Archive for Tools

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Apps in Legal Education

Warning: This post is not all that high-tech, but I did have the opportunity to give an interesting lecture the other day, and I thought I would share my experiences!

Our (Indiana University Maurer School of Law) Advanced Legal Research course is relatively new, so the structure of the curriculum is somewhat fluid.  While most lectures cover traditional legal research topics – cases, statutes, legislative history, treaties, etc. – there was a little space in the curriculum for some alternative lecture topics.  Last semester, for example, a colleague and I co-taught a lecture on free and low-cost legal research resources.  This semester, I had the opportunity to give a lecture on legal research apps.  And the experience was pretty terrific.

We wanted to try an apps lecture given the likelihood that our students will practice in a legal world that will increasingly move to paperless.  And since our vendors had mentioned that they do not teach students their apps, because they’re “self-explanatory,” I saw an opportunity for a practical, informal discussion with the students about how mobile research and mobile law practice might look.  Because our class is almost entirely 3Ls, the timing of this lecture, at the end of their final semester, seemed appropriate.

In this first iteration of the lecture, I kept things pretty simple, focusing on the WestlawNext app, the Lexis Advance app, the Bloomberg Law app, and the HeinOnline app.  I then referred them to research guides on law apps, good law tech blogs to follow, and a few articles.  As a guest lecture, there were no assignments; it was just an opportunity to provide a little advice on a subject that they were unlikely to touch on in any of their other courses.

And the reaction, overall, was very positive.  It’s a small course, with only fifteen students, and the majority appeared deeply engaged with the demo.  The librarian in me couldn’t help but furnish them with a handout, which I limited to bulleted pros and cons lists for each demoed app, as well as a recommended readings and blogs list.  I thought I would get a lot of smirks about sharing a paper handout at a lecture on going paperless, but I noticed that many of the students were jotting down notes on the handout as the lecture progressed, so in the end I was glad that my librarian tendencies had prevailed.  I even had students coming up to me afterward to ask questions, not only about legal research and practice apps, but also about cloud case management software, like Clio.  Having only held my position as Educational Technology Librarian for a couple of years, this positive reaction was very affirming for me – it’s so hard to exact enthusiasm from law students sometimes!

My geek-out moment came at the beginning of class, when, for the first time, I used my Lightning-to-VGA adapter to plug my iPad into the classroom technology cart.  As was intended, this allowed me to project my iPad, rather than having to use the document camera for the same purpose.  I had seen this done in vendor demonstrations at conferences, but doing it myself for the first time was a geekily blissful moment for me!

I have plans to replicate this lecture for the fall, and I hope to structure it similarly, but I would like to take it further.  For instance, I did not actually show any law practice apps, such as for managing depositions, displaying courtroom exhibits, etc.  We talked about them, and I showed them the page in my legal app research guide that lists several, but I couldn’t go any further in-depth without purchasing the apps, and some can be quite expensive.  So for next semester’s lecture, I hope to at least find some short demos of these legal practice apps that I can show in class, or perhaps even talk to the developers and see if there is a way to get their app for free, or at a reduced rate at the very least.  From the reaction I received, there is clearly interest in this subject, and the more I can show them, the better.  This presentation will undoubtedly expand to other audiences as well, such as my colleagues in the library and perhaps a lunchtime brown-bag for students who are not in ALR.  I might eventually do a similar presentation for the faculty as well, given how often many of them are traveling to and from conferences.

I am certain I am not the first librarian to give an apps lecture, so if you have given a lecture like this and have any suggestions, pass them along!  I would love to hear about what apps you have demoed and for what audience, what kind of reaction you have received, and whether you know of a strategy for procuring some of the paid law practice apps for educational purposes.  Comment on this post, or contact me directly –  Thanks!

Monday, December 16th, 2013, or what to do when your favorite service disappears

The Chicago-Kent Library Technology Group runs many kinds of projects.  Keeping track of what’s going on in individual projects can be challenging.  We needed a cloud-based service for project management, something that could:

  • Track projects and tasks
  • Let us assign tasks to individual workers
  • Comment on tasks when we had questions or more information.

