Posted in Presentations, Teaching

How is Legal Research Like Math?

I participated in a reading group at IU this year in which educators from all different departments on campus read a book called Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Help Improve Student Learning, by Jose Bowen (check out the website here).  The book talks about flipping the classroom so you can more effectively use face time to ensure student comprehension.  During one of our discussions, I was sharing my teaching experiences in the 1L legal research curriculum, how students would come to me a month or so after my Fall lectures on case law and statutory research and say, “Your lectures made sense to me at the time, but now we have a new client file.  How do I do it now?”  I’d always be a little crestfallen that they couldn’t extrapolate to the next research scenario.  But another participant in the group who teaches freshman math piped in and said that she has the same problem.  And that’s when I realized: Word problems are word problems.  Whether you’re talking about mathematical concepts or legal concepts, students encounter the same struggles.

Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis (bless you!) know that I am relatively new to law librarianship, only two years in.  In today’s climate, more emphasis is put on strong legal writing skills than on legal research, especially in the 1L curriculum.  I was counting it up the other day, and realized that, in an entire academic year, I get at the most 3 hours to teach basic legal research.  Now, I’m not here to argue about that – it is what it is, and you work with what you’re given.  After swapping stories with colleagues at other schools, I feel fortunate that I get to come into the 1L classroom at all!  But having only that short amount of time does mean I have to make it count, and how do you do that?

Well, judging from my experiences with my students and my little epiphany in the reading group, it occurred to me that perhaps my students’ main problem is that they cannot see the forest through the trees.  Maybe I need to focus a little more on the big picture.  In my last lecture of the Spring (in January), we mostly review everything I’ve taught them.  So this year, I used a Prezi for this part of the lecture.  Now Prezi gets a lot of flack: (1) many people use it mostly because it’s flashy and different than your standard PowerPoint, and (2) its setup – zooming in and out of each point of the presentation – has been known to make people seasick.  However, I like Prezi because it sets you up to focus on the big picture.  You literally start with the big picture, zoom in to focus on individual points, and zoom back out to the big picture again at the end.  If you don’t like the Prezi experience, fine.  But you can’t argue with that organization.  (And by the way, my Prezi did not make anyone sick, and students came up afterward to thank me, because it was the first time that everything was put together for them.)

I decided to share this experience and expand upon it for the CALI Conference for Law School Computing this year.  My idea was to share not only my Prezi, but also to envision how the same presentation – The Basic Legal Research Process – could be conveyed through other visual formats.  I didn’t do anything too mind-blowing, instead focusing on the tried-and-true, like PowerPoint, Keynote, and other linear slideware like Haiku Deck and Google Slides.  I also threw in mind-mapping, with an example from Coggle, and more static visuals like posters, bringing an example of one made in Canva, or teaching from a LibGuide.  For the presentation, I showed examples of each, talked about the pros and cons, and gave suggestions of where each visual might best serve the education process.  Like I said, not mind-blowing, but instead purposefully focusing on existing technologies and how best to use them to optimizing learning and retention.  In preparing for this presentation, I learned a few things:

brainWhile I thought it was just good practice in teaching, it turns out that visual aids are scientifically proven to aid in education.  It comes down to how the right brain and left brain work together.  [Warning: This will be incredibly simplified, as I am not a cognitive scientist!]  In a typical law school classroom, where students read the cases before class and listen to lecture and maybe a little Socratic Method during class, the left brain is really well stimulated.  This is because the left brain absorbs individual pieces of data, as from a book or a lecture.  But the right brain needs a little more.  The right brain makes connections between those individual pieces of data, and does this best in a visual format.  So even having a simple PowerPoint of bulleted slides accompany your lecture fires the right brain into action.  By using both the right and left brain, we learn better.  It aids in our memory – we retain and can recall information much better.  And then there’s the issue of learning styles.  There are many theories out there, but generally I found six learning styles:

  1. Oral – learns best by talking it out (think: Socratic Method)
  2. Aural – learns best by listening (think: lecture)
  3. Verbal – learns best by reading (think: reading the cases, handouts, etc.)
  4. Kinesthetic – learns best by acting it out (think: trial advocacy courses)
  5. Tactile – learns best by touching (think: clinics)
  6. Visual – learns best with visual aids

Now you would think that the argument for visual aids in the classroom is because visual learners need them.  That’s true, but as it turns out, visual aids benefit every learning style.  Again, this goes back to optimizing use of both the left and right brain.

