Skip to main content

Six Reasons Why Individual Research Conferences Are A Good Idea

I hear from a number of my fellow law librarians that they don't like doing research conferences with their students. The number one reason I hear for why is that they take up a tremendous amount of time--which is completely fair, given time is a commodity most law librarians are short on.

For me, the benefits of research conferences far outweigh the time needed to perform them. Here are just a few reasons why I include them in my research courses:

1.  As I've already noted elsewhere, they are a great way for instructors to model for their students how to collaborate and communicate in a way similar to what they'll do in practice. Conferencing is a lawyering skill that students need to practice during their legal education.

2.  Individualized feedback is critical to student learning (and it's required under the ABA Standards for experiential simulation courses).  Research conferences allow us to provide feedback in an atmosphere that all but guarantees that our students will hear the feedback instructors are giving. While written feedback can be helpful, we have no way of knowing that our students are actually carefully reading the constructive criticism we are giving them. Even if they are carefully dissecting our comments, feedback is more valuable when students can follow up with questions about professors' commentary. While some students feel comfortable enough to come to office hours and ask questions about our comments, others are unlikely to do so. In an in-person meeting, students hear and have time to reflect on the feedback, and then are able to move forward in the learning process as partners with the instructor.

3. Research conferences allow us to meet each student where they are in the learning process. In the classroom, instructors are forced to teach to the median to move class forward. But, there is no "one right way" to research and analyze legal issues, particularly given the variety of platforms and search strategies at researchers' disposal.  Teaching to the median results in both losing students who have moved beyond the average skill level and leaving those students behind who are struggling the most and need instruction to their current abilities. As such, conferences can become one of the most meaningful learning opportunity for the vast majority of our students, as we can cater instruction to exactly where each student is in their abilities.

4.  Conferences provide excellent feedback for the instructor about how well their students are learning.  Conferences give us an opportunity to learn more about what is and is not working well for our students individually and collectively.  This reflection allows us to make adjustments in our teaching methodology as the course proceeds.  Having met with all of his or her students, the instructor is able to identify global issues with with the class is struggling. The instructor can then revisit those issues, which may be a benefit to those students who had greater issues in other areas and didn't have a chance to discuss the global issues in their conferences.

5.  One-on-one conferences allow us to build relationships with our students that result in their being more engaged inside and outside of the classroom.  Conferences helps teachers and students to build mutual respect.  Conferences, when structured to meet students' individual concerns about their efforts, make students feel heard and valued. This, in turn, results in them staying more engaged as active partners in their own learning.

6.  Research conferences are a better pedagogical tool than waiting to meet until students have started writing, because it allows us to work with our students when they are engaged most deeply in legal analysis and when they are not distracted by trying to communicate that analysis in writing. Research conferences allow students to work out their analysis prior to putting pen to paper, likely resulting in better written and analyzed first drafts of their papers.

Popular posts from this blog

Embracing Learner-Centered Pedagogy

Most educators pride themselves on putting our students first and try to make teaching decisions with our students' best interests in mind. But, what does learner-centered teaching really mean?

In their 2017 book, Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice, Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook set out to answer this question--and how it can be applied to teaching in a librarianship context. When asked to articulate what having a learner-centered approach means, most point to individual exercises or classroom techniques they employ or try to avoid, but are unable to describe the philosophy as a larger concept.

Ultimately, Klipfel and Cook's definition of learner-centered pedagogy is "who we are as people matters."[1] They explain it in further detail as: "Our conception of learner-centered pedagogy encourages library educators to encounter the learner as an individual with personal interests, preferences, and motivations, and uniquely human set of …

Recognizing and Supporting Unlearning In the Classroom

Students in legal research classes or workshops often struggle with unlearning.  Since most students have done some type of research during their undergraduate education, we are asking them to do something (at least somewhat) familiar in a new way.  When students are try to unlearn something, they will understandably stumble over old habits.  After all, if they've always done research a certain way, like tossing search terms into a Google-like search box, it's become automatic for them, a task they do without any conscious thinking. When we ask them to use an index or Table of Contents or another tool instead, it takes conscious effort for them not to resort to their ingrained research habits.

In fact, it's actually more challenging to make a conscious effort to change an existing habit than it is to make a conscious effort to do something new.[1]  Their previous processes have already become streamlined in their brain and building new structures based on new learning is h…

Reflection in the Legal Research Classroom

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning.  We see in ABA Standard 303 that experiential courses must include multiple opportunities for self-evaluation.  Self-evaluation is critically important to legal research.  Students must reflect on and assess their research methodology each time they research to continue becoming more efficient legal researchers and to determine what research strategies work best in which situations. [1]

Reflection relates to several ideas found in cognitive theory that have been shown to result in stronger learning and retention:

Retrieval: recalling recently-learned information; Elaboration: finding a nexis between what you know and what you are learning; and Generation: putting concepts into your own words and/or contemplating what you might do differently next time. I've been contemplating how to better incorporate reflection into legal research classes. At the beginning of this semester, at the recommendation of a workshop I attended …

Changing the Narrative About Legal Research

I attended an interesting talk by a colleague and friend recently that has me thinking about re-writing narratives. Specifically, I've been considering how to re-write the narrative about the importance of legal research in legal education.

Legal research instruction has long taken a back seat in the legal academy.  It's even been described as the "stepchild in legal education."[1] As a skills course, it's traditionally been considered of less import than doctrinal courses, though thankfully this seems to be improving. Even within the first years skill course, the dedicated time for students to learn legal research, research often takes a backseat in time and emphasis to legal writing and oral arguments, despite being the foundation needed to be successful at both. This happens despite those hiring new attorneys commenting regularly about their discontent with students' research skills.

It's unlikely in most cases that more time is going to be formally al…

Revamping the Lecture

Lecturing has a bad name in today's world of experiential learning, but it's an often necessary component to legal research classes as students have to have some bibliographic information before we jump into the databases. As I conclude one semester and begin prepping for the next, I've been doing a lot of reading on how I can make my lectures more effective and engaging learning experiences for my students.

As Todd Zakrajsek notes in his 2017 Teaching in Higher Ed podcast on Dynamic Lecturing, "You can't just take bad examples of something and claim that the whole concept is bad." Instead, we should focus on what makes a lecture compelling for our students in our course planning and evaluate our lectures after our classes for their efficacy, reflecting on what worked well and what didn't.

So how can we make the most of our lectures?  Here's a few ideas I've come across:
Make your objectives clear to your students. Don't hide the ball--let you…