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UHLC transforms learning landscape for law students with innovative research approachQuestion text

Screenshot with one of the embedded questions that are integrated into the modules.

June 05, 2024 — The University of Houston Law Center is harnessing technology to reimagine legal education in the form of legal research modules for first-year law students.

“We’re rethinking how law is taught,” said Alyson Drake, Head of Instruction and Lecturer at UHLC, explaining the approach to designing and implementing the modules.

This initiative, led collaboratively by the UHLC Law Library instructional team and the Lawyering Skills and Strategies (LSS) faculty, received an Honorable Mention in the Changing Pedagogy category of the Bloomberg Law School Innovation Program in January.

These research modules aim to address challenges in comprehension and application, as Drake emphasized, "designed for long-term retention" to ensure students are equipped with the necessary skills for the classroom, bar exam and professional careers.

Over the past 8 years, Drake has developed a strategy-focused, structured process for teaching legal research. When she joined UHLC in 2022, Drake and Amanda Watson, Director of the UH Law Library and Associate Professor of Law, combined their ideas and experiences. This collaboration led to the current structure used in the UHLC modules.

The web-based, interactive modules incorporate the following evidence-based strategies for student learning and retention:

  • Scaffolding: individual module videos are single-skill focused but build to end-of-modules exercises that help students combine skills;
  • Retrieval: students must access learned skills and information from long-term memory for application to practical problems;
  • Spaced repetition: research instruction is spread across the entire semester, giving us time for the students to repeatedly practice skills and;
  • Dual coding: the modules team visual and verbal forms of information representation.

The modules launched in-person during the fall 2022 semester, followed the next year by the web-based, interactive video modules.

Drake explained the library team collaborated with the legal writing faculty to use common language, reducing cognitive overload for students by ensuring consistent terminology for key concepts and skills.

“The language resonates with the students because it was picked carefully and is uniform with the same terminology throughout all modules,” Drake said.

The quality of student research is up, and the feedback from students thus far is positive, according to Drake.

Lauren Simpson, UHLC Clinical Associate Professor and LSS faculty member, noted how legal research has transformed since she graduated from UHLC in 1994.

“Research was taught differently back then ― focusing on technique, rather than process,” Simpson said. “This is why the modules are so important because they focus on process. There will always be a ton of data. The modules’ focusing on the process and making sure the students understand that process allows them to transfer that learning about the process to any area, whether it’s new or familiar. That’s the beauty of it. That’s how humans learn.

“That process reminds the students that legal research is not its own bucket. In a Venn diagram, there’s a lot of overlap between legal research and thinking like a lawyer.

“That’s the brilliant thing about this: it not only focuses on process, which is transferable, but it focuses on understanding that we’re talking about research and analysis.”

The UHLC module team included law librarians Alyson Drake, Amanda Watson, Rob Brownell, Chris Dykes, Emily Lawson and Katy Stein along with LSS faculty Lauren Simpson, Katherine Brem and Whitney Heard.

For more information about the University of Houston Law Center Library, visit

For more information about the University of Houston Lawyering Skills and Strategies, visit

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