We had tried a number of different solutions, everything from  spreadsheets to  Google Sites, but nothing worked quite the way we wanted.  We were very happy when we found The interface was intuitive.  We could login from our Google accounts.  We could easily add tasks and projects using the web interface or even email.  Commenting was a breeze.   It was great!  Not to mention free.

Until one day we logged in and saw the dreaded “we’re closing” message:'s closing announcement’s closing announcement was a product. A lot of companies used it every day.  But for whatever reason, it was no longer viable. was done.

So we added to our list of services which have closed this year.   Services like Xtranormal and Google Reader, just to name a couple.

So what do you do when your favorite web service shuts down?  There are four basic steps that can help:

  1. Back up your data  — at least, what you can.  Note that you may not be able to back up everything (e.g. Google Reader didn’t provide an easy way to back up all read articles).
  2. Know your import/export options.  You may be able to export a lot of data, but that doesn’t mean that you will be able import that same data into other services.
  3. Read (and heed) all warnings.  Most services will give you plenty of notice. Pay attention to the shutdown dates. Note that services can shut down immediately.
  4. Delete your account if you can.  This can particularly important if the account has any kind of public presence (e.g. a social networking site).  Of course, this assumes you were able to export all of your data.

So how can you protect yourself against the loss of cloud-based services?  There are a few factors to that you can keep in balance when using the cloud for class or just to manage things on the backend:

  • Know who provides the service.  It’s not a matter of big versus small companies, but keeping track of what companies are doing.  Services provided by smaller companies can shut down if the company isn’t viable.  Conversely, services provided by larger companies may lose priority status and be dropped. But if you know who provides the service, you may learn about an issue with the company (such as an acquisition or merger) that alerts you to a potential problem long before the service itself shuts down.
  • Keep an eye on development.  While it may seem like a lack of new features suggests that a product is stable, it more likely means the product is no longer supported.  There was no new development on, for example for most of 2013 — a likely sign that Salesforce no longer supported it.
  • Have a back up plan.  No product lasts forever, so be prepared.  Keep an eye on competing products.  Consider open source alternatives, or even creating your own if you have the resources and skills.  Regularly backup your cloud data if you can.

The Library Technology Group has now moved on to a new online task/project tracker, but we know that some day (hopefully not soon), we’ll have to replace this service, too.  We hope we won’t be surprised again, but no matter what happens, we have a plan in place.

Learn more:

This post was adapted from an Ignite talk I gave to the Chicago Association of Law Librarians on November 5, 2013.



Monday, March 11th, 2013

Infographics in Legal Education

Have you noticed that data use and distribution has hit the mainstream lately?  Data visualization is becoming a popular field of study.  Empirical research is gaining greater ground in fields not usually associated with high levels of data analysis, such as law.  2013 has even been declared the International Year of Statistics.  Perhaps more so than any of these previous examples, infographics have spread like wildfire across the internet.  Covering topics ranging from silly to serious, infographics offer a dynamic and visual means of displaying data.

Ask virtually anyone involved in empirical research, and they’ll tell you that you have to let the data tell the story.  I’m relatively new to empirical research, having begun conducting my own studies only a couple of years ago.  And while I heartily display my data results in bar graphs and pie charts, I often wonder if this does enough to truly convey my data’s story?  Infographics are a great tool for doing so (though, admittedly, within a print journal article, a lengthy infographic probably wouldn’t work – we’ll have to reserve the infographic as another means of communicating your findings, beyond the journal article!).

I’ll confess that I consider myself an infographic junkie.  I just can’t get enough!  And while I’ll admit that some of the infographics I enjoy are less than scholastic in nature, I have found so many that are brimming with educational content – I had to keep exploring.  The more I dug, the more convinced I became that infographics are a relatively untapped educational resource in law schools.  My next question was how best to apply them in this environment.

