Skip to main content

Supporting Colleagues With Instructional Programming Ideas

In our respective law schools, we don't always have control over the amount of mandatory research instruction our students receive and who is doing that instruction. As such, to ensure that our students have the research skills they need for practice, librarians must use their creativity to come up with instructional opportunities for our students. There are so many iterations of non-credit legal research programs out there. Law librarians run certificate programs for students on legal research, run lunchtime brown bags on how to conduct topical research, partner with vendors to provide programming to benefit their students, hold quick Peanut Butter & Jelly and a Demo sessions highlighting a single resource, and much more.

Sometimes it takes multiple iterations of an idea to work. This means that we need to hesitate before discouraging a colleague who wants to try something, even if we've tried something similar before. It often takes the right team and spark of energy for educational programming to work. And there is nothing more demoralizing than wanting to try "new" things and to constantly be told that they won't work because your library has tried something similar before. We need to give our colleagues with these ideas guidance on what stumbling blocks they may encounter, but while supporting them in their initiatives, so they say energetic and excited about our profession. We want to embrace those librarians and encourage their innovation and enthusiasm. We deal with many challenges in our chosen profession, and feeling a lack of support from our colleagues shouldn't be one of them. As our libraries change and resources and staff are potentially reduced, we will need their creativity. While we must be realistic about the amount of programming that our libraries can sustain, considering educational programming with an open mind and expressing encouragement towards our colleagues' ideas is critical to the morale of the library.

Those wanting to try new programming would do well to listen to their colleagues by asking questions to try to get a sense of what didn't work well with the last educational programming that "failed." At what time of day did they offer the programming and were there a lot of conflicting events? How long was the program? What kind of marketing did they do for the programming? Did they get any formalized feedback on the programming from those who did attend and, if they did, was their any constructive feedback? Building off of past programs and making incremental changes will often result in finding your law library's instructional programming "sweet spot." Even one small change in the program can be the catalyst for a program to succeed when it didn't last time--and having energized librarians running these programs can go a very long way in an instructional opportunity being a success. Let's nurture that excitement.

Popular posts from this blog

Letter to A First-Time (Legal Research) Instructor

Dear Friend,

Seven years ago this week, I was prepping madly to teach my first legal research class.  Three months earlier, I'd been a law student myself.  To say that I was nervous is an understatement; mildly terrified was probably a more apt description.  The truth is I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I wanted to teach legal research differently than I had been taught legal research, where at best it was viewed as a skill less important than everything else being taught at law school and at worst an afterthought, a skill that students should be able to do with very little training. 

There are many points I wish I knew then that I know now and that's what I want to share with you today. 


First and foremost, students will forgive many imperfections in the classroom if they know you care about their learning.  At the start of every semester, I re-read Kent Syverud's "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers,"…

Helping With Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 3: Limiting New Technologies to Reduce Extrinsic Cognitive Load

A librarian colleague used to say to me, "Technology is great until it's not." This couldn't be more true in the classroom.  As many of us prepare for a fall entirely or partially online, there's a rush to familiarize ourselves with lots of new educational technology to teach our classes. There's this sense that if you're not using the best and newest ed tech in your class, you're doing something wrong.

Fortunately, the science doesn't back this up.  Using too many different types of technology can be a contributing factor to cognitive overload in students. Cognitive load is a term cognitive psychologists use to describe the mental challenge that the limitations of working memory puts on a student's learning.[1] Basically, working memory is extremely limited in both time and duration. Humans can only hold on to between four and nine "chunks" of information at any given time,[2] and can only hold on to new information in their working…

Helping with Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 4: Building An Online Teaching Presence

I've written before about how important it is to show students you care about their learning and about them as humans, in part summarizing Kent Syverud's excellent piece, "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers. It is harder to show students that you care about them in a remote environment than when you see them in a physical classroom every day, where you can smile at them, easily ask them how they're doing as they enter the room or when you run into them in the classroom, or notice through their body language if they are having a hard time and reach out. But we know that showing we care matters; our students try harder and engage more when they feel like their learning matters to their instructor. It takes more intention to show you care about students in the online classroom, but it's imperative that we find ways to show we do.

So what are some ways that we can show students we care in the remote learning environment?
The first is to build a te…

Helping with Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 1: Considering Serial Position Effect

One of the issues I'm most concerned about in teaching online is keeping the attention of my students.  Many students this spring have reported difficulties with motivation and staying focused during their remote learning experiences.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to write about some of the strategies legal research instructors can consider to help their students stay focused and motivated in the classroom.

Today, we're going to kick off that project by writing about serial position effect.  Serial position effect is the simple principle that most people will remember the information at the beginning and end of a list or lecture, and forget most other items that come in the middle.[1]  The obvious implication for teaching, then, is that the points we teach at the beginning and end of a class session are the ones students are most likely to remember, and therefore we should emphasize our most important concepts during those most impactful time frames.  We must design our cla…

Helping with Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 2: Prioritizing Transparency

One factor leading to decreased focus and motivation in online classes is the uncertainty many students feel in the virtual environment.  This uncertainty can arise from students never having taken an online class before, from having distractions at home that they don't have in their in-person classes, or from using technology with which they're not familiar.  This uncertainty can lead to students disengaging with the class, as they feel disconnected from the content, their instructor, and their classmates.

To support students undergoing this uncertainty and help them stay engaged, provide as much clarity as possible.  Being clear about expectations will help students gain some balance in an uncomfortable situation.  There are a number of ways we can help students minimize their discomfort--from making sure online class modules are standardized in their format within the learning management system to designing a syllabus with well-structured, clear course requirements.  One me…