From black and white to colour: engaging and educating the screen addicts of 2011


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Presentation from BIALL Conference 2011, held in Gateshead, UK. Covers creation of a legal skills wiki, Learnmore, part of the Lawbore suite of resources from The City Law School. Covers problems faced by academics and librarians re teaching legal skills and how the Learnmore site has helped turn things around.

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  • Shallow as it is, if we want people to pay attention to our product whether that be our teaching sessions, our blogs or even our indispensible service, we need to make sure we engage them at all levels, particularly with students whose phones beep to alert them of new emails, tweets and messages all day long. The desire for interactivity and ‘something new’ has led to the weird situation where we watch tv and then comment on it so we can share our thoughts with others.
  • So this paper focuses on my development of a skills wiki for law students at City University, and will encompass what lead to its creation, the ongoing development and what I’ve learnt from it. I’ve been at City 10.5 years as Law Librarian and am lucky enough to play a pretty active role within the law school. Key bits of my role include teaching an introductory law course which is compulsory for all undergraduate law students alongside a lecturer. Legal Method takes place in Term 1 of the first year and is designed to cover all the basic non-substantive law that students need to know. I also set and mark 3 assessments on this course. In 2002 I created a website for our law students called Lawbore – many of you will have heard me speak on this before (apologies!). This started out as a portal-type resource to encourage wider reading amongst my students, but has developed into something much broader. Encompassing resource guides for different subject areas, the Hub – community stuff, Future Lawyer our careers blog, and Learnmore, our skills wiki, which is what is what the paper today will be focusing on.
  • So taking it back a stage…those issues my students have are I’m sure, very similar to yours. Your average 18 year old undergraduate may not have had too much to do with a library, if they need to know something they’re going to google it or ask their friends and they’re not familiar with most of the sources. Many of them don’t even understand how to use an index in a book, never mind have the patience for ensuring a piece of legislation is up to date. As I said before, I’m lucky to get a lot of the student contact time in their first term but this is only for undergraduates. At the other end of the scale, we run a large law conversion course which although these are graduates (the majority Oxbridge) they are still totally new to law and all its intricacies. These students study 7 core subjects in 9 months and have to hit the ground running. They need to learn fast but without formal teaching. We know from various studies (Google Generation stuff of course) that students aren’t as competent at using technology as many assume and success in law is very dependent on the student’s use of the correct, most up-to-date information. Using the wrong or out of date law can mean losing a case after all. Hence legal skills stuff is ultra important!
  • Since the Google Generation report, we’ve not seen any lessening of the Google grip around our students throats. Our paid-for resources still come second best. My experience is that this is less the case in Law, they know the value of the databases often because they are so focused on their career and appreciate their expertise in databases has a role to play in this. That said, the critical and analytical skills which Nicholas and Rowlands detailed were seriously lacking, often still are. There was much debate towards the end of last year after the publication of Nicholas Carr’s book: The Web Shatter Focus, Rewires Brains, after he opened discussion with the proposition our reading on the web is faster but far less thorough: Describing it as: “The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it”. We want to be interrupted because we don’t like feeling out of touch, each tweet, email, instant message brings us valuable info. But our brain has to reorient itself each time which adds to the cognitive load. Ability to browse and scan v read deeply and think attentively – both important!This quote from Spence was from an article in 2004 – I’m not sure the students perception of their web skills has changed enormously, although this does change depending on how much exposure they get to their library and librarian.   
  • Getting the fundamentals right is so important in law – they need to become independent learners early on. Legal skills are the tools of the trade. If students are well equipped with these ‘tools’ then they are better placed to learn substantive law and to enter the profession. Most law schools struggle with finding an appropriate slot for a subject such as ELS, Foundation programme, Legal Method, Legal Skills, or whatever it may be called in the various law schools. Most within law schools accept that it is necessary to teach these skills at the outset but struggle with trying to decide where to squeeze out enough time to teach them. If legal skills are the tools of the trade and these need to be taught at the beginning of the law course, we need to deal with the fact that students are generally like ‘rabbit in the headlights’ at the start of the course and they do not fully appreciate the importance of the skills that they are being taught until much later when they in fact need to apply the skills and have to recall what they were taught when they were being bombarded with information. We often end up relying on students picking up the skills by doing – pretty much a sink or swim approach… So the challenge is to engage from the start and get students to appreciate the value of deeper learning for their study and their professional life.  