Clearly, I was thrilled to find this out, as it backed up the premise behind my talk.  But we’ve all seen terrible PowerPoints, and those critical of visual aid use in teaching are not entirely incorrect.  There are many ways to use visuals incorrectly in teaching, but, as was the punchline in my talk: That’s on the speaker.  Blaming the technology is like shooting the messenger.  Instead, it’s the person behind the message that’s to blame.  For every visual aid faux pas, there’s a solution:

  • Too wordy?  Focus on fewer words, more images (Relevant images, I should say; it turns out putting pictures of kittens on every slide is unlikely to help your audience remember your points!)
  • Reading the slides?  Ouch – that’s the worst!  And as it turns out, not only is that bad form, but that impedes learning as well.  It seems counter-intuitive, but if you read your slides to your audience while they’re trying to read them as well, that’s redundant, and they will actually retain it less well than if you had a few bullet points on your slide for them to read, but you elaborated on these points in your lecture.
  • Too flashy?  Yeah, that’s easy to get carried away with.  A good rule of thumb with visuals is: Everything you do should have a purpose.  Create your visuals thoughtfully.  Sure, I can make my slides bounce onto and off the screen, but what does that convey?  Too flashy = distracting = difficult to retain.
  • It’s a crutch: It’s easy for a speaker to let the visual take over.  A common complaint of students is that when professors use visuals the class becomes far less interactive.  You have to remember that the visual is merely an aid.  Just because you have a PowerPoint up does not mean you can’t pause for class discussion. For example, put a hypo up on a slide and work the class discussion into the visual.

What you should notice here is that in each of these scenarios it’s not the technology that has failed, but the speaker.  It is critical to know how the technology works and how best to use it to convey what you’re teaching.  Don’t use it just because you think you have to; use it thoughtfully.  Finally, make sure the technology fits.  As I concluded in my presentation, some technologies – PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc. – are still top dog for use in lectures; other technologies, like LibGuides and posters, might be better to bring up at the end of class as a study aid after-the-fact.  I even thought it could be really powerful to create a mind map interactively with your class in a review session; that way it’s not a map of the professor’s mind, but of the collective class mind instead; while untested by me, I have a hunch that doing something like this with the class would really help students grasp the concept.  (If you try this out, please let me know how it goes!)

If you’re interested in more about this presentation, you can check out my materials here.



Posted in AALL, Government, Presentations

AALL Annual Meeting, Day Two

With the conference officially in full swing today, there was quite a lot going on.  This morning I attended program A-4: Social Media and Your Library: Strategies to Lead the Way.  This was a great panel discussion on the types of social media law libraries are using, both internally and externally, and it also identified some tools that can aid in social media management.  The panelists, Jennifer Murray of Maricopa County Superior Court’s Law Library, Kathleen Brown, of Oklahoma City University’s Law Library, and Steven Lastres of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP discussed their experiences with social media, providing a great look at how different types of law libraries use and manage social media in different ways.  (Ex: Twitter as a competitive intelligence tool?!?  Fascinating!)

A great takeaway from this program was the importance of putting in place a social media policy and strategy (and making sure the two are aligned).  While myriad emerging technologies exist that libraries could be playing with, you don’t want to dive into something just because it’s there: as with any library service, there should be a purpose behind the technologies you choose, and having a social media policy and strategy in place will help you determine what tools are best for your library.  As the resident “tweeter” and Facebook manager for our library, I can tell you how time-consuming social media can be.  You have to remember that it’s a service of your library; once it’s established, you need to maintain it, and this will take time.  This program was excellent for anyone thinking of diving into social media or even for those of us already in the thick of it.  If you didn’t have a chance to go, I would recommend accessing the slides from AALL2Go.

The other major programming event I “attended” today was our own!  B-8: State Constitutions: Current Historical, and How They Change was held at 2 o’clock today in front of a fairly crowded room.  I want to thank everyone who attended our program this afternoon, as well as my co-presenters, Jennifer Morgan and Cindy Dabney, and our moderator, Michelle Cosby.  I was so pleased with the turnout for our program; we have worked on it for quite a long time and were so glad to share it with our colleagues today.  I would also like to thank the GD-SIS for sponsoring our program.

