Teaching a FCIL Research Course for the First TIme

By Sarah Reis, Foreign and International Law Librarian, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

 This is the third post in a series of posts over the next year about adjusting to my new position as a foreign and international law librarian. I started my position at the Pritzker Legal Research Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in February 2018.

A couple of weeks ago, I started teaching my Foreign, Comparative, and International Legal Research course for the spring semester. (Perhaps in Chicago, it would be more accurate to refer to the “spring semester” as the “winter semester.”) Not only is this the first time I am teaching a FCIL research course, but it is also the first class that I am teaching on my own, which has been simultaneously exciting and nerve-racking.

Reis - Photo 1.jpgTo help me feel more comfortable with teaching, I spent the fall semester co-teaching an Advanced Legal Research class with one of my colleagues. I learned so much from my co-instructor, Clare Willis, about how to ensure that assignments are appropriately meeting learning objectives, how to develop useful rubrics for grading assignments, and how to effectively employ creative teaching methods to keep students engaged during class. I am grateful I had the opportunity to work closely with an experienced instructor for a semester prior to teaching on my own.

In designing my FCIL research course, I consulted materials other librarians have generously shared and read through the DipLawMatic posts about teaching. Additionally, the teacher’s manual for International Legal Research in a Global Community has been an essential resource in preparing my class materials (thank you, Heidi Kuehl and Megan O’Brien!). I chose not to require my students to purchase a textbook, but rather assigned selected chapters from International Legal Research in a Nutshell, which is available electronically through our West Study Aids subscription, along with a few chapters from International Legal Research in a Global Community and International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook, for which we have copies on reserve.

My two-credit class meets twice a week for 55-minute periods. Already, I recognize it is going to be challenging to fit in a lecture/discussion and an in-class exercise while leaving sufficient time for a debriefing or review. I am looking forward to experimenting with various methods to give students time to practice using research tools and resources. For instance, some class sessions are set up with short exercises scattered throughout the session, while other class sessions are going to be dedicated workshop days where they will spend almost the entire class period working on a research problem in a guided environment.

One of the most exciting things about this class is the student diversity. The class has fifteen students, which includes a mix of JD students, LLM students, and students from our LLM in International Human Rights program. Some students have taken several international law courses, other students have already spent a semester working on projects for the Center for International Human Rights, whereas still others are completely new to international law concepts. I am encouraging the students to work together on in-class exercises so that some of the students who are more familiar with international law can help others who might not have taken an international law course before. Because the LLM students are familiar with legal systems in other countries, I am really looking forward to our class sessions on foreign law because I know the students will learn a lot from each other.

Throughout the semester, students will be required to submit four assignments accompanied by research logs so I can provide them with continuous feedback. Because I anticipated that that they would have diverse interests in areas of law (which was confirmed by the responses to the intro survey I had them fill out during the first week of class), I have incorporated an element of choice into the course by allowing them to select their own final project topic.

I realize that my first semester teaching this class will be the most challenging semester because over the next three months I’ll be getting a feel for what works well—and what doesn’t. After each class session, I have been carefully documenting and keeping track of how I felt the class session went so I can remember to adjust things as needed in future semesters. I am looking forward to reviewing all of these self-assessment notes alongside feedback from the course evaluations at the end of the semester. I also always welcome stories, suggestions, and teaching tips from other librarians—both from those who are newer to teaching like me, as well as from those who are experienced pros!

 

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