Speed referencing

I first heard about speed referencing at the HEA Teaching Research Skills to Law Students workshop earlier this month.  It’s a format for an activity in a referencing workshop – think speed dating meets OSCOLA.  I decided to give it a go in my Referencing for Law workshop earlier this week.  The workshop started with a traditional introduction to OSCOLA referencing, and the speed referencing activity followed thereafter.

I created 10 referencing exercises – a book, book chapter, journal article, website, UK Act, UK SI, UK case, EU legislation and EU case.  A copy of the title page or key information for each item was placed on a table.  The students were given a blank worksheet and a copy of the OSCOLA quick guide.  They had 90 seconds to reference an item, and then move on to exercise at the next table.  The speed referencing activity took about 20 minutes altogether – allowing some time between exercises.  At the end of the activity, the students were given a copy of the answers, time to review their results, and to ask questions and receive feedback.

The speed referencing went surprisingly well.  The students said they enjoyed the practice.  The time constraint made them realise that they could reference legal materials quickly, and that referencing did not have to take forever.  Eleven students attended the workshop, so it was a fortunate match of numbers – number of students to number of exercises.  The students preferred to stay in their seats around the tables and move the exercises around.  This worked well with the number of students, but did detract from the ‘active’ part of the activity.  I wonder if students are conditioned to learn while sitting still?  It’s certainly not the case for my 5 year old daughter – who appears to learn whilst maintaining a constant state of (com)motion!  

I will definitely give speed referencing another go – I am scheduled to teach referencing again to LLM students as part of their dissertation preparation training.  I think it’s a fun way to liven up an otherwise dull workshop!

HEA Teaching Research Skills to Law Students (5 February 2014)

I attended and presented at the HEA workshop on Teaching Research Skills to Law Students at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies in London. The event was attended by both librarians and academics, and was so popular even the reserve list was full.  Not even the TUBE strike prevented a full house!

Recent developments in legal information literacy by Ruth Bird, Bodleian Law Librarian, University of Oxford

Ruth set the scene for the day, outlining the information skills gap of new university students, and some of the key information literacy standards, and developments in legal education.

Rosemary Auchmuty (University of Reading) made some interesting observations on legal information literacy, including:- the focus on preparing students for careers as lawyers, not as legal academics or into non-law professions (only 50% of law students follow a career in law); and different interpretations of key information literacy skills by academics and librarians, with librarians focusing on information retrieval, and academics on the use of information.

Personally, I think the AALL legal information literacy standard is better suited to developing transferable research skills regardless of the students final destination.

What research skills do our students need? a brainstorming session in small groups

I worked with Caroline Ball (University of Derby), Suzanne White (Coventry University) and Chris Umfreville (University of Wolverhampton).

  • Transferable research skills for students going into non-law professions
  • Understanding the research question and defining the scope of research
  • Practical application of black letter law to the research question
  • Developing advanced skills for LLM students: from spoon feeding to independent research

Case Study 1: University of Reading by Rosemary Auchmuty and Ross Connell

Research skills are embedded into the whole curriculum, and learnt in the context of substantive subjects, rather than front-loaded and taught in isolation in a legal research skills module.  Gave example of embedding legal research skills in a second year land law module (level 5).  Academic and librarian design, deliver and assess legal research skills together.  Reading have fewer contact teaching hours than many other institutions, and so make use of a variety of teaching methods including self-study workbook and online tutorials.  Assessment is in the form of a poster (group work, presentation and research skills), and a multiple-choice quiz on Blackboard.

Case Study 2: University of Greenwich by Sarah Crofts

Again, legal research skills are embedded into the whole curriculum, and learnt in the context of substantive subjects.  Library teaching sessions are embedded across the curriculum.  Librarian writes some of the assessments, but does not mark them.  Gave example of second year (level 5) assessment, where students have to research a topic and write an essay on a student they have not been taught.  Essay question is selected to be current, so that it can not be answered by textbooks, and students have to use primary resources and journal literature.

Case Study 3: University of Leicester by Eugenia Caracciolo, Jackie Hanes, Dawn Watkins, and Loveday Hodson

Our presentation was entitled The Invisible Librarian, and it discussed the challenge of teaching legal research skills to 450+ undergraduate law students with limited resources.  We teach legal research skills in the first year Introduction to Law module (level 4), and they are not embedded into the curriculum thereafter.  My contribution to this teaching is a single 1 hour library induction and legal research skills lecture.  Not an effective method of teaching legal information literacy skills!  I outlined plans to introduce longer practical sessions, for the teaching materials:- to be written by me, but delivered by academics in exisiting tutorial sessions.  I also outlined plans to develop online tutorials, pre-record the library lecture, and perhaps develop an elearning module for legal research.  Dawn Watkins introduced an innovative way of studying case law:- a creative writing exercise based around a real case (true liberal arts education!).  And Loveday Hodson discussed the problems of assessing legal research skills, in terms of both divising an appropriate assessment, and having the resources to mark the assessment.

