually teach the course, I thought here is an occasion for me to teach since it has been a while. Here I am before the first class with a blank slate in front of me.
The course is taught at all campuses with a variety of writing faculty. For the first round of the course, though, everyone is using the shared syllabus and the same assignments. So far, so good for all of the librarians since we also have a shared outline of what we will cover during our week five bibliographic sessions. The topics are similar to what we used to cover in an old upper-level-writing class, but the new course is covering different types of writing and requiring an oral advocacy presentation as part of the class. Tweaking the old presentation is not enough.
Things need to be done differently this time. First, learning outcomes need to be determined and properly conveyed to the students. Second, the emphasis on electronic resources has changed greatly over the past few years, and my presentation needs to reflect that. Finally, assessment must be conducted in an appropriate way. Without any actual graded assignment based on my presentation, a self-guided assessment will likely be part of class.
As most of you know, the teaching role of academic librarians has become much more important in the last few years. Gone are the days of waiting for questions at a Reference Desk. While we still have an official desk, many times our reference librarians are working in tandem with circulation staff and involved in a number of less traditional projects. If you are staffing a desk, that does not mean you have nothing else to get done during that time. The goal of a teaching librarian should be to serve as a leader in the teaching arena. Learning outcomes, flipped classrooms, active learning, and assessments are part of our lingo. With multiple electronic-book platforms available for users, it is our job to make sure they are aware of how to access the wealth of information. In order to be successful researchers and ultimately productive lawyers, we need to make sure our roles in their academic careers do not go unnoticed.
So, settling back into the class preparation role, it is important to reflect on how that role has changed and how to ensure that the requirements of that role are being met. It could still be easy to substitute for an ill colleague or give a last minute presentation for a faculty member who forgot to plan. But to be successful as a teaching librarian, a new bag of tricks is required. Older handouts and lectures should be replaced with active worksheets and discussion points. An updated approach will make sure that the students are more prepared than ever in legal research, understanding more comprehensively its importance in their education and career. This will also ensure that they realize the important role of law librarians in the process. And that is what we need to accomplish each time we step into the classroom in today’s learning environment.