I’d love to say that I was immediately inspired and I have a secret library of brilliant infographics I’ve created for the law school setting, but such is not the case.  Instead, I began by looking for various platforms for creating infographics.  I came across this article on powerful infographic tools, and started exploring.  My personal favorite – Piktochart.  Even at the basic, free account, the designs they provide are very easily manipulated to create the chart you want, and as with similar platforms, paying for the more professional licenses gives you many more themes and allows you to eliminate their watermark.  (Of course, if you’re an Adobe savant or a graphic designer by trade, you could also just create your own from scratch!  Alas, such is not the case for me – I’ll take all the help I can get!)

I’m still in more of the exploring stages now, but I’ve begun creating a few infographics pertaining to legal research, as well as infographics that advertise our library services and social media accounts.  I also quickly realized what a useful tool an infographic is for creating posters for poster sessions, and am currently using Piktochart for a few projects for some upcoming conferences.  Additionally, in my explorations, I have found (and continue to find) several law-related infographics, which I have pinned to our library’s Pinterest account.

It’s no secret that different people learn in different ways – some by rote, some visually, some by teaching others.  Adding to that the fact that the majority of today’s students have grown up with the internet and therefore expect and engage most with quick, visual stimuli, infographics could be a very powerful educational tool.  Is it preferred by every student?  No.  Can it replace a traditional lecture?  Certainly not.  But can it supplement course materials?  I think so.  We’re working in a time that legal education is being reevaluated and renovated.  I am not here to argue that infographics are the way of the future for legal education, but we as legal educators are being called upon to think of new ways to convey legal education to better prepare our students to become lawyers; infographics are not going to create lawyers, but their ability to convey information visually might serve as a powerful tool for helping students see the bigger picture, understand difficult concepts, and better retain lecture content.

(I should note here that there are some obvious cautions that should be noted when working with infographics.  If you create your own, it’s certainly not as much of a problem, but if you’re using someone else’s infographic, first of all you’ll want to make sure and attribute it to its creator, but also you may want to verify its information for accuracy.)

The more I explore infographics that others have created and continue to create my own, the more possibilities I see.  If any of you are creating infographics for your schools, I would love to hear about them.  If you’re interested in learning a little more about infographics and education, here are a few resources:

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

The Optimist and the Skeptic

To generalize wildly, many people who work with educational technology like technology for its own sake. Not all teachers love it quite as much, especially in traditional fields like law. So how do you move from the enthusiasm of the early adopter reaction – “yay! Toys!” – to encourage widespread adoption of useful technologies in a field that may include more tech skeptics?

It takes trust and some clear applications to prove any learning curve is worth it. And it is the job of the tech guide to make that learning curve as gentle as we can, applying the same learning theories in our internal tech training that many excellent faculty use in the classroom.

Avoid information overload. Give the big picture and the step-by-step perspectives succinctly. Scaffold new concepts from familiar ones using relevant examples. Use questions and activities to gauge comprehension and reinforce new concepts. And, of course, peer to peer explanations and collaborations will usually be the most effective.

Besides these teaching strategies, the other basic requirement to build trust is empathy. Sometimes this means we need to take a step back from our own enthusiasm for the new and innovative and shiny. What is fun to us may be frustrating, confusing, and possibly intimidating to others. This doesn’t mean we need to hand-hold each person through every process, but we do need to factor in the basic barriers that people are likely to face.

Faculty and students have limited time, so how do we make sure the product and our training is as simple and effective as possible? We’re living in a multi-platform, multi-device world: pushing products that require universal adoption means a lot more preparation work on the start up side. Of course technology can also work to solve these problems, but any steps we can take to make the tool get out of the way will help when you’re dealing with a tech skeptic. Jump as quickly into the benefits as possible.

As an example, take anonymous in-class feedback, a teaching strategy that deals directly with confusion or competition that leads to intimidation and prevents full comprehension. A non-tech solution would be index cards, distributed to students and collected for later perusal. This gets the job done, but slows down the class and doesn’t you to directly address the issues raised.

Clickers were the first solution, but the hardware was an added expense that students often didn’t see pay off when faculty found the software cumbersome to work with and didn’t apply it in the classroom. Frustration with a failed product often leads from skepticism to cynicism and makes it harder to bring up the original problems they were intended to address.