For those of you who were unable to attend, our program discussed the challenges of state constitutional research.  While there are many finding aids on researching the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions can be more challenging, especially if you’re asked to research a state with which you are unfamiliar: there is no uniform method of state constitutional amendment, and different states produce and preserve different documentation along the way, which can be a struggle for researchers.  Our program, therefore, identified tools and documents to look for when researching the current or historical texts of state constitutions, or when researching amendment and revision processes within a state.  The program culminated by us revealing a 50-State research guide Jennifer created from research she and I compiled on state constitutions.

If you would like materials from our program, the handout is presently available on AALL2GO and at the print stations at the conference; our slides will be posted shortly.

With our program complete, I am looking forward to a restful sleep before a very busy day tomorrow.  I hope you’re all enjoying the conference!

Posted in AALL, Government, Presentations, Research

AALL bound

As with so many of my colleagues across the country, I am Seattle bound today to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). As one of those people who actually loves professional development, I always look forward to this conference (and it doesn’t hurt that it’s always held in a major city, often one I’ve never been to!).

This year is especially exciting for our library, as many of us are actively involved with the conference in some way. Our library is receiving an award for Excellence in Marketing – Best Use of Technology for a video Cindy Dabney, our Outreach Services Librarian, created marketing the reference office. In addition, two of us – Mike Maben and Michelle Botek – have posters to show in the exhibit hall. I believe Mike’s is at position #1 and Michelle’s is at position #15.

Finally, Jennifer Morgan, Cindy, and I are co-presenting on Sunday – we’d love to see you there! Our session is B8: State Constitutions – Current, Historical, and How They Change. It is slotted for Sunday at 2. We will be discussing the challenges of researching state constitutions and amendments, and a tool Jennifer created as a research aid in this area. This program has a long history, beginning with a guest lecture Jennifer gave for the Indiana Solicitor General’s course at Maurer Law on State Constitutional Law. He asked her to give this as a presentation to the Indiana Deputy Attorneys General as well, a presentation that was turned into a CLE. At this point, Jennifer and I began compiling research on the constitutional processes of the fifty states and the documentation available in each state to aid this research. Jennifer compiled this research into a research guide on our library website, available to all. Jennifer, Cindy, and I have given this presentation to Indiana librarians a couple of times this year, and we are thrilled to share it with our colleagues from across the country this weekend.

I hope to see many of you at the conference. I would like to thank RIPS-SIS, the Research, Instruction, and Patron Services Special Interest Section of AALL, for awarding me a travel grant to assist me in attending this conference this year. I truly appreciate it.

I will be blogging throughout the conference, so look for more posts to come!

Posted in Outreach, Presentations, Teachable Moments

Conceptualization and Technology

This week has had me thinking about technology in terms of conceptualization – both technologies that are intended to make you conceptualize information in a different way and reconceptualizing existing technologies for use in new ways.

For the past two days I have attended the Statewide IT Conference here in Bloomington.  Admittedly, as I am not an IT specialist by any means, much of the conference material was over my head; however, there were several programs that dealt with the use of technology in the classroom, and it is my reflections on these programs that inspired my post for the week.  For at least the third time this year, I attended a program that discussed Prezi.  For most, Prezi is fairly well-known at this point as a presentation software akin to PowerPoint, yet entirely different at the same time.  I had to agree with the presenter today – I have seen both good and horrible Prezi presentations!  The thing that sets it apart from PowerPoint is – my buzzword for this post – conceptualization!  PowerPoint is inherently linear – you present your information slide by slide.  Prezi is more of a “mind map,” meaning that the information you are presenting is all linked around a central concept; certainly, you will present this information in a particular order, but in theory you could present the same information in a different order, because it is all interrelated.  I’ve been a little leery to use Prezi in the past because so many people I know find it sea-sickening (I think I’ve coined a new term there!), however, there is much in legal research that could be taught, perhaps best even, through a mind map conceptualization, because so much in research is interrelated; thus I intend to start experimenting more with Prezi to see how my presentations might be transformed for the better.

In addition I continue to find new uses for existing technologies that I believe could put a new face on typical library activities and raise our profile among our patron base; this goes beyond the Facebook and Twitter accounts I began earlier this year.  I hate to be so vague about this, but as I haven’t put these into action yet, I think I should hold off on detailed ideas.  Suffice it to say that I have been looking at existing social media and other popular applications lately in new ways that I think could change or supplement the manner in which we present library services and collections in the future.

To be continued…