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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:
  1. Make your objectives clear to your students. Don't hide the ball--let your class know the goals of this lecture, what they should know when you're finished, and why that's important to the overarching goals of the class.
  2. Engage students from the start of the lecture. Use storytelling to humanize what you're teaching. Legal research may not be the most exciting subject matter for all our students, but if you can tie statutory research to a story from practice or citators to an instance where someone was embarrassed in court for not finding an authority (think Marcia Clarke and Judge Ito). Social media can also be fantastic for examples to share with your class. #LawTwitter, #AppellateTwitter, and #PracticeTuesday often bring up examples of attorneys sharing stories from their experiences in practice.
  3. Vary your presentation methods. Powerpoint is easy for many of us because we're used to it, but don't default to it just because it's familiar. (I'm often guilty of this as I try to juggle all of my administrative library responsibilities with all of my tenure requirements--there's never enough time. Join me in my pledge to use less PowerPoint next semester--try a new format for at least one lecture.) Consider what formats might work best for the topic you're presenting--your students will appreciate it and it'll freshen things up for you. 
  4. Check in with your audience effectively. Be in touch with your audience and their experience.  Rather than asking if there are any questions at the end of the lecture to see if the class is still with you, intersperse your lecture with more effective questions for the class: "What parts of this are still a little confusing for you?" Even asking "What questions do you have?" instead of "Do you have any questions?" can lead to more queries from your class. Toward the end of class, try a "minute paper" assessment: ask students to respond in one or two sentences to a question, such as "What stood out to you as the most important concept in today's lecture?" or "What are you confused about?" Spend a few minutes reviewing the responses and you'll learn a lot about how your students are learning.
  5. Use appealing handouts as a visual aid and a tool for students to follow your lecture. This past semester, we started using guided notes handouts in our first year legal research workshops, which allowed students to fill in key information as they listen. They liked them as a tool to stay on track with the presentation and ensure they were walking with the most pertinent information. We thought this might help them listen more carefully to the lecture, but instead they focused on filling in the worksheets from the Powerpoint (maybe I should just get rid of the Powerpoint). If you're going to go the guided notes route, make sure you include points to be filled out based on what you're saying, not providing all the information they need on the board/screen.
  6. Keep them short! Most topics we're teaching in legal research can be taught quickly. The history of Shepard's in print might be interesting to us, but your students do not care. Their attention span is less than 15 minutes, so you should not be talking for longer than that. They want to know only what they practically need to know to conduct legal research and analysis. Hit the key points and transition to the active learning component where they put those skills to the test. Consider the "change up" method, which advises that you split the class up with that attention span in mind. In a class of 50 minutes, you should change up the lesson at least twice, moving to a different type of learning.

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