Reflections on Teaching ALR: Modeling as Feedback

by Christina A. Coan, RIPS-SIS Grant Recipient for AALL Management Institute

Last fall, I taught my first Advanced Legal Research course.  This was not my first teaching experience.  I have previously taught various age groups on different subjects: Oral English & English Writing to college students and American Government and U.S. History to high school students. Every time I have taught, feedback has been an integral part of the course. The shorter the period between the work performed and the feedback given, the greater the impact on student learning.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult to give feedback as readily as we would like on graded assignments.  Modeling is an excellent work around for this dilemma.

Modeling is the act of showing a student how a project or problem should be approached. There are many ways to implement modeling; for example, going through a research problem together as a class before having the students attempt a similar problem on their own. However, modeling can also be used to give feedback for solo student work once the assignment is turned in. This post-assignment modeling could be given by revealing the written model answer to the problem, sharing a video that explains the steps of how the problem should have been answered, or taking class time to go through how the assignment should have been answered. Each method of modeling has advantages and drawbacks.

Answer Modeling

Answer Modeling is similar to a model answer for an essay final exam.  It shows the student what an A grade would look like for the particular research problem.


  • Quick way to disseminate information
  • Allows students to check their answers to see how they performed on the assignment


  • Does not explain the how in finding the right answer
  • Students may only use the model answers to mentally check off their grade without understanding why they got the answer right or wrong

Video Modeling

Video Modeling is a screen capture of how the professor would approach the answer.  The video includes commentary on why the professor was taking a particular path to answer the research problem.


  • Quick way to disseminate information
  • Allows students to see the steps the professor took in addressing the legal research question
  • Students can refer back to the video in new problems for some guidance


  • Does not allow for immediate questions by students for deeper understanding of the approach to the problem
  • Students may apply the same to approach all subsequent legal research problems
  • Takes time (without distractions) and appropriate software to prepare and create a fluid video model

In-Class Modeling

In-Class Modeling is similar to Video Modeling except that it takes place in class. This allows the professor an opportunity to ask questions of the students and the students of the professor.


  • Allows students to see the steps the professor took in addressing the legal research question
  • Allows for immediate questions by students for deeper understanding of the approach to the problem
  • Allows discussion of alternative approaches to addressing the problem with student input and collaboration


  • Uses class time that could be spent on a new topic
  • Desired discussion may be difficult to achieve depending on level of student involvement in the discussion
  • May not be able to address the problem in its entirety because of time constraints in class

No single modeling approach is best. It is up to the professor to gauge the class and determine which type of modeling is needed after each assignment is turned in.  Although I was unable to utilize each of these modeling methods during my first semester teaching ALR, modeling allowed me to give feedback on assignments when I knew that grading would take some time. Additionally, I found modeling to be a helpful way to give feedback that goes beyond whether they found the right answer.

Posted in AALL Annoucements, Legal Research Instruction | Tagged | Leave a comment

Calling Bloggers! Submit Materials by June 16

Calling all those interested in blogging!  The RIPS Law Librarian Blog is searching for next year’s cast of contributors (beginning August 2017). The current blogging year has been very successful with many wonderful posts and high readership, but a few of our current bloggers are ready to move on to other projects. imgres

Blogging is a great way to engage with the profession. We would love to have a mix of new and experienced librarians to contribute thoughts, advice, and ideas on the RIPS Law Librarian Blog. Ideally, we are looking for 4 new contributing bloggers to contribute roughly one blog post per month.

If you would like to be a regular contributor to the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, please send a brief bio, statement of interest, and a 300-500 word writing sample to Jamie Baker at Applications will be reviewed by the current blog editor and the RIPS-SIS Executive Board. Please submit materials by Friday, June 16.

If you have any questions about the blogging or submitting materials to be considered as a contributor, contact Jamie Baker at

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In Praise of the Reflective Essay: The Mushy and the Meta

by Paul Gatz

The reflective essay is well named. In the best of circumstances, it holds up a mirror to the student-writer’s own learning and thinking processes and, for the teacher-reader, can present an image of the entire semester from the perspective of the learner. Of course, the reflective essay offers these benefits only when the writer or reader truly takes advantage of the essay as a site for reflection – a place in which to examine one’s self and one’s work, to think carefully and critically, and to open oneself to learn and change.


Don’t reflect too much on this photo.