Case Study 4: City University by Emily Albon

Emily is a law librarian plus – she is also responsible for the Law Bore website, and mooting and careers events at City University.  Emily runs the first year (level 4) legal research module.  Students attend a two hour lecture and a two hour workshop. (Emily repeats the workshop 10+ times to accomodate the 300+ students).  Students are assessed using an online legal research quiz in Blackboard – although Emily marks the assessments manually, because marks are also awarded for method.  Emily has some very good teaching ideas, including using everyday objects (e.g. toy car or shoe) to develop key words, and using ipads and other mobile devices in the workshops (because IT classrooms are not large enough).

Case Study 5: University of Salford by Nicola Sales

Nicola outlined how she has used flipped classroom methods to teach legal research.  Nicola presented a similar session at the BIALL Conference (2013), which is also written up in an article in Legal Information Management.  Legal research skills are taught in a first year (level 4) english legal system module.  In flipped classroom teaching, students undertake preparatory learning in advance of the class (e.g. online lectures and tutorials).  The contact teaching time is then spent in practical workshops (not lectures), and students are able to practice their legal research skills.  Students are assessed by a combination of quiz in Blackboard, and a research trail and bibliography.  They must also complete both Lexis Library and Westlaw user certificates.  I was particular keen on Nicola’s idea of speed referencing (think speed dating but with OSCOLA), and I intend to try this teaching method out later this month.

Case Study 6: Keele University by Fiona Cownie and Scott McGowan

Fiona has introduced a legal research skills module at three universities, and has published many well regarded books on the english legal system and legal skills.  Again legal research skills are taught in a first year (level 4) module, and include a mixture of lecture, self-directed study, and workshops.  Students are assessed by completed an essay on a topic that they have no previously studied.  Like me, Scott is not just a law librarian, and he supports a number of other departments, and his time is limited.  He cited use of mixed media and availability of a wide range of support materials as key to teaching legal research successfully.

What is best practice?

It is most common for legal research skills to be taught in a stand alone module in the first year, in isolation from substantive subjects.  There is a risk that students do not practice their legal research skills, and that they may not be assessed again.  (Law students are generally assessed by 100% unseen examination for their substantive subjects).  It is better practice for legal research skills teaching to be embedded into the curriculum, and taught and tested in across the 3 or 4 years of study.  However, this requires cooperation across the law school.  There was general agreement that academics and librarians need to work together to improve legal research skills teaching.  This is something that is alredy happening at the University of Leicester – but that may take a few years to achieve.

TeachMeet Leicester (1 October 2013)

I attended my first TeachMeet at New College Leicester one dark night in October.  TeachMeet is a forum for teachers to share ideas and good practice.  I attended as an observer only – not quite brave enough to present!  The evening comprised about 12 short presentations – either long (7 minutes) or short ( 2 minutes).  The event was organised by Dan Williams (@danwilliams1984), and it had a wild west theme: presenters were awarded sheriffs badges and/or shot with a (toy) gun if they ran overtime!  As a librarian from higher education – I was in a minority of one.  Most of the teachers were from primary or secondary schools, with a few from colleges of further education.

There were some excellent presentations – I was particularly struck by the imagination and enthusiasm that some teachers have for their both their teaching practice and the pupils in their classroom.  For example, at one primary school 4 year olds in reception class learn computer logic and programming on iPads using apps.  Other schools use Skype to connect with schools across Europe and America, and the children learn about different geography and languages by peer-to-peer learning.  It certainly made me question if I can do more with technology to connect with my distance learning students!

My favourite presentation was about using Twitter to teach Spanish in secondary school.  @wrennmfl encourages students to communicate in Spanish via social media.  Students are asked to summarise learning, ask questions, and comment on news items in 140 character tweets.  Students are also encouraged to follow the Twitter accounts of Spanish speaking role models including Cesc Fabregas, Rafael Nadal and our own Gary Linekar.  Twitter has increased student engagement with learning, both inside and outside the classroom, and helped to foster a sense of community among the students, particular among ‘hard-to-reach’ teenaged boys.

