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JILT 1996 (3) - Rosemary Shiels

Law Students and Hypertext: One Law School's Model

Rosemary Shiels
Chicago-Kent College of Law
rshiels@attmail.com


Abstract

The growing use of small portable laptop computers by law students provides an ideal environment in which to provide hypertext course books for use in the law school. This paper updates a report of an experiment in delivering core course material in hypertext format to first-year law students.

Keywords: Hypertext, Electronic casebooks, Legal education, Notebook computers, Laptop computers, Law school model

Contents
1. Introduction
2. The Basis for the Chicago-Kent "Notebook Computer Project"
3. The 1994-1995 First-Year Student Project
3.1 The Project Design
4. Why Hypertext?
5. The Chicago-Kent Electronic Casebook Prototype
5.1 Navigation
5.2 Search
5.3 Highlighters
5.4 Student Notes
5.5 Shadow Files
5.6 Appearance
5.7 Research
6. Results of the 1994-1995 Notebook Computer Project
7. Second Phase of the Project
8. Hurdles to Implementing Electronic Casebooks
9. Integrating Technology Into Legal Education: A Law School Model
10. Conclusion

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Date of publication: 30 September 1996

Citation: Shiels R (1996) 'Law Students and Hypertext: One Law School's Model', BILETA '96 Conference Proceedings, 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/elj/jilt/bileta/1996/3shiels/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1996_3/special/shiels/>


1. Introduction

The introduction of small portable computers into law practice and legal education can bring about a profound change in how we practice, teach and learn the law. Law students are coming to school and into the classroom with a set of sophisticated hardware tools and software applications they believe will enhance their notetaking and study skills. How can law schools capture this technology to best fit the needs of students in law school and beyond, into practice?

The arrival of laptop computers in law schools provides the setting to experiment with the use of electronic tools beyond their traditional role of providing legal resources and writing productivity tools. Hypertext software applications, now available on easy but powerful platforms, offer a new way to present core legal education material that can be used by students in the classroom. To learn how these two resources, hypertext applications and laptop computers, can bring about changes in legal education, Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Center for Law and Computers (Center) launched a "notebook computer project" in which 28 first-year students used hypertext electronic casebooks in class. In 1995, the project was expanded to 100 students. At the present time, the law school is supporting approximately 130 students who bring personal laptop computers to school as an integral part of the collection of tools they need to succeed.

The experiment was designed to examine the effects of the use of hypertext electronic course material on the performance of first-year students measured by law school grades. This paper reports on that project and describes the benefits achieved and the lessons learned. While thorough evaluation of the project is just getting underway, some preliminary results are worth sharing with the entire legal education community.

2. The Basis for the Chicago-Kent "Notebook Computer Project"

The first-year notebook computer project was a culmination of a series of investigations conducted under the direction of Professor Ronald W. Staudt to provide technology tools and lessons that supported American law students' primary tasks: to read and analyze cases, to participate in class discussions, to think and analyze class discussions and outside readings, and to discover legal concepts to apply in an examination. Professor Staudt reasoned that computer tools, such as word processors, outliners, and simple databases, would bring law students and practitioners powerful tools to think and learn about the law. (From Ronald W. Staudt, Computers at the Core of Legal Education: Experiments at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 35 J. Legal Educ. 514 (1985); David J. Maume, Jr., & Ronald W. Staudt, Computer Use and Success in the First Year of Law School, 37 J. Legal Educ. 388 (1987).) Staudt introduced these "new" productivity tools to a group of volunteer first-year students in the Fall, 1984. Now, all incoming students at Chicago-Kent College of Law attend required classes on how to fully integrate a wide range of these tools for class preparation and assignments.