I did not have the full range of these benefits in mind, however, when, during the initial stages of the course design process, I included a reflective essay as part of the final project for my Advanced Legal Research course. Rather, I was primarily concerned with using the essay to assess two aspects of my students’ legal research skills: the metacognitive and the affective.

Metacognition is a term used by education psychologists to refer to “the knowledge of and monitoring of cognitive processes” (this definition comes from the Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology). Another popular way to characterize it is as “thinking about one’s thinking.” It is a skill that enables a student to recognize when and how they learn and to transfer that knowledge to novel learning situations. Metacognitive skills are essential for a master legal researcher.

The affective domain of Bloom’s taxonomy involves the student’s attitude toward the material being learned, their motivation to learn it, and their internalization of the values of the underlying discipline. This is the part of the learning process that ties the knowledge and skills covered in class to the inner, emotional life of the student. I am unaware of a full taxonomy of the values and attitudes necessary for legal research competency, but, at the very least, they should include the persistence, patience, and level-headedness needed to handle the inherent uncertainty of the information-seeking process.

In this past semester’s ALR course, the reflective essay was just a portion of a larger final project built around a single research problem. The other parts included a research journal requiring students to track their research process and a research memo requiring them to communicate the results of their research. The reflective essay asked them to describe their experience researching this problem. I provided them with a rubric that indicated that I expected them to identify and discuss particular challenges or choices and how they overcame those challenges or decided among those choices. The rubric also directed them to explore the thought processes and attitudes that informed their problem-solving or decision-making.

The research journal itself serves as an effective metacognitive exercise, as it requires students to monitor their own research process. This encourages a greater awareness of the process itself, leading students to be more intentional in their research and more knowledgeable of which sources and strategies work best for them. The reflective essay then requires them to explicitly confront this metacognitive level of the research process (making it sort of a meta-metacognitive exercise); this record of their thinking about their thinking enables the instructor to assess those metacognitive skills.

The reflective essay also provides students with the opportunity to discuss how their attitudes, motivations, and values affected the research process, but the end result is nearly impossible to adequately assess. It is not enough for the student to simply declare he or she possesses a certain affective state. Likewise, the instructor cannot with any precision or accuracy make judgments about another’s internal state based on the other’s narration or account of the research process. But, one hopes, through reflecting on their own inner states, students can develop a greater understanding of how their research is affected by their feelings and emotions.

I ended my semester by grading the reflective essays. My students all turned in excellent work, exhibiting careful self-examination and giving illuminating accounts of their research processes. Any assessment tool will provide the instructor with some sort of feedback on what the instructor has done well or done poorly. But maybe no other tool can display this sort of feedback as explicitly or as deeply as the reflective essay.

Some students used the reflective essay to point out parts of the assignment which were especially difficult or confusing. In some cases, this caused me to return to other portions of the student’s final project to re-evaluate their work in a new light. In one case, a student actually alerted me to wording in the assignment prompt that was particularly opaque. I now know to reword that portion of the assignment for next year’s class.

More importantly, these reflective essays showed me what my students were taking away from this class – fostering within me pride and a certain sense of accomplishment when they mentioned intermediation or explained the importance of secondary sources. Of course, some topics or themes from the course were conspicuous in their absence – I will need to find different ways to better incorporate them into future classes.

It feels clichéd to comment on how much one can learn from teaching. But reading these essays has allowed me to gain such a rich and varied range of perspectives on my course and my subject matter, deepening my knowledge of both and leading me to re-examine my own thoughts and attitudes.

All that remains now is to brace myself for the course evaluations.

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No…Nope…Still No…

By Christine Anne George
locked computer

Image from Pixaby

Not that long ago I participated in a workshop that brought together historians and archivists. While it was a very interesting exchange, there was one thing that was abundantly clear—the historians had a bit of resentment towards archivists because at some point, an archivist had blocked their access to materials they wanted to view. As a researcher, I completely understand the frustration. If I know that a document exists and not being able to see it could set back my research, I’m going to be less than pleased. However, as an archivist, I know that there are often larger issues at play—donor agreements, institutional restrictions, and even laws—that tie the archivists’ hands. As much as an archivist may want to assist a researcher, if there is a restriction in place, for whatever reason, the archivist has no choice but to deny access.

When I try to draw distinctions between archivists and librarians I always mention access. Archivists are the gatekeepers of history, charged with keeping the items of record. Librarians are conduits of information, championing opening access. In the simplest of terms, if a researcher wants access to something, librarians are more likely to say yes and archivists are more likely to say no.* But I was recently reminded of a particular instance where law librarians aren’t all that different from archivists.