CALI’s Instapoll (free) and other products like PollEverywhere or ClassPager (which include a variety of pricing plans) address the issues directly. Setting up the questions is painless – simply type them into the websites. Answering them doesn’t require any specialized devices for students to buy (they can use laptops or smart phones). The results appear on the screen quickly.

Weave seen how a few faculty adopting tools like this, designed to solve a specific need quickly and easily, will spread easily because it just works. Faculty are happy to tell each other about the benefits. Students ask more faculty about it after experiencing the benefits. We can use a few good experiences to encourage more use, but we’re still looking for further steps we can take: with classroom computers, would adding a clearly-labeled bookmark to all the browsers also encourage more use?

As we invest time in training and funds in new equipment, finding ways to gauge their impact can be tricky. Tracking actual usage can be very subjective.  Alleviating problems quickly is only possible when you hear about them immediately, and not everyone reports them. Faculty and students can be quickly disillusioned by a few frustrating moments, unwilling to invest in new experiments.

This can be a discouraging for anyone who’s hoping for immediate payoff, but many times asking questions about goals and barriers can refocus on the larger issues. The more positive examples you can offer that show the immediate benefits in the classroom, the easier it is to build trust as you take on the stubborn problems.

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


Talk about an acronym that’s fun to say! MOOCs are a popular term in educations these days.

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course.

I first learned about MOOCs through the eduMOOC last year so I could learn more about online learning. Since then, MOOCs have been featured in national news sources and discussed at countless conferences.  While I don;t think the rumors of MOOCs becoming the be all and end all of education, I think there are some interesting applications of MOOCs in education today

Here are some links if you want to educate yourself on the MOOC boom:

The Language of MOOCS: by Inside Higher Ed

The Year of the MOOC: New York Times MOOC news from one of the term-coiners

Warming Up to MOOCs: Chronicle of Higher Education

What in the World is a MOOC?: Washington Post

There is a lot out there on MOOCs, but I’d suggest that if you are interested in learning more, take a look at the writing of Audrey Watters who seems to spend a heck of a lot of time writing about MOOCS and how they relate to higher ed.

If that isn’t enough, take a look at how one law school is responding to the MOOC boom.

Drexel and MOOCs

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Flipped classrooms – are they working?

Teachers, instructors, and professors are experimenting with flipped classrooms.  They seem to be working – at least according to this high school teacher’s story – her flipped classroom was very successful.   The reporter telling the teacher’s story emphasized that experimenting with advanced technologies was essential:

There is a need for educators of the next generation to recognize that the world that our youth currently live in is different from what it was just 10 years ago. According to Triadic Reciprocal Determinism, when an environment is changed, there is a cognitive change within the individual that follows, which in turn results in an ultimate change in an individual’s behavior. If we insist on continuing to educate the youth of today with what is often called the ‘traditional model’ of education, not only will we be unsuccessful as we implement an outdated model, we will doing a dis-service to these students due to our failure to prepare them for the future (and the present) by not providing them with experiences that utilize technology in a functional manner. The main reason that approaches like flipping classrooms are showing extreme improvements in attitudes, motivation, grades and retention, is because it is a way of teaching that is relatable, familiar and compatible to the 21st century child/teenager.


Experiences like this suggest that our future law students are likely to be very familiar with flipped classrooms – something to keep in mind as we develop new ways of teaching over the next few years. In fact, our students are likely to expect them.

But will flipped classrooms work equally well in law school? From anecdotal evidence I’ve heard so far, it seems that the answer is yes.  Have any of you had luck – or even major problems – with flipped classrooms?  And does anyone know what Triadic Reciprocal Determinism is?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

2 weeks with a Mac

Wow!  Look how much time has gone by since my first post this month!  It’s been busy here – lots of projects to plan for, one of our librarians just had a new baby (yay!).  And, after working here for 10 years, I finally have a Mac at work.  So I’ve been busy running it through its paces.

With so many of our faculty and students showing up with Macs these days, I wanted to know more about how they adapt to our work environment.  I’ve used Macs at home since 1987, so I’m pretty familiar with the interface.  But I’ve always used a PC at work.  By switching to a Mac, I expect to be able to better understand how Macs can be used by law students, faculty, and staff as an ed tech tool.