In 1992, Professor Staudt designed and conducted the first experiment with building and delivering electronic substantive core course material, essentially an electronic casebook, for upper-level students to use in class. In the Fall 1992, each student in Professor Staudt's Computer Law course used a notebook computer equipped with DOS hypertext software and materials that comprised the complete set of course materials. While Professor Staudt conducted class in the traditional question and answer method typical of American law classes, the students came to class with the notebook computers with which they had read the material and prepared pre-class notes. (From Ronald W. Staudt, An Essay on Electronic Casebooks: My Pursuit of the Paperless Chase, 68 Chi.-Kent L.Rev. 291 (1992).) The success of this first project led to an expansion of that experiment into the Fall, 1993, in which the course materials were converted to a Windows-based hypertext software, Folio VIEWS.

3. The 1994-1995 First-Year Student Project

In American law schools, first-year students are particularly vulnerable. The competition for good grades is fierce. Students think, rightfully so, that their entire law careers depend on their success in that critical first-year. The curriculum is full; time is scarce. There are few if any opportunities for anything other than preparing for and participating in class, and preparing for exams. In view of these demands, the decision to introduce electronic casebooks into a first-year class was not taken lightly. Nevertheless, the potential for providing a strong, flexible program to students, one that would serve them in law school and into practice, was the key consideration.

During the summer 1994, the Center hired ten students who had just completed their first-year of law school at Chicago-Kent. The students were charged with defining what they considered the indispensable tools needed to succeed in the first year of law school. Their mission was to assemble those tools into a core set of materials in hypertext format. The student employees themselves created the foundation for the set of hypertext first-year course materials. They translated a typical student's traditional learning tools into a new, technological analogue and named it "The Law Student's Desktop." The students identified a traditional law student's desktop as containing casebooks, a legal dictionary, study aids, supplementary materials, even games. The electronic "desktop," the students concluded, should look the same --- an electronic environment powered by hypertext that included all the basics.

By the beginning of the Fall 1994 semester, the Center was able to create, convert and deliver electronic versions of three casebooks in the Folio VIEWS 3.1 hypertext format including the core legal writing text: Criminal Law by David Rudstein, Law and Justice by Dale Nance (published in print by Carolina Academic Press), and Legal Reasoning and Legal Writing by Richard Neumann (published in print by Little, Brown & Co.). In January 1995, we completed the conversion of Property and Law by Joseph William Singer, (published in print by Little, Brown and Company), and Contract Law and Theory by Robert E. Scott and Douglas L. Leslie (published in print by The Michie Company).

image 1

All the casebooks were installed on the 28 students' individual laptop computers. Each laptop also had a hypertext link connected to the LEXIS-NEXIS and WESTLAW online databases and to each student's own word processor. Additionally, each student had hypertext versions of the Citations infobase developed by Professor Peter Martin and published by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, as well as guides to grammar and correct citation usages, developed by Chicago-Kent faculty and staff.

3.1 The Project Design

During Spring and Summer 1994, the Admissions office mailed letters to prospective students explaining the notebook computer project. The students would agree to bring the laptop computers to their legal writing classes. In an effort to assure that the group of students was a cross-section of their class, the law school provided eight laptop computers to students who could not afford to buy them.

Early in the Summer 1994, the print publishers who had agreed to conversion of their material into electronic form delivered the electronic versions of the relevant casebooks to the Center for conversion to VIEWS. The files were then imported into VIEWS and student employees tested all of the electronic casebooks as they were completed and drafted written instructions for using specific VIEWS features. Page numbers were added to the electronic version so that print and electronic versions of the material matched precisely. In addition, all fonts and formats in the electronic version were adjusted to match the print version. The goal was to keep the two versions as indistinguishable as possible so that faculty and students could use either medium in the same class.

Each student who volunteered for the "notebook project" came to school with a laptop computer one week before classes began. The Center organized and conducted two half-days of instruction on how to use the electronic casebooks, how to back up their files, and how to use the software to create full-text electronic files of online database legal research resources. We distributed sets of instructions, prepared by the summer student employees, that focused on ways to use the material that best supported a first-year student's tasks. The following week, the 28 notebook computer students joined the rest of the 250 first-year day students for orientation.