You’ve been there. That moment you’re helping a pro se patron, an alum, a university faculty member, whoever. This is the person who wants access to whatever database. (My experience is usually of the Westlaw or Lexis variety.) Though every librarian instinct is screaming against it, you have to tell that patron that you’re sorry but you cannot give them access. Yes you understand that it is important for their research, but you still can’t. Perhaps you mention that there are contracts that limit access to the law school community. Then you quickly amend that to say the current law school community. No, you can’t make an exception. No, not even if they ask nicely. Certainly not if they take that tone. Well, actually, even if they let up on the tone, it’s still no. Yes they are free to speak to whomever they would like to from alumni affairs to the director, but there’s nothing you can do. You offer alternatives. Perhaps another database that has looser restrictions. Maybe the boo—ok no, not the books. No, you’re fairly certain no other librarian said that it was ok, but nice try. You know because you were the librarian they spoke to last week. No, your sole purpose in life is not to derail their research…

Librarians are not information hoarders. Librarians are information sharers to the nth degree. If anything, we’re information over-sharers. We want everyone to know. We make displays. We make guides. We post to social media. We give presentations. We will even interject into conversations we overhear to help give information—no? Just me? Ok. The point is that from the librarian side, it’s easy to see that if we are denying access, there has to be a reason, and the reason isn’t that denying access brings joy (at least I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t be for the most part). The reason may not be apparent, but it exists. From the patron side, it’s less clear. Librarians can do their best to explain the various restrictions—maybe put those presentation and guide skills to use—but it comes back to the archivists vs. researcher stand-off.

Maybe someday we’ll reach the point where all information is free and there aren’t proprietary databases. I won’t be holding my breath because I know what the likelihood of that is, but it’s nice to dream. Until that day, it looks like archivists aren’t the only ones uttering the dreaded, “I’m sorry, but…”

*I know that there are plenty of archivists championing opening up archives so that more people will be able to access collections and don’t want to get into that debate. I’m talking broad stroke generalizations here

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Be Our Guest…at the first-ever RIPS Virtual Annual Meeting

Hello all,

The RIPS Executive Board is looking forward to hosting the first RIPS virtual annual meeting, and we hope that you will be able to join us on Wednesday, June 21st at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.  We will have reports from all of our hard-working committees on the projects they’ve been working on over the past year and the Executive Board will report on some of our endeavors over the past year.

To register for the meeting, please go here:

Just fill in the information requested, and you’ll be all set to go. You’ll get reminders the day before and an hour before the meeting.

Remember, if you attend, you’ll be entered for a chance to win the cutest plush penguin! And you’ll get a second entry if you join us at the RIPS Meet n’ Greet on Monday, July 17th from 4:00-5:00pm in Austin!

We really hope you’ll be able to join us, but we will also be recording the meeting so you’ll be able to watch later if you register and then aren’t able to attend for some reason. Please be in touch with a member of the Executive Board if you have any questions.

Alyson Drake
RIPS Vice Chair

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Effective Law Library Staff In-Services

by Dean Duane Strojny

It is that time of the year where a lot of libraries may be looking at the calendar and realize that the annual staff in-service date is not too far off. As an organizer of dozens of in-services over the years, I can tell you there are some key components to making them fun, effective, informative, and interesting.

In 2002 when we hosted an ABA inspection for our additional campuses across Michigan, I was asked “How will you develop a community with the library across multiple locations?” My quick answer was, “Of course we’ll have in-services and since we have three breaks a year, well do one every break!” That began the long road of in-services that spanned the bridge of creative possibilities. We liked the Olympic theme so much we used it twice. There was the Survivor one, another based on TV Guide, a series of three in one year covering “Who, Why, and How,” and one dealing with employee wellness. Through it all, I would be remiss to say that I couldn’t have done it without a very creative associate director. We would hash out content and creative approaches to so many ideas (some of those listed above).

We have had guest speakers from a silver medal Olympian to the president of a national insurance company. Someone spoke to us about organizing our offices and someone spoke to us about how law school financial aid works. We gave presentations on our budget that actually included numbers. The IT Department visited a few times to give insight into technology. At our height, we would let people sign up for classes (three choices over three different hours of the day). That one was tough to coordinate, but I think most of the employees liked the variety.

