Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Teaching Research - Get Real!

Connie, I really enjoyed reading your Showdown piece below. The firm librarians and academics have always been at odds every where I have gone, too. And the problems are about the same. In law school, we cannot possibly re-create the experience of real legal research outside, perhaps of a clinic setting. Anything I make up for my class, the students expect to have a "right" answer, that they have to aim for. And of course, in real life, there is no such thing.

And you also point out the problem of students forgetting, or perhaps, "overlaying" whatever we teach them. The other problem, especially with teaching the main course in legal research in 1-L, is that most of the students have absolutely no context to understand what we are teaching them. They have never been to court, they have not been through the civil procedure class, they don't understand enough to know what we are trying to teach them to look up or use. Plus, we all know, they are overwhelmed by their substantive law courses. Law school is like an immersion course in a foreign language and culture, along with all these really difficult concepts being thrown at you in Socratic classes. WOW!

So, I wish I had better suggestions for how to teach than just to offer an optional class to a self-selected few, in a bass-ackwards manner. I have toyed with this really exciting idea. It would take real programming chops, though. I would love to see an interactive video game to teach legal research. It could be played over and over. The student plays him- or herself, vying as a summer associate against Snidely Snoot, from Betteren U. Law School for the one position the Wonderful firm will offer next year when these two graduate from their respective law schools. The position will be offered to the summer associate who proves the best and most efficient in their work (which is research).

Players can use books in a real library, and log their time manually. Or they can go online with Westlaw or Lexis, but the game will charge them for database and printing charges just as the real firm would have charges, though it might cut their time down considerably. They can ask advice, and pull up a librarian an associate, or a mentoring partner. The players can consult a firm file in the computer and possibly find memoranda that will help them along. The score will add together factors including the precision of the answer they come up with (this is part of the trickiness of the programming!), and the time, and the cost factors. There would be a nice range of problems to solve and race against Snidely, and re-running a problem would still be a challenge.

I love this idea, but I cannot imagine who could put together such a game. Even without a lot of animation, it would be a huge amount of work. Ah well, a man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for? (some heaven).

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