During the semester, the Center staff met with the students on an individual basis and installed the proper programming files to allow each student to connect to the law school network from within the building through their PCMCIA cards. The law school has more than 1,300 live network nodes scattered throughout the building, in classrooms, and in common areas of the building. With network connectivity, each student can access the online databases, the law school printing services, electronic mail, and the Internet and World Wide Web from the laptop almost anywhere in the building. In effect, a student with a laptop computer and the proper network connectivity software, accessing the network from almost any seat in the building, creates a computer lab anywhere. As supplementary materials became available from individual professors, the Center posted the electronic files on the network, and the students downloaded the files directly to their laptops.

The initial group of 28 students was a diverse group, with a wide-range of backgrounds, previous academic achievement and law school entrance exam scores. They were chosen from a group of 100 volunteers to represent, to the extent possible, a typical first-year student division with a cross-section of ages, gender, and past experience. Some were self-acknowledged computer experts, with significant experience in programming and program usage; others admitted that they had little or no computer experience. Other than periodic meetings, no changes or adjustments were made to these students' schedules or course requirements; they were required to complete all of the same classes and assignments as the other day students.

In Fall 1995, the experiment grew to 100 first-year student volunteers. The electronic materials were essentially the same. Where casebooks were not available for conversion to the hypertext format, we obtained the professor's syllabus to deliver to students electronically.

4. Why Hypertext?

A law student's goal is to learn the law, essentially to learn enough law to pass an examination. To accomplish this goal, a law student must read assigned cases, respond to questions and discussion in class, and think about, organize and internalize the concepts from class and supplemental readings. To create an integrated theory of the legal issues of each substantive area of law, American students typically take notes about the cases assigned, before, during and after class, often in the margins of the casebook. These personal annotations help students identify and learn the legal theory. Most students then collect these notes and supplemental materials into a personal course outline that they finalize at the end of the semester to use to prepare for final examinations.

The hypertext software program used by the law school for the electronic casebooks is called VIEWS and is produced by Folio Corporation. It is a software package that has been in use by litigators for some time. (From Ronald W. Staudt and Rosemary Shiels, Chicago-Kent 1993, 1994, 1995 Large Firm Survey (1993, 1994, 1995).) VIEWS includes a number of features that allow users to collect, store, retrieve, organize and personalize text. Any word in the infobase can be searched and located through a query feature. In addition, users can create query links that can be used to limit the view of the infobase to certain text. Users can also create highlighters with various colors and font styles that can be applied directly to the text and that can be searched by the individual highlighter. Hypertext links to text within the infobase, to text in another infobase, and to other programs can be embedded anywhere. All of the VIEWS features are available with point and click access; no programming is needed.

Students who use core course material in hypertext format can add personal links to text that they feel is related to create their own paths through the legal material that was never possible in a linear, print medium. Students can identify and follow related issues and ideas to create an intellectual map of the legal theories and relations. They no longer need be passive learners following an author's mental map of the law. (From research by Marc Nanard & Jocelyn Nanard, Hypertext as a Tool for Information Gathering for Legal Applications, Informatica e diritto, Special Issue, HyperText and Hypermedia in the Law 54(1995).) Identifying related concepts and then adding links within electronic documents fosters the process of uncovering new legal relations and concepts. Students themselves can create a global, cross-discipline view of the law, beginning with their first-year courses. The students' personal overlay mappings and linkings actually add value to the core text and help them create a personal intellectual construction of the law.

Students can "enter" a hypertext casebook at any point and move forward, backward or delve deeper into related concepts; there is no obvious or required beginning or end. The information is not presented in a linear organization. The author can present specific paths through which a student can travel or the students can create their own paths. Because all of the text is available from any point of entry, the students can use the software to follow individual paths, to dig deeper and deeper into interesting or related material.