The Good

  • It’s fast. My old PC was pretty decent, but the iMac is much faster.  I wasn’t expecting that.
  • It’s bright.  The screen is much nicer than my PC.  I’m enjoying the crisp colors.
  • It can do (almost) anything a PC can. The programs I use most often are Chrome, MS Office, Acrobat, MindManager, SnagIt, and Camtasia, all of which run on Macs.
  • With Parallels, it can do everything.  The only day-to-day program I can’t run on the Mac is our Voyager desktop software.  With Parallels, problem solved.
  • They aren’t (that much more) expensive.  When we research new computers, we usually find that while lower-grade PCs are often cheaper, PCs with similar specs are about the same as a Mac.
  • The Magic Mouse is magic.  Its trackpad surface is easy to use and works much like a scrolling mouse, with a few extras.

The Bad

  • Why can’t I print? Mountain Lion isn’t totally compatible with our network printer/copier/fax.  Our IT people had to work pretty hard to get it to connect.
  • Where is my network drive again?   I have to manually add our network drives when I want to access them (maybe there’s a work-around I’m missing?).
  • What just happened?  I love the mouse – except when I manage to somehow make a gesture that sends me to a random program or widget.  I think this issue is special to me because I have the same problem with my home laptop.  No one else I’ve talked to has this issue.

I’ve only just started to see how far I can push the Mac.  I still have to learn more about some of the latest features of Mountain Lion (how well does the dictation feature work, for example?).  Earlier versions of Parallels seemed slow to me.  So far, Version 8 seems fine, but I haven’t used it much.

We all have a list of technologies which would be great to explore hands-on, but are just too expensive to purchase or to integrate, even with the best justifications.  Yet, without direct experience with the technologies, it’s difficult for educational technologies to make informed recommendations.  Getting a Mac was of those rare opportunities to directly experience a technology I’d only been able to discuss in the abstract..  The other day, a faculty member asked if she should get a Mac – a question I’ve been asked fairly often.  Before I got my work Mac, I could discuss the benefits of the interface well enough, but I wasn’t as sure about what day-to-day issues she might experience trying to use a Mac in our law school.  Now that I have a Mac, I can give more informed answers.

That said, even hand-on experience only goes so far.  It turned out that not only did the faculty member want a Mac, but she wanted an MacBook Air.  To go to China.  I’m pretty sure the library budget won’t cover a new laptop and a trip to Beijing any time soon.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

iPads, iPads, iPads

With over 84 million sold in 2 1/2 years, it’s hard to underestimate the impact iPads and other tablets have had on almost everything, including legal education and law practice. According to a recent ABA survey, 33% of lawyers now use tablets for their practice, and over 90% of those are iPads. Rich McCue’s recent survey of University of Victoria law students showed similar numbers of law students using mobile technologies.

In my experience, not many students use iPads for taking notes in class, but they are great devices for reading online articles and quick research. Faculty like them for organizing their research and accessing email. Recently, Teknoids held a great discussion about favorite iPad and Android tablet apps for legal education. It turns out, Teknoids contributors have created extensive resources recommending all kinds of apps:

Some of my own favorites are

  • Evernote – Access your notes anywhere. Great for meetings and taking notes on long-term projects.
  • GoodReader – Read and organize just about any document. Annotate PDFs. Great for meetings and reading articles.
  • Reeder – Access Google Reader anywhere
  • Chrome – Don’t like Safari? Try this alternative.
  • OyezToday and Pocket Justice -Multimedia and extensive information about the Supreme Court
  • DropBox – Access your files from anywhere
  • Skype – Instant video conferencing.
  • TeamViewer – Control your computer from your iPad.
  • Doceri – Use your iPad to control your computer and annotate the screen
  • Lili– Ok, this one’s just a first-person adventure game.  But the graphics are great and the story is fun.

Faculty particularly love GoodReader and DropBox. They are usually among the first apps I recommend for someone who has a new iPad.