  • Current challenges and problems that we have found in trying to improve student engagement in teaching legal skills include:That gaping hole of transition – it’s a big leap to make from A-level to degree. They have a steep learning curve before being able to study substantive law like contract and criminal in their first year. The traditional lecture/tutorial way of teaching is a tough one for students to get a handle on, particularly when so many of these rely on a largely transmissive teaching style. Their experience of education pre-university will differ enormously in both the way they are taught and how much they need to stand on their own two feet. Getting students to take legal skills seriously is a tough one, as many can see it as simply ticking a box, not something which remains with them throughout their profession. Some can feel it is holding them up from the real matters of learning proper law. It’s certainly a challenge to make it stimulating as a subject.   
  • Lawbore already had an existing skills wiki with some good content (created in late 2007), but the very structured ‘look’ didn’t do it justice. It was quite plain-looking, wordy and very organised categories put students off. There simply wasn’t enough visual engagement. Students only used a small proportion of the content. I enlisted a newish, keen lecturer from the law school to work with me on the redevelopment and we made a shortlist of what was important for the new resource. It had to consist of a wide variety of stand-alone resources in order to offer ‘something for everyone’It was important to give the students some ownership of the resource – get them involved. We wanted a supportive outlet that meant they would be able to find something helpful at any time for those 3am panic moments. There had to be lots of real-life examples for students to learn from and lots of multimedia.
  • We know that students are used to being online for a large part of their day; facebook and YouTube rule. They learn by doing and by watching. The visual is king in their lives. Any redesign had to incorporate lots of different types of media and had to look fun and engaging. The rest of Lawbore has always been a little quirky and the redeveloped Learnmore had to continue in a similar vein.
  • A big part of what Learnmore allows us to do is let the students loose on the resource and decide individually what support they need. They can obviously access it 24/7 and we’ve placed a big emphasis on how the resource looks as well as what it does.Right from the off we knew it had to be fun, and the earlier incarnation of the resource launched in 2007, showed that students loved the combination of hardcore textual information alongside the visual ‘this is how you do it’ type of content. They liked seeing visually how things should be done. Design-wise we wanted something quirky, to catch their attention and that had the flexibility to change every now and again. The idea of basing the site around a law student’s brain just seemed to suit our very student-led site. Having random pictures to illustrate what the student is thinking just added to a an extra element of fun. Here’s a few key student quotes from a survey late last year which demonstrate that students are pretty aware of how they like to take in information. Lots of them commented on how tough they find reading such dense text in books and that they appreciated having the option for a break from this.  
  • So let’s take a look at the Mooting area of the law student’s brain to get an idea as to the types of content: Specific examples of:Juxtaposing do’s and don’ts – Mooting video tutorial – judge’s questioning or delivery? Providing real-examples moving away from the hypothetical – Saying it right slideshowDoing by seeing – Mooting top tips – Know your cases, Conclude, don’t just fade out or Don’t show how you’re feeling? Improve communication skills Integrating resources with course objectives (mooting)
  • With so many different possibilities for engaging students we were curious as to what the students thought about the different legal skills they needed to learn; which were most important and what they considered the value of learning from different types of resource. Around 120 first year undergraduates responded:When asked for the top two skills needed to be a great law student, they listed legal research and legal writing. Big surprise! Three quarters of students felt that using a variety of media to learn from made their learning a more beneficial experience. We’ll have a bit of a closer look at the multimedia concept of lawbore and the part which supports research next.
  • When surveyed, many students made the point that they everyone learns in different ways. They are very self-aware as to what makes them retain information, and this came across loudly as resources varied in their content and presentation. Law, being a book-heavy subject, seems ripe for revolution (in terms of learning resources anyway!).
