On-Line Legal Research Workshops
Jonassen, Frederick B., St. Thomas Law Review
Like riding a bicycle, playing tennis, or driving a car, legal research is a skill, and like any other skill, it is learned by doing, and not by listening to a lecture. However, lectures are indispensable for introducing the skill. The mental processes applied in electronic legal research may differ from those applied to book legal research. But because both electronic and book research are skills, a guided workshop in electronic legal research may be based on similar principles to those underlying a workshop in book legal research, with appropriate modifications.
The aspects of the electronic legal workshop proposed here are as follows: (1) scheduling as soon as possible after the introductory lecture and treasure hunt exercise; (2) (2) guided questions, which lead students through a process and which also give them freedom and independence to make choices; (3) (3) a realistic research problem that requires reflection about what has been found, as opposed to simply finding an answer, but which is not as complex as the research problem for a typical open memo; (4) (4) work in small groups or pairs; (5) (5) immediate discussion and feedback on the strategies employed in the research exercise. (6)
ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION PART I: TEACHING LEGAL RESEARCH IS DIFFICULT PART II: THE BOOK LEGAL RESEARCH WORKSHOP A. The Levy Approach B. Moppett & Buckingham C. Three Issues 1. Not a Treasure Hunt 2. Group Work 3. Guidance PART III: THE ON-LINE LEGAL RESEARCH WORKSHOP A. Preliminaries B. The Research Problem C. The Guidance Questions D. The Class E. Results F. Questionnaire Responses CONCLUSION
Professors and librarians who teach legal research have often observed that students learn how to research by actively researching rather than by listening to a lecture. (7) To drive this point home, commentators have employed a variety of comparisons. (8) They tell us that learning how to research is like learning how to ride a bicycle, play tennis, drive a car, or swim. (9) Lectures on these activities might teach a person a lot about them, but few have learned how to ride a bike, develop topspin, make a left-hand turn in two-way traffic, or do a backstroke from a lecture. (10) Exactly the same is true of legal research because performing such research, like all of these activities, is a skill, or more accurately, a set of skills. (11) Lectures may be effective for explaining substantive or doctrinal material, but a skill is typically acquired by hands-on experience. (12)
Articles by Levy and by Moppett & Buckingham have proposed that students can efficiently and effectively develop book legal research skills through workshops. (13) In such environments, students are able to solve research problems in groups, with guiding questions, and with immediate access to, and feedback from, the professor or a librarian. (14) The workshop approach and the suggestions of these commentators provide a vital means of initiating and developing a feel for doing legal research in books beyond the preliminary introduction encompassed by lectures and the so-called treasure hunt or bibliographic approach. (15) However, these articles only address the teaching of book research, not electronic or on-line research, which is likely to become the dominant type of research utilized by students. (16) The instant article builds on the work of Levy and Moppett & Buckingham and proposes that, despite the widely noted differences between book research and on-line research in regard to how they are most effectively done and taught, (17) both share a similarity that is crucial for teaching either: both types of research are skills, so that students for the most part learn how to perform both through doing and not through listening. (18) Therefore, just as students most efficiently and effectively begin to develop their book legal researching skills through the workshop method advanced by Levy and Moppett & Buckingham, so also do they most efficiently and effectively begin to develop their on-line legal research skills through a workshop method paralleling the workshop approach for book research advocated by these authors. …