5. The Chicago-Kent Electronic Casebook Prototype

The Center for Law and Computers designed and prepared the electronic casebooks, drawing on input from students and observations of students and their study habits over many years. The prototype of electronic casebooks includes hypertext links from the text of cases to cited statutory codes and other case references. Links are added to case elisions, the material edited from the primary materials. Students who are interested in reading the whole case have instant access to the case elisions; statutes cited within a case can be read in their entirety; written annotations to other material can be inserted. And cases within the electronic casebook that refer to other cases included in the database link to each other to create an interconnected web of case law. (From Richard A. Matasar & Rosemary Shiels, Electronic Law Students: Repercussions on Legal Education, 29 Valparaiso Univ. L.Rev. 909 (Spring, 1995).)

5.1 Navigation

Although hypertext offers a reader almost endless ways to explore electronic information, the complexity of the exploration can create confusion. For example, if a student follows links deeper and deeper into related material, it may be difficult to remember or understand the first jump, thus creating a feeling of being lost in a hypertext space. The current Chicago-Kent electronic casebook design uses many of the electronic signposts built into the software to orient the student to the material.

For example, VIEWS contains its own Table of Contents window that displays, in a table of contents format, the headings in the infobase. From any place within the text of the electronic book, the student can move to the table of contents to see the entire scope of the book and the location within that construct. From the table of contents headings, the student can jump directly to the appropriate section in the infobase by clicking on the heading text.

image 2
5.2 Search

In print material, students find references and topics from the materials' table of contents and index which are the print medium's finding tools. These devices route the reader to specific locations. These finding aids are created by the author and the publisher, drawn from the author's or publisher's concept of the material. Full-text hypertext software, on the other hand, includes a search feature that lets the reader, the law student, use any specific ideas and words to search through the entire contents. VIEWS' query feature supports full boolean search processes to allow students to find all words and phrases that match the student's individual question.

image 3

VIEWS also provides a built-in programming feature using the search engine that allows the author to isolate specific records and present a restricted view of the infobase. At the beginning of the Law and Justice infobase, for example, Chicago-Kent built a series of query links. By double clicking on any of these query links, the view of the infobase will be restricted to the items that match the query link, such as student notes, student notes with quotations, etc., creating an instant, and complete, course outline tailored to specific types of information. In other words, the infobase includes a query link that creates an automatic outline of the course at any time.

5.3 Highlighters

The VIEWS software includes a feature that allows the user to highlight text in any number of individually-defined highlighting formats and colors. The Chicago-Kent electronic casebook includes two predefined highlighters that reflect law students' primary needs: a highlighter to identify key facts, and one to identify key quotations, each with a specific color, font size and characteristic. Many students were innovative and created other highlighters with individually-set combinations of colors and fonts, personalizing the material to match their own needs.

5.4 Student Notes

Students can add personal notes anywhere in the electronic casebook by using a notes feature created by the Center. Once added and identified as a student notes level, the student can draw up the entire structure of the course as an outline with the student's personal notes inserted at the proper course chapter and section. Students can print their outlines to study for exams or export them to a word processor for further formatting, a feature that is available automatically because of the integration of the reading and notetaking material in electronic hypertext medium.

5.5 Shadow Files

The VIEWS' shadow file feature allows each student to store personal notes, highlighters, bookmarks, and links in an overlay file separate from the main casebook. A shadow file allows students to make changes to an infobase without actually changing the master copy of the casebook. The shadow file stores all the editing changes but it takes up less space than the casebook, and allows the student to make changes without affecting the underlying electronic files.

5.6 Appearance

VIEWS permits individual students to change and adapt the format, font and appearance of the text in any way. The text in the electronic casebooks has been identified as "Normal Text" level with the attributes for the characters in this level as Times New Roman 12 point. However, students can change the text to larger format and font styles for easier reading.

5.7 Research

The software includes special filters to import text from various formats into a new and separate electronic hypertext file of the text, including a filter for text retrieved from the LEXIS-NEXIS online databases. The students can use the full range of features available in these independently created hypertext files or electronic research books: highlighters, jump links, and popup notes can be used to identify and retrieve text. They also can search the entire file, which may consist of many cases and law review articles, for any word or word combination. Since the program operates in Windows, text can be selected, copied and pasted directly into a Windows word processor.

6. Results of the 1994-1995 Notebook Computer Project

Throughout 1994-1995, the