Guest Blog by Emma Wood, Associate Librarian, University of Massachusetts Law Library
In an effort to expand my cache of resources for remote learning, I spent some time exploring Westlaw’s Knowledge Center. The Knowledge Center is a collection of over 60 interactive lessons on legal research, including a set of “foundations” modules which was added this summer. West’s database of brief lessons is similar in concept to CALI’s virtual tutorials, but does not follow the same text-reliant, click and read format. Rather the tutorials are videos that periodically require user interaction. The Knowledge Center is the counterpart to Lexis Learn and approaches the same topics but with proprietary tools such as Keycite. The Lexis product has a modern look with writhing light wave intros, a sometimes steely color palette, and a narrator with a sophisticated tone. The Knowledge Center diverges visually and in tone with more reliance on animation and fairly casual narration. Narrators say things like “that is where the magic happens” and offer reassurance about the research process feeling overwhelming.
Short of being reminiscent of the School House Rock approach to civics (These lessons are fun, but not quite that fun), I do find the cartoon style engaging. The “Origins of the Law” and “Types of Legal Authority” lessons are short and sweet refreshers in the branches of government and other basics. In addition to the visuals, the modules have features that ensure users are watching. Switching to a new tab in your browser results in the video pausing rather than playing in the background. There are numerous prompts that ask the user to click an icon on the screen, respond to a question before proceeding, or to simply click “continue.” For example, this image from a secondary sources module requires the user to click on each type of resource for an audio description.
The content of each lesson efficiently reinforces and reminds students of the topics librarians present in the classroom such as primary sources, types of legal authority, and legislative intent. There is a certification for practical lessons too which addresses issues like billing hours. Sometimes foundational concepts are addressed so early in a law student’s career, either amidst the chaos of orientation or their first semester of legal skills, that they are easily forgotten. While students are adjusting to law school life and likely prioritizing Torts and Civil Procedure over research methods, they may find it difficult to retain information about terms and connectors or citators. Thus, I think these videos offer students tools that they can revisit at any time to brush up on an area of research. The videos are also valuable when it comes to writing a paper. Students completing a writing requirement can turn to these modules for inspiration about putting together a research plan or identifying search terms.
It is challenging to ensure students utilize this and similar resources. For those who want to make the online lessons a requirement, The Knowledge Center has a feature that allows faculty to assign modules of their choice to their students. I do wish there were an added incentive for completing the certifications such as a point system that results in branded swag. Who can resist the allure of prizes? After completing a set of modules, there is an option to add the certification to one’s LinkedIn account. Still, colorful highlighters and page flags might be more powerful motivators for students. For faculty and librarian incentive, I do think these videos are a ready-made option to supplement what is taught in class.