  • The Moots area on Learnmore is the most developed, comprehensive section; with a wealth of different types of multimedia: talking slide shows, prezi presentations, standalone video clips and testimonial based clips. We felt it was right to spend a lot of time developing this as students find this one of the most daunting aspects of being a law student. Legal writing – at present this is one of the least developed areas; so far all text-based: with a little guidance on coursework writing, an example of answering a problem question and detailed information about the various law essay competitions there are out there. We’re got some useful content coming from a number of our alumni…more on this later and a great new feature to launch in the new academic year where students get an idea of what feedback actually means. Exams, like writing, is something we have not really tackled yet. Currently this contains a few tip-based pieces from past students. We’re looking to have a lot more on what we can get across on where students tend to fall down under exam stress. The Careers and Newbies section are very text-heavy at the moment. Hoping to incorporate some more video resources with students talking about their experience as a new student – challenges, advice etc.
  • Whilst it’s encouraging the students do see legal research as one of the most pivotal skills they need to learn, there are still many difficulties in getting students to understand the nature of legal sources.Legal research can be quite an uphill struggle for students who haven’t really had any experience of using even indexes in books or of using structured databases as opposed to google. They need to learn to question the authority of the sources they’re relying on of course. Basics around understanding legal abbreviations, law reports and practitioner texts are tackled here alongside simple breakdowns of different legal sources. Talking slideshows using Adobe Presenter work best here, to try and bring alive a somewhat dry subject. In future I hope to use testimonial-style video in future as well as some ‘how-to’ videos of specific resources and screencasts of online searching. Let’s take a look:Get to grips with law reports slideshow and Using Practitioner Texts
  • Overwhelmingly 71% of LLB students surveyed said they valued mix of advice from lecturers and other students City’s own legal portal Lawbore (of which Learnmore is a part) has long focused on involving the students in the content; the careers blog, Future Lawyer is a mixture of news items running alongside interviews with alumni (video and text based), and articles/event reviews written by current students.
  • A recent US journal article which touched on the ideas of students learning from students offers this useful quote. (*Sniff* they don’t want to hear from us) Obviously social networks are all about us getting a window into the world of our friends, and this is a chance to see how others have used their interest in law to further themselves.
  • This is further backed up by a couple of quotes from our students: ‘Advice given by students is closer to your heart than that given by your professors’ The Careers section of Lawbore is very much pitched as an ‘experience bank’, with articles written by those in the know as well as by students for their peers. Let’s take a look: Get some experience – Matt and AliPupillage – what to expect – Chris BondWorking in a European Union Institution – Helena HadjiyanniGoing to focus on getting some more year-specific stuff up too – e.g. for first year students, a basic intro to what the process is – creating opportunities, breakdown of jargon…
  • From black and white to colour: engaging and educating the screen addicts of 2011

    1. 1. From black and white to colour; engaging and educating the screen addicts of 2011<br />Emily Allbon - Law Librarian – City University London <br />@lawbore [for BIALL Conference : June 16th 2011]<br />
    2. 2. Looks do matter!<br />Oo-er<br />Yikes!<br />Ahhh…<br />
    3. 3. At City<br />Portal for law students at The City Law School<br />Created in 2002/03<br />Topic guides, Hub (community stuff), Future Lawyer Blog (law careers) and Learnmore (multimedia legal skills wiki)<br />Open to everyone! <br />
    4. 4. What are we facing? <br />LALALALALA…<br />I’m not interested in any of this library stuff! <br />
    5. 5. Better and targeted research<br />Search engine holding all the answers? <br />Surface learning<br />Internet stealing away our capacity to concentrate <br />Spence (2004) ‘we’re on the web all the time. We can find the information we need’<br />