I also enjoyed the presentations and discussions about using Skype in the classroom.  Some teachers had paired their classes with others around the world, and used Skype as their primary form of communication, taking the concept of penpals a stage further.  A primary school had exchanged Christmas cards and shared traditional Christmas carols; and a secondary school had arranged an international dance competition as part of a PE class.  Others had used Skype to invite experts into their classrooms.  This ranged from getting guest lecturers, to watching a behind the scenes tour of the British Museum.

Finally, there was some interesting work with Google Drive and the use of Google Forms to assess learning (diagnostic, formative and summative) in a further education college.  While I am cautious about pushing Google as a learning platform, many of the ideas could be replicated in Blackboard or other virtual learning environments.

The TeachMeet lasted about 2 hours in total, with a break for cowboy themed refreshments (wagon wheels and strawberry shoelaces/lassos) at half time.  Also in attendance was a Clive Francis a conference artist, who made a visual cartoon record of the evening.  At the end of the evening, we voted for our favourite presentation (with cowboy stickers), and a prize was awarded to the winning speaker.  The TeachMeet was not always directly relevant to libraries or higher education, but has certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities in education.  I would like to attend another, and also maybe try a LibTeachMeet …

BIALL Conference 2013 (Glasgow)

I attended the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) annual study conference held on 13-15 June 2013 at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow.  The theme of this year’s conference was “The Business of Law”, including “Business for Managers” on the final day.  The BIALL conference is the annual gathering of law librarians from all sectors across the UK, Ireland and beyond.

The conference began with a game of ‘spot the law librarian’ at Glasgow’s airports, train stations and hotel receptions on Wednesday afternoon.  I attended Justis Publishing’s legendary pre-conference social event on Wednesday evening.  This year’s theme was “100 Years of Bollywood”, and it was held at the Kama Sutra restaurant on Sauchiehall Street.  The dinner, drinks and entertainment (our unique take on bollywood dancing and gangnam style) were fabulous – photographic evidence is available.


The conference was formally opened by James Mullan (BIALL President) on Thursday morning.  We were asked to remember Sarah Spells, whose young life was tragically cut short in September 2012.

The Keynote Lecture was given by Prof Hector MacQueen of the Scottish Law Commission.  Entitled “Invincible or just a flesh wound? The Holy Grail of Scots law”, Prof. MacQueen presented his thoughts on the challenges and future of the Scottish legal system, with a little help from Monty Python.  Recurring issues included the Scottish civil courts and role of Supreme Court; the choice between English and Scots law and litigation, and the outcome of the Scottish Referendum in 2014.

The second Plenary Lecture was given by Carol Tullo of The National Archives.  Entitled “Legislation.gov.uk – Essential for the law business”, Carol outlined the history, development, challenges and current status of the legislation database.  Carol acknowledged the importance of providing up-to-date legislation, and outlined their innovative use of Expert Participation to update resources, with a view to completion by 2015.

I also attended the Academic Group Forum, and was able to raise the problems experiences with Talis Aspire.  Many others shared similar frustration, and we were urged to contact both law publishers and Talis Aspire to complain.  Also discussed, was the perennial matter of parallel purchasing of print and electronic resources.  I was surprised at how much love remained for our print resources …

At the end of the first day, I attended my first BIALL SCOSAF (Standing Committee for Finance and Strategy) meeting.  As incoming Chair of BIALL’s Professional Development Committee, I was introduced to the BIALL Council and other Committee Chairs, and had my photograph taken for the BIALL website.  I also discovered that my former colleague Marianne Barber would be BIALL’s new President Elect, becoming BIALL President in 2014.

On the second day, Nicola Sales of University of Salford delivered my highlight of the conference.  Entitled “Flipping the Classroom: Revolutionising Legal Research Training”, Nicola recounted her experience of implementing Flipped Classroom teaching methods with undergraduate law students.  In the Flipped Classroom, students complete online (instructional) tutorials in advance of their teaching session, and then use the teaching session to complete higher level learning activities with support from their teacher.  If a librarian were to implement the Flipped Classroom, they would need to be fully embedded into their curriculum, and I am (unfortunately) not yet at that stage.  However, Nicola certainly presented some interesting ideas, from which I can borrow and experiment.

Another useful second day session, was Tony Simmonds of the University of Nottingham on open access publishing.  Entitled “Green Shoots? Golden Opportunities? The Story of Open Access at a Leading UK Law School”, Tony gave a clear summary of the history and current state of open access publishing from the perspective of legal academics.  An ornithologist’s delight, Tony discussed the impact of the Finch Report 2012, and the Green (institutional repository) and Gold (article processing charges) routes to open access publishing, and the challenges faced in his everyday work.  The University of Nottingham is the home of the SHERPA Romeo (journal publisher requirements) and Juliet (research council funding requirements) open access publishing databases.  Since this session, several academic law librarians have formed an informal working group to consider open access publishing issues in law.   See Presocraticatomist for a full report.

