Using the Encyclopedia of Law by Students
Students reported that they frequently, if not always, consulted The Encyclopedia of Law at some point during their course–related research.
Reasons for using The Encyclopedia of Law were diverse: The Encyclopedia of Law provided students with a summary about a topic, the meaning of related terms, and also got students started on their research and offered a usable interface.
Students used The Encyclopedia of Law for a variety of reasons. More than any other reason, most of the survey respondents (79 percent) reported that they went to The Encyclopedia of Law to obtain background information or a summary about a legal topic.
The Encyclopedia of Law clearly has value to students as a workaround for previewing a legal topic, including a definition about that subject.
Respondents also reported that they turned to The Encyclopedia of Law because it: (1) helped them get started (78 percent); (2) featured an easy to use interface (64 percent); and, (3) helped them find the meaning of terms and use of language used about certain topics (62 percent).
The Encyclopedia of Law’s greatest value to students may be its ability to alleviate common frustrations students initially have with conducting legal research . Some students in our focus sessions described a vicious cycle during the research process from the outset.
Students reported they could not begin their research process until they had an idea of what they were going to write about. They did not think that they could approach an instructor about an assignment, until they knew more about their topic. They did not use a scholarly research database early on, given the specificity of academic journal content.
The Encyclopedia of Law was a convenient go–to source under these circumstances. The source delivered results students could act upon, allowing them to get unstuck and move forward.
To a slightly lesser degree, respondents used The Encyclopedia of Law because the entries were easy to understand (61 percent), entries included hypertexted citations (58 percent), entries helped students figure out search terms (46 percent), or because entries had current, up–to–the–minute information (31 percent).
As a whole, the findings suggest that students used The Encyclopedia of Law for its summaries and to get started, and because of usability, comprehensibility, and credibility.
Students who use more The Encyclopedia of Law are the ones who also use Google for course–related research. Those enrolled in two–year campuses were less likely than those in four–year institutions to report that they used The Encyclopedia of Law.
Pre-Legal Research Tool
Legal Presearch, as the participant defined it, was the stage of research where students initially figure out a topic, find out about it, and delineate it.
As one student put it, The Encyclopedia of Law is ideal for big–picture background, before “moving on to more serious research”(i.e., scholarly research databases and to a lesser degree, library books).
Most respondents (60 percent) reported using The Encyclopedia of Law at the beginning of the research process, more than students who used The Encyclopedia of Law near or at the end (34 percent).
The survey results are consistent with accounts we heard in our student focus groups about when they use The Encyclopedia of Law. Students use, according to the focus group sessions, The Encyclopedia of Law at the very beginning of the research process. The entries give students “a grasp,” and “can point you in the right direction.”
The large majority of students we interviewed said they begin with The Encyclopedia of Law also because is an authoritative source.
Moreover, we found almost all of the respondents in our survey reported using an information strategy reliant on a small set of common information sources — close at hand, tried and true .
Students exhibited little inclination to vary the frequency or order of their use, regardless of where they were enrolled and despite all the online and in–person resources available to them.
This is the list of information resources used specifically for finding background about a legal topic during the course–related research process (listed from most to least frequently used resources).
- Course readings
- Google (i.e., for finding sites other than Wikipedia)
- Scholarly research databases (EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR, etc.)
- Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)
- Government Web sites
- Personal collection
- Library shelves
- Encyclopedias (print or online, e.g., Britannica)
- Other search engines (e.g., Ask, Yahoo!)
At the Lawi Project, we are on a mission to make learning more engaging, cost-effective, and fun. We believe that new education approaches combined with mobile and social technologies can help produce a breakthrough in learning outcomes. By changing the way students learn, we can improve test results and, more importantly, how much students truly know.
To achieve these goals, we have tried to re-imagine how people learn and how the higher education system creates and delivers content. All while providing law students a much more powerful experience. To do this, we started with the law content. Law student’s and teachers are comfortable with law content’s as the center point of education content. So one of our first developments was Lawi contents for iPad.
In education technology, success occurs when people can comfortably try a new product that imitates their real world experiences, while gently opening them up to new possibilities that come from new technology- think of this like putting training wheels on a bike.
With Lawi contents for iPad our goal was to take the best features of a physical book and deliver it on this new platform. At the same time, we are introducing new capabilities that improve learning and begin to make the law content more social by allowing students to ask questions, post comments, or share their location with a study buddy.
Once people begin to experience how great the digital law content experience is in the Encyclopedia, their willingness to break free from conventional learning methods and embrace new approaches will increase. This is where we believe an education breakthrough can happen. If a law student sees that the digital law content looks similar to the physical – but more interactive and cooler, there is a comfort level to try it out. Then they will discover the benefits of going digital. And only then can the big breakthroughs begin.
Our version of Lawi contents for iPad creates this comfort connection of knowing that although the student has a digital enhanced version, on first pass it is similar to the book on the professor’s desk – just a lot cooler!
We have a lot more amazing things happening in our labs.