View from a Council Member: Tory Trotta, Arizona State University
TRIALL 1998: The Faculty Experience
In the Fall of 1997, the AALL Professional Development Committee (PDC) approached Lexis-Nexis and asked if they would be willing to put together a pre-AALL Annual Meeting Workshop that would be based on Lexis' on-going, very popular series for private law librarians, Teaching Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL). In spite of the fact that this project was not budgeted, Lexis agreed to sponsor the program. Under the experienced leadership of senior Lexis-Nexis professionals Holley Thompson, Cindy Spohr and Karen Bentley, a faculty was selected. I was asked to participate because I had been involved in the founding and planning of the TRIPLL series. The council was completed by the additions of Gail Partin, Associate Director at Dickenson; James Purnell, Associate Director of University of Connecticut and then Lexis-Nexis; and Dr. Yvonne Chandler, North Texas University School of Library and Information Sciences. Each of us brought different types of teaching experience to the program. I was pleased to be asked to participate with such a knowledgeable, not to mention fun, group of colleagues.
Speaking only for myself, I was terrified by the prospect of putting together a curriculum that would both cover topics that would be useful to the participants and be "advanced" enough so that we weren't all standing around, stating the obvious. The academic law librarian crowd can be a tough one, after all. Many of our colleagues had been teaching legal research in some form for years! What if we threw this party and nobody came?
During our one planning session in beautiful downtown Dayton, OH, we grappled with a number of issues. Who was our target audience? The topic was so huge, what could we hope to cover competently in the time allowed? What kinds of skills might participants be interested in developing or sharpening? As a faculty, we agreed that, no matter how long folks have been teaching legal research, there probably were skills that might be rusty or non-existent and ideas that might be useful to examine in detail.
Ultimately, we focused on curriculum creation, skill building and adult learning styles. The topics we chose were topics that we, as legal research instructors, wanted to learn more about or knew would make us better course planners. In the end, we were all extremely enthusiastic about the curriculum that emerged: changes in the world of legal research and education; adult learning styles; assessing user needs; developing a curriculum using the MacCrate Report guidelines; developing meaningful exercises (based on adult learning styles); learning how and when to use multi-media resources in our presentations; and learning to market ourselves and our library programs with our decision makers. Although the emphasis was on teaching legal research in a formal class setting, we all tried to weave in applications to the more informal teaching opportunities we all face.
Soliciting and selecting the program participants was the next challenge. Questions about how participants are selected for this Lexis-Nexis sponsored program always seem to arise; the implication being that somehow Lexis-Nexis is selecting people based on their usage of Lexis-Nexis. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire TRIALL council set the guidelines for selection. A subcommittee of the council oversaw the creation of the application document and selected the participants. We were unanimous in seeking to have as diverse a workshop audience as possible, in terms of size of law school, job responsibilities of the applicants, and demonstrated need (in their own words) for the course. As with other courses, we received three times as many applications as there were places in the workshop. The selection committee did an out standing job of meeting the council goals for selection; it was agonizing to have to select between so many good applicants.
The faculty next got to work putting together their course materials. Again, speaking only for myself, more agonizing and hand wringing ensued. What would be useful to the participants? What could they take back with them to immediately use in their own programs? These were the goals we all had in mind as we put our program segments into place. I was in charge of two modules: "Developing 'Meaningful' Exercises" and "Presentation Skills / Elevator Talk." Now, in the Fall of 1997, I didn't have a single clue about how to develop meaningful exercises (What ? No fill in the blank?), so I had to first reacquaint myself with adult learning styles, plus find good examples of exercises that were responsive to those styles. As usual, our colleagues around the country were generous with making some of their exercises available. Gail Partin (Dickenson), Ruth Levor (University of San Diego), Kathleen Vanden Heuvel (Boalt), Ruth Hill (Loyola - Los Angeles) , Kirsten Gerdy (Brigham Young), Wendy Scott (Syracuse), and Alison Ewing (Arizona State) answered the bell and shared some of their exercises with me, and with the workshop participants. I had less stress with the "Presentation Skills / Elevator Talk" segment. The outside marketing consultant, Mike Jousan, was from my neck of the woods, so I was dispatched to orient him to the joys, the challenges, and the personalities of law librarianship. It was a long conversation. I tried to use lots of golfing analogies. In the end, I think he got it. Most of it, anyway.
