Installing a collaborative learning space (hereafter: CLS) in a Law Library isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and with the right selling points it should help in making legal education and the law library even more important to the schools and communities they serve. With almost 23 53-foot trailers of books being culled from our own library, it’s safe to say that the idea of “library” is becoming quickly reshaped.
As the academic library is being redefined, our institution, and many others have adopted practices that involve digitizing instruction and the collection. While many libraries have shifted from investing in physical collections, ebooks and online instruction have benefitted tremendously. One of the physical manifestations of this newfound ingenuity has been the makerspace. Traditionally, these are found in public libraries or K12 libraries, and often contain a fleet of iPads, 3D printers, and other gadgets. Perhaps the most important offering of a CLS is the idea of building and collaborating. Some contain media labs with computers for creating digital content or transferring analog materials to digital versions.
The CLS can take many forms, for a law school it could mean one thing, for a medical school it means another; regardless of where students get together and build can be beneficial for all groups. Since their genesis, K12 schools have been using them to shape student behavior (Alberto & Troutman); rewarding them with time in this fun and engaging learning environment.
One professional school on campus, IUPUI’s School of Dentistry, is working on integrating virtual reality into their curriculum. As an instructor, what better way to engage with a student than to offer your point of view? Google Glass is going to be their method of creating content, but what can our Law School learn from this? Does rigorous legal instruction involve expensive virtual reality hardware? Not exactly, but the engagement piece of seeing firsthand is valuable. CLS often include media production hardware and software (i.e. iOS’s Camera app along with iMovie and Garageband are prime examples).
Within the scope of legal education, it isn’t difficult to place where this type of collaborative engagement fits. Some instructors now are asking for students to form teams in the Canvas learning management system, and have them all produce a single document that makes up their overall assignment. Alternative assessments such as these involve collaborating, and to a lesser extent “making.” Formative assessment strategies such as the “jigsaw” involves grouping students, and each creating an artifact relative to the assignment.
In the above scenarios either students are required to collaborate and gather ideas, or create an artifact by other means, on their own. Creating an original artifact would be very easy in the K12 media center. A former supervisor I once had ordered Apple products in their media center. This wasn’t due to their outstanding lifespan and durability, but because of the media development software preinstalled. The students at Lowndes Middle School in Valdosta, Georgia were able to create videos, podcasts, visuals stories and more using iMovie, iWeb, and a plethora of other tools at their disposal. The library made these resources readily available, and had in-house support.
The fact is there is no other better way to engage students than the creation and consuming of digital media. The law library CLS can offer similar benefits to what K12 is current enjoying. Professors have long enjoyed the benefit being able to create content within faculty mediaspaces. Recently one of our professors, Nic Terry, started his own podcast “Today in Health Law—TWIHL”, and has enjoyed stellar success. What is very important about his podcast is that collaboration is key. He started to podcast with a colleague, and has since expanded to various other institutions. Every other week features a new perspective on health law, which is a product of the efforts of multiple people.
The legal academy has a valuable opportunity on which to capitalize. The 21st century classroom offers collaborative workspaces, powerful digital tools, and most importantly the ability to communicate with anyone in the world. Law professors themselves have the renown of being exceptional public speakers and excellent articulators of complex concepts. CLSs offer faculty a place to help students create content and be better assessed for their work. Better assessments mean students are better prepared for the workforce. Instructors will be better informed about what teaching methods worked and didn’t work.
CLSs that offer collaborative learning technologies are paramount to the advancement of law schools, and the future of the library. Students producing artifacts relative to their law school experience offers them the ability to take them onto their professional endeavors. Right now this is exemplified by students creating digital portfolios with things such as memorandums, client interviews, and other artifacts. The future of legal education is in the library, with support for digital curriculum, collaborative learning projects, and even faculty support.