Thursday, December 01, 2005

Teaching Research that sticks? The Case Reporter Strip Tease!

Hey, hey, hey! I'm in a confessional mood today. So, I'll reveal the darkest secret of my Advanced Legal Research Class. I developed a little number called the Case Reporter Strip Tease.

It works like this: I scored an empty West Reporter binder on a tour there a few years ago. I copied a case out of a real reporter. I copied the front page again and cut out the various items that become fields in Westlaw, like COURT (CO), JUDGE (JU), DATE (DA), DIGEST (DI), SYNOPSIS (SY), and so on. I tape these over the original sheets so I can strip them off. Finally, I cut up sheets of random copied words, and pulled out "stop words" into a separate heap.

In class, I have a short bit of the music called "The Stripper." This brassy music was the theme for those shaving cream commercials of my youth, but you don't have to have ever seen the ads or have been to a strip joint to know what the music is about! It leaves no doubt at all!

I start up that music, and hold up the reporter, loaded with everything. I sort of dance around a bit (you have to really bear with me, I'm just an aging librarian!), and pull out the paper, and toss the reporter binding off. Then I lay the front page on the document camera (an overhead projector would work, too), and begin to strip off the various fields, explaining that when the West editors mark them out, the computers can find them and search them for you.

Then, finally, I open the envelopes with the words, and dump them over the whole shebang, and explain that that is the inverted file that the computer searches. I then open the envelope with the stop words and act like I am pulling them out of the pile of the inverted file to show that the computer won't search the stop words.

By then, the music is over. I explain that the computer files they are searching have their roots in the books, though the books are now created as the files are created that become the databases. The structure of the database still reflects its origins as the book it used to be. I talk about how the creation of the computer file and those hidden markers in the file aid them in their searching, or can trip them up, if they don't understand that the markers are there. We discuss the structures of databases, and of search engines. We talk about search algorithms and the various ways they work or could work

I think it's a pretty good class, but it has been a work in progress. The first time I ran it, the music was much too loud, and the students just had this really shocked expression. I don't think they really absorbed anything after the first brassy notes. I've turned the music down, and we're doing better now. It makes what could be a pretty boring class more interesting, and certainly more memorable, I guess.

1 comment:

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