    6. 6. The big challenge: engaging students<br />Independent learners<br />Legal skills are fundamental to making great lawyers <br />Inform how they adapt to substantive law teaching<br />Lifelong and deep learning<br />
    7. 7. Existing problems for engagement<br />Skills gap with transition from A-levels to degree<br />Lecture/tutorial model<br />Managing student expectation<br />Subject can be dull!<br />
    8. 8. So what did our resource have to be/do?<br />Resource-based <br />Focused around the students <br />Available 24/7 <br />Promote independence and academic confidence<br />Embedding real-life – learning through practice<br />Lots of multimedia<br />
    9. 9. Visual = King<br />Connected world in which our students reside<br />Has to look good or <br /> no-one will care about <br /> the content<br />
    10. 10. What do the students think about Learnmore as a learning resource? <br /> ‘Different resources – online tutorials, slideshows and videos – present the information in a fun and stimulating way...’ <br />‘It helps to have lots of different types of resources to learn from, not being reliant on always learning by reading!’ <br />‘Suits different people and how they study’ <br />‘It gets intense going through textbooks as reading can become a chore – nice to have something to lighten it’ <br />
    11. 11. Let’s take a look…<br />
    12. 12. Mooting resources on Learnmore <br /><br />Prezis – e.g. Saying it right or Judges: Scary or Softies<br />Talking slideshows – e.g. What is Mooting? Researching for a Moot and Bundles<br />Basic documents – e.g. example skeleton arguments<br />Video – see Take it from the Students for roundtable discussions with mooters and Mooting Top Tips for some practical and (sometimes funny) what not to do’s. <br />
    13. 13. What do the students think are the most important legal skills? <br />
    14. 14. Why does multimedia help? <br />I’m that type of learner/everyone learns by different methods – closes the learning gap<br />More interesting medium<br />Get the chance to watch it again <br />More fun to work so I concentrate more/get us students working with a greater passion<br />Makes it stick more in my mind/ideal for people who are more ‘hands-on’<br />Able to visually see things<br />Variety of resources is refreshing, not dull and boring like a book<br />Breaks up lectures/visuals can be beneficial from the daily monotonous lecturers talking<br />
    15. 15. What methods did we chose…<br />Text<br />Testimonials<br />Video<br />Prezi<br />Talking slideshows<br />Guidance pieces<br />
    16. 16. Research on Learnmore<br />
    17. 17. Peer learning<br />71% of LLB students surveyed - value mix of advice from lecturers and other students <br />Learnmore encourages current students and alumni to get involved<br />
    18. 18. Law profs….yawn…<br />“Law professors’ personal stories about ‘how I learned it’ –somewhat meaningless and antiquated. ..Novice peers, are perfect mirrors to help each other reflect and regulate law student learning” (Herndon, 2010)<br />And then in 1974…<br />=<br />
    19. 19. “Felt inspired by reading about what others in our position have achieved”<br />
    20. 20. What’s next? <br />Essay writing feedback tool with audio hotspots<br />Lots more alumni & current student content<br />Better integration in Moodle<br />Another platform? <br />
    21. 21. Questions? <br />
    22. 22. Go check out Lawbore & Learnmore!<br /> <br />
    23. 23. References<br />Carr, Nicholas (2010) The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains, May 24 2010<br />Claydon, Lisa (2009) Engaging and motivating student: assessment to aid student learning on a first year core law module, The Law Teacher 43(3)(Dec) p.269-283<br />Herndon, Lynn C. (2010) Help you, help me: why law students need peer teaching UMKC L. Rev, 78, p.809<br />Nicholas, David and Rowlands, Ian (2008) Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, <br />Spence, Larry (2004)The usual doesn’t work: why we need problem-based learning portal:Libraries and the Academy 4(4) p.485-493<br />
    24. 24. Image credits <br />Slide 1: ‘Eyes are the mirror of the soul’ by rAmmoRRison<br />Slide 2: ‘Rolf Harris’ by Beacon Radio<br />Slide 4: ‘Lalala…I don’t wanna hear this! By hebedesign<br />Slide 5: ‘The brain typography’ by labguest<br />Slide 6: – ‘put your hand up if you're having a good time’ by vern<br />Slide 7: ‘mind the gap’ by limaoscarjuliet<br />
    25. 25. Image credits<br />Slide 8: ‘Laptop’ by sp3ccylad<br />Slide 9: ‘king club’ by oknovokght<br />Slide 16: from Big Walk on Water website<br />Slide 17: ‘Professor Finger Puppet’ by abbey*christine and ‘The famous yawn - cc licence’ by Hilary Quinn<br />Slide 19: ‘Questions’ by Marcus Ramberg<br />