By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law
I have been doing training on assessment practices for in-class use and for institutional programmatic assessment. To that end, I am learning many techniques which I am employing in my class to find out what teaching methods are working and what are not. I learned the following coding method which allows me to assess answers from my students to open-ended survey questions. To use the coding method, I look for themes in their answers. I describe the system below. Please contact me should you have any questions on the methodology or what I do with the information. In traditional, interactive fashion, there is a practice exercise at the end so readers can see how simple this method is. Once I see themes, I am able to respond and make changes.
Course goal: Students will learn how to locate and print and on-line sources which are complete and relevant to solving a factual problem.
Question posed: You are asked to do many assignments and activities in this class to help develop your legal research skills. Please identify an assignment or type of activity that you found most helpful in developing your research skills. Please include in your answer a specific description of what about the assignment and/or activity that helped you.
I asked this question to my students as I wanted to hear the student perspective on which types of assignments and activities most effectively helped them develop research skills. I give many assignments, but I was unsure which ones were useful. I also wanted to know what about the assignment was helpful: step-by-step instructions, group work, lecture, or flipped classroom model. I developed a coding system so that I could analyze the results. I devised the coding after reviewing a 20% sample of student responses. I randomized who I chose. They turned in the responses, and I chose every 5th one.
- Identification number for class level: (accelerated student=1; a traditional 1L=2)
- Overall response: (0=no response/question was unanswered; 1= student provided a usable response; 2=state/implied that research skills were not strengthened in LRW I course; 3 =response was either not useful or could not be coded)
- Positive mention of a structured assignment which led the student with step-by-step instructions to helping them develop research skills. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of a structured assignment which required to use or develop research skills but no mention of step-by-step guidance being useful. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of a structured assignment which required students to work collaboratively. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of lecture on how-to-do research in print by LRW professor. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of demonstration on how-to-do research on-line by the librarians. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of video demonstration on how-to-do digest research in print which is uploaded to the TWEN page. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a faculty member. (0=no; 1=yes)
- Positive mention of one-on-one assistance of a librarian. (0=no; 1=yes)
Use the coding scheme on the previous page to code the following three responses. Each student has one row.
Student 1: Accelerated student: I learned the most about research when we did the mini assignments on finding cases in the digests in print. It was most effective to me as we were allowed to work in groups, the professor gave us clear instructions as to each step in the process and I was able to watch the video on TWEN where the professor walked through an example. Other assignments did not teach me as much when I had to struggle alone as I wasted a lot of time.
Student 2: Traditional 1L: This class and all my law classes have been a struggle for me. I often don’t know where to go for help, and I am tired and stressed all the time. The teacher seems to favor the three girls in the front row. The rest of us aren’t encouraged to say anything.
Student 3: Traditional 1L: the assignment that taught me the most about research and really helped to develop my research was our first open memo. What helped the most was struggling through the resources myself, asking for guidance from the librarian, and meeting personally with the professor who went to the library with me. I found myself looking back at my lecture notes and the reading to remember how to do things. This particular assignment helped bring it all together. The other mini-assignments were too disjointed to help me much.