In 2012, we added a campus in Florida, so our challenge was to bridge the gap between there and Michigan. During one of our in-services that year, we acknowledged the first day of a new Florida employee. There was a lot of video conferencing. During one in-service team-building exercise, each small group had an iPad or laptop so at least one member of their team was from Florida. Challenging, yes, but always interesting from an administrative perspective.

Here are some of the planning and implementation tips for that long litany of programming:

  1. Start planning early. We usually began discussing the next in-service a week or two after the last one finished. Since one occurred every four months, two to three months of planning seemed like a lot to us. We talked weekly so that helped speed up the timeline. Bring in others early, especially if you want them to help present or coordinate events the day of the event.
  2. Think outside the box.

    A WMU-Cooley Law School In-service Event

    No topic or theme was too outrageous. We made towers out of marshmallows and spaghetti. I was taped to the wall. Teams had to do scavenger hunts. I constantly reminded staff the primary goal was to get to know your colleagues from across the campuses. If you learned something to take to your desk the next day, that was a plus.

  3. Use either a place in the law school away from the library or go off campus. We often meet in our main classroom spaces. We used a movie theater. We volunteered at Toys for Tots (in multiple cities at the same time). We toured a local courthouse. A group went to Dave and Buster’s. If you have funding, there are a lot of options. If not, consider the meeting room at your local public library or the clubhouse of an apartment complex. The typical locations where kids have birthday parties can be very quiet on weekdays and provide the break from the usual workplace.
  4. Plan to have an icebreaker. A lot of people don’t like these, but they do help set the tone for the day. This isn’t an ordinary work day. We want staff to interact in a different way. I like The New Encyclopedia of Icebreakers and The Encyclopedia of Group Activities. There are a lot of others as well as quite a few web sites with ideas to be had for free.
  5. Have some substantive content. Presenting information is important even if the topic doesn’t appeal to everyone. This can help pull together a theme or push an agenda item. We had someone speak about our new Professionalism Program and the library staff became the first group on campus to endorse it as a department. Our discussion about how a prospective student is recruited and enrolled gave everyone a great perspective of what happens in Admissions. The take away doesn’t need to be something to use at your desk, but rather helps give a greater perspective of how the school operates and the mission we serve.
  6. Use experts at the law school or university. Our law school president spoke. Our vice president of finance spoke.  A faculty member led staff through a mock class. The career services director spoke. The chairman of our board spoke. The founder of our law school spoke. We had great speakers with little cost other than a meal. This creates a great sense of camaraderie between library staff and other departments at the school.
  7. Seek feedback. We always had evaluations. Of course, we never please everyone. The criticism of food drove me crazy, so we eventually took that off the evaluations. Hey, it was a free meal and we always had options that could accommodate every possible need. We also provided snacks galore during the course of the day. Plenty of fruit and yogurt, as well as the usual cookies and brownies appeals to everyone. Some people regularly said it was a waste of their time. They were busy. Remember, though, what your goal is: building community is number one. You want to be successful so evaluations help you learn from missteps.

With some thought and planning, an in-service can be a very useful event. Involving others in the planning can also give the person you least expect to lead an opportunity to shine. We have assigned tasks to groups, assigned tasks to individuals, and asked for volunteers. All approaches have worked well with the caveat that you cannot please everyone. When our staff was nearly 100 people, it was quite an undertaking. We invited permanent part-time staff, part-time reference librarians, and often, student employees. Now that we are a smaller group and our associate director has left, I have been forced to rethink the in-service concept. In the past we had special department in-services, librarian in-services, support staff in-services, and optional in-services. Today, with less staff, it is still important to have a goal when planning for an in-service. For me, that has not changed; build community by getting to know your colleagues and hopefully take something back to your desk for tomorrow.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Planning, Training | Tagged | Leave a comment

RIPS Seeking Volunteer: Co-Webmaster

Are you interested in getting more involved with RIPS-SIS? Have a knack for website development? Want to work next to our amazing webmaster, Maribel Nash, to help make improvements during the 2017-2018 year? Then I have a position for you!

We are currently seeking a volunteer to be “Co-Webmaster” with Maribel. Our Vice Chair, Alyson Drake, has been working with the Website Task Force, and we have some exciting web improvements coming up this year. We will be talking about the website at our Business Meeting on June 21st at 1 CST (save the date), so stay tuned.

If you are interested in this position, e-mail by Friday, May 26th, including information about relevant experience, if any.

Posted in Inspiration and Design Ideas, RIPS Committees | Tagged | Leave a comment