TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Curricular Changes In Legal Research Instruction: An Empirical Study

Caroline Osborne (Washington & Lee) & Stephanie Miller (Washington & Lee), Curricular Changes in Legal Research Instruction: An Empirical Study:

This article examines components of curricular design of a legal research class as impacting student performance. Expertise of instructor and use of the inverted, or flipped, classroom are specifically explored. Eight years of exam performance on an oral legal research midterm is used to measure student performance and success of various components of curricular design.

In designing the legal research class experience to create information literate students, a deconstructed inverted classroom experience holds the greatest promise. Instead of simply creating and assigning online modules, consider the skill intended to be taught and what might be the best introduction to understanding that skill. A deconstructed inverted classroom continues with the inverted classroom experience reserving the class time for handson interactive workshops. However, a meaningful examination of the pre-class experience may reveal new and varied methods of delivering instruction outside of class. For example, requiring students to physically examine a print source for tools such as a table of contents, index, tables or other features before completing a workshop with print sources may have a greater impact than watching a module.

Similarly, the value of the in-class activity is crucial to learning certain concepts and skills. Print research, specifically, directly benefits from a robust interactive experience where students directly work with the print materials to practice the research task. Use of the Socratic method of questioning is another component highly encouraged. Research classes should not avoid the Socratic method simply because it is a research class. Using highly targeted questions to explore nuances and differences in research strategies and concepts is as effective in a research class as it is in any other law school class. Socratic questioning plays an especially effective role in the inverted classroom format. If instructors expect that students have retained certain information from the pre-class materials, then use of the Socratic method to measure that understanding is more valuable than a period of review at the start of class.

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