The BIALL conference dinners never disappoint.  The First Night Dinner was held at the Hilton Hotel and sponsored by LexisNexis.  We were welcomed with a cocktail of scotch whiskey, raspberry juice and lemonade – which I could quite happily have drunk all night long!  I was pleased to see my former colleagues at the University of Law win the award for Best Legal Information Services (Commercial Sector) – London Only.  It should’ve been me!  A special award was also given to Catherine McArdle of Lincolns Inn for attending 25 consecutive years of BIALL conferences.


The President’s Reception was held at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and sponsored by Thomson Reuters.  The venue was magnificent, and I would’ve loved more time to view the exhibits.  Ruth Bird of the Bodelian Law Library won a lifetime membership of BIALL, and Catherine McArdle of Lincolns Inn won Wildy BIALL Law Librarian of the Year, her second gong of the conference.  After the formalities, we were treated to entertainment from traditional Scots drummers and pipers.


The closing day of the conference was dedicated to Business for Managers.  Sarah Fahy of Allen & Overy’s presented “Nailing that Business Case – success and failure”, and Stephen Phillips of Morgan Stanley presented “Defining Value: Rethinking Your Position”.  The recurrent themes from both sessions were alignment to organisational strategy, and measuring the value of your library service.  Stephen also advised us to use more KISSES with our senior managers: Keep It Simple, Smart And Especially Short!

Missing Link Conference

Missing Link Conference: 19 March 2012, Birmingham City University.

Making the connection between information literacy and an excellent student experience.

Papers presented a snap-shot of information literacy projects and methods in the new higher-education environment.  From traditional inductions and lectures to the use of e-technologies to deliver online tutorials.  Tweets from the conference were made under the #missinglink12 hashtag and archived in Storify.

1. Preparing health and social care students for university.  Neil Donohue and Monica Casey (Salford University) described their pre-induction programme, delivered to students before degree starts, and delivered in collaboration between library, academic and student union.

2. Creating a reusable online information literacy tutorial for researchers. Chris Bark (Coventry University) and Liz Martin (De Montford University) described the East Midlands Research Support Group (EMRSG) consortium project to create on online tutorial using Xerte.

3. Getting your foot in the door – library liaison and research skills in university departments. Nicola Conway (University of Durham) described the Scholarly Skills Exercise whereby library services and information literacy skills are embedded and assessed into the curriculum in a first year induction module.

4. eLearning, innovation and information literacy. Sarah Pittaway and Catherine Robertson (University of Birmingham) described how they have used Xerte to deliver online library and information literacy tutorials.  Tutorials were embedded into curriculum via VLE (Web-CT), and students completed tutorials either as self-study or supervised in class. Aim to free-up librarian’s time to teach higher level information literacy skills.

5. Collaboration between Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) and Library and Learning resources to improve student experience. Jenny Eland and Christiana Titahmboh (Birmingham City University) described how information literacy and employability skills are embedded across university degrees. Also highlighted benefits of teacher training (PG Cert. HE) for librarians, so as to better undertand academics, and deliver more effective teaching and learning to students.

The conference helped me to understand the concept of embedded librarianship – the dream that library and information literacy skills should be delivered as part of the curriculum.  Our ability to achieve this depends upon the relationships we build with our academics through academic liaison. 

‘User education’ has progressed somewhat since my days at library school.  Teaching does not equal Learning.  Librarians are now teachers: indeed many librarians now undertake teacher training (PG Cert. HE).  This enables them to understand the culture of academia, gain respect from academic colleagues, and practice good teaching techniques in the classroom. 

I also discovered the ‘pre-induction’ – a pre-course introduction or orientation to the university and library service.  While I could not commit to additional teaching hours, I do think there is merit in delivering a pre-induction using e-learning technologies, thus enabling librarians to concentrate on teaching advanced information literacy skills.

I was surprised by the negative comments surrounding the use of VLEs (virtual learning environments).  Librarians are increasingly making their information literacy resources available on public websites and blogs, because they offer  more permanent repository, and open access to students before, during and after their degree courses.

In the next 6 months, I will have the opportunity to work on a pre-induction study skills programme for distance learning foundation degree criminology students, and embedding library and information literacy skills into the master of laws academic writing module.  I hope that I will be able to use the opportunity to develop relationships with the academics and raise the profile of information skills in higher education.