As terrific as the iPad is, it’s now “so 2 years ago.” What’s next? Rumors about the iPad mini started almost as soon as the first was launched. Many expected an announcement in September, but Apple only announced the iPhone5. But now new rumors have started, and industry experts expect invitations to go out next week for an October 17 event. If the mini is in fact announced, who knows how much greater impact it will have on lawyers and law schools?

For more about iPads in law schools and in the law, see my CALI presentation from this year’s conference (video will be posted later).


Monday, October 1st, 2012

Mindmapping Software – Essential for Law School

A few years back my employer (California Western School of Law) contracted with Mindjet to give every student, faculty and staff member access to MindManager mind-mapping software.  I encouraged this collaboration as I felt the graphical qualities of  mind-maps were particularly well suited to breaking down complex legal concepts into more digestible components, something our students would find appealing in preparing class outlines or studying for the bar.


A mind-map is a visual representation of relationships between concepts, words and ideas (the graphic below is an example). Mind-mapping is not new: according to a  2007 Law Library Journal article, it was developed by researchers in the 1960s. 99 Law Libr. J. 175 (2007)  Software and the internet have made maps easy to create in both basic text and multimedia form, and as a result mind mapping has become quite popular.


Attorneys can use maps in a number of ways, including litigation and case management, as well as research tracking. Our program has been quite popular with students and faculty.  Some faculty have found it useful for teaching, either in class presentations or via handouts.  Others found it extremely helpful for outlining, drafting and organizing their scholarship.  (The iPad version of MindManager was used heavily by some faculty especially because they could transfer files back and forth between the full version of the software and the iPad app.)


Many students raved about the software.  It was quite a surprise when a student actually came up and thanked us for providing the program after a training presentation.  I’ve seen bar studiers thrilled with their discovery of mind-mapping as a study tool.   On the other hand, it is not for everyone.  A few students recoiled at the graphical qualities of mind-maps and favored ‘regular’ linear outlining.

I’m not sure why the reaction for and against mind-mapping can be so strong.  That sounds like a research project for an educational psychologist.  However, the benefits provided to those that do respond positively have made me conclude that it is definitely worth introducing in a law school environment.



Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Tapping into In-Class Online Conversations (Backchannel)

Here at Boston College Law we’ve been getting a lot of chatter about backchannels and how they can be integrated into classes. While many of the examples that people are using focus on Twitter, the common concerns about privacy, anonymity, and moderation are always present as roadblocks.

So, we’ve been exploring a few different tools that we’d like to pilot over the next year. So far we’ve got two possible test subjects, and we’re hoping to get more. Below is our workshop flyer we’ve been shopping around to try and drum up some new business.

Remember when you passed a note to the person next to you? You may have even been caught by the teacher in the front of the room and now have an embarrassing memory.

Instead of pieces of paper, students are now passing emails, texts, and instant messages back and forth during class. There is actually a name for this, and it’s not distraction, rather its backchannel. New technologies have created ways for you to interact with your students through this communication channel and could create positive participation during your lectures.

We’ve been experimenting with a few of these services and found several that are easy to setup, use, and might be a perfect fit to tap into the backchannel in your classes – large or small. We’re offering a workshop in the Law Library to provide some hands-on time to try them out and discuss how these tools can help create more participation.

Backchannels can add to discussion in real time, punctuate section breaks to confirm understanding, be moderated by a TA, generate review questions, encourage collaboration between students, or even carry the discussion beyond the classroom. The possibilities are endless. For your reading pleasure we’ve attached chapter one from a book entitled The Backchannel: Why are you calling me a #@*% on Twitter?

In our workshop we’ll do some hands-on testing with Google Moderator, Today’s Meet, and H2O Question Tool a Berkman Center tool (similar to from MIT). All free, all easy to use, and all available to you anytime.

Many times we find that when we want to introduce a new tool to our faculty, workshops work best. Hopefully this will be the case with backchannel tools.

So far we’ve thought of many different ways to use them for inside and outside the classroom. The voting tools like H20 Question Tool is great to get a class pulse on what the most important topics are and can allow for the discussion to continue outside of the classroom.

What I’d like to know is if you’ve been playing around with any of these tools (or others), and have any stories to share?