Internet Betrayal: A Tale of Woe

by Malikah Hall

Last month, I attended the very first Teaching the Teachers Conference in Atlanta. Cassie DuBay’s recent post got me thinking about another highlight from the conference. Caroline Osborne at West Virginia University College of Law gave a presentation titled Lessons Learned – Developing Strategies to Address When You Go from Brilliant to Not in Seconds. During her presentations, she discussed several scenarios that I have coined internet betrayals. I have experienced several such betrayals and thought I’d share how I handled them.

Where’d it go?

The first scenario deals with changes in electronic databases. With constant edits, updates, and corrections, a link may work during your initial run-through but malfunction in front of the class. I trusted you database, and you betrayed me.

This is a great teachable moment for instruction librarians. It shows our students that databases frequently change. These types of changes will continue when the students become lawyers. As students found out this past semester, you may go into break with access to one version of the database, and come back with a totally different version. There is no need to panic (hindsight being 20/20 and all) – you simply need to adjust.

The link may be broken, but the resource may still be available. After an initial deer-in-the-headlights moment, I was able to recover. I walked my students through the research process again, this time using the filters to look at a specific secondary source. It was not my finest hour, but I made it work.

After that class, I learned to map out several possible answers to my hypo. Perhaps the same answer can be found in different legal encyclopedias, treatises, or law review articles. Have the students take a look at those additionally or instead. Maybe the hypo can be altered to look at a specific type of resource instead of a specific resource. For example, instead of directing the student to Strong’s North Carolina Index, you can have the student look at all the secondary sources for North Carolina. You can try multiple pathways to your answer so if a key number changes, you know another path through secondary sources, or a statutes search that will bring you full circle. Another possibility is to have the students present their alternate searches. Anything other than staring off into oblivion would work.

The Dark Night

The second scenario deals with the internet or database going dark. A recent malware issue with a large vendor reminds us how susceptible even the more robust tools are to such invasions. If you have prepared for a live demonstration, access to the internet is your class. Moreover, the unexpected alteration to your plan can leave instructors scrambling for solutions. I trusted you internet, and again, you betrayed me.

My first experience with this betrayal saw my powerpoint also stored in an university box account. If standing in front of student in a full panic while simultaneously attempting to look like it’s no big deal was an olympic sport, I would have won the bronze medal. I was able to run to my office really quickly while starting the students on the fact analysis and search string development portion of hypo. I grabbed my laptop and off we went.

I learned several lessons from this betrayal. The first is to always bring a backup with you. This could be your laptop, a junk drive, storing the powerpoint on the lectern desktop etc. This way you will have access to your presentation. The second is to capture screenshots of your live demonstration. I will usually run my search the night before the class (see previous section on broken links as to why I do this) capturing screenshots along the way. I used to include big red circles and arrows, but for our visual impaired students, the use of red was problematic. I still use the arrows and the circles, but now they are blue.

So if you are ever in front of a class and the internet betrays, fret not my fellow information professionals. With a little preparation, you just might win the silver medal in the keeping your cool olympics.

About malikahhalllibrarian

Malikah Hall is a Reference Librarian and Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. She was previously the Diversity Fellow, Research Services Librarian, and Lecturer in Law at Cornell University. Malikah is very active in AALL where she is the current RIPS Law Librarian Blog editor, Immediate Past Chair of PEGA-SIS, a member of the AALL Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and a member of the AALL Legal Research Competencies Review Special Committee. Malikah graduated from North Carolina Central University with a J.D./M.L.S. joint degree. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her sweet dog and anything true crime related.
This entry was posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research Instruction, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

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