The evaluations were, all told, very positive. The council members were relieved. I think it made us all a little self-conscious when we realized that we were trying to teach adult learning styles and presentation skills, and we knew we'd be evaluated on whether or not we had incorporated these skills into our own presentations! Sort of a twist to the old adage about the pot calling the kettle black. Every presenter did her/his best to deliver quality lectures. Every presenter included voluminous handouts that should be useful to participants for a long time to come. I certainly learned something from every single segment.
All my fingers and toes are crossed that this workshop will be repeated in the future. Judging from the comments of both the participants in the workshop and the comments from disappointed applicants, there is a large and hungry audience who wants to attend this type of program. Whether it can continue without the sponsorship of Lexis-Nexis is an open question. Their involvement insured the high quality of the content and the arrangements and their support is greatly appreciated.
View from a Participant: Alison Ewing, Arizona State University
TRIALL 1998: The Student Experience|
It is the middle of the fall semester and I am begrudging the time it will take me to write this article (In essence, until I force myself to review the notes and materials from the program). Why hadn't I pulled them out earlier in the semester? They would have helped me immensely with the class I just taught to writing instructors, or the workshop I did for the law journal editors and research assistants! The good news, I can put them to good use as we enter the planning and preparation stages for our revamped "Jumpstart: Legal Research From Law School to Your First Summer Job" program this spring.
Yes, the TRIALL program was very useful, not only for those who teach full-blown academic classes (to which I aspire), but also for those of us who fill a variety of instructional roles in an academic law library environment. In fact several segments, most notably the "elevator talk" segment, could be used by anyone anywhere who needs to convince someone in a very short period of time to do something! One of the real success stories of the program was its ability to accommodate 30 participants with varying degrees of experience. In fact, that was one of the factors that made the program so energizing. The participants were a diverse crowd - not only geographically, but also experientially and chronologically. I've been a law librarian on and off for many years but I really didn't know many of the participants by name until after we experienced the many break-out groups. The faculty took a good deal of care in planning not only their individual comments but the whole ebb and flow of the program. The whole 2-day program was filled with lots of variety with regard to format (not just the usual "talking heads") and the participants. Rarely was I in the same group of persons twice for discussions. This provided a great opportunity for each of us to share our "personal situation" and to learn from one another.
It is a challenge to teach teachers to teach! The TRIALL faculty did an admirable job on several fronts. For one thing, their personal presentation styles and techniques were just as instructive as the content and design of their presentations. I appreciated the candor of some of the faculty - Gail Partin in particular. She admitted that, as she walked through the "6 Steps of Developing Curriculum," she was in unfamiliar territory. In real life, she organizes a presentation intuitively and had never knowingly used the six steps in the past. Nonetheless, her presentation stands out in my mind even five months after the program: for a watermelon analogy (to legal research); for ordliness; for the practical inclusion of "Core Competencies"; and for the MacCrate Report.
How to deal with time constraints was handled admirably by Tory Trotta, who inherited a shortened time frame for her presentation on "Developing Meaningful Exercises." Tory's materials reflected the high quality of the instructor's handouts by including loads of sample exercises, a great bibliography, and an exercise to reinforce her presentation. Fascinating facts about learning and teaching were presented by Tory in "How Much Do People Retain?": 10% of what they read; 20% of what they hear; 30% of what they see; 50% of what they see and hear; 70% of what they discuss with others; 80% of what they practice; and 95% of what they teach to someone else (a good reason to teach!).
Thanks for Lexis-Nexis for underwriting the cost of the program and for providing a computer lab for the ever-energetic Yvonne Chandler! The Lexis faculty provided first-rate instruction in paradigm shifting, adult learning theory, and assessing user needs. Lexis even paid for a professional communications expert to teach presentation skills. Of course, the food was to die for! I hope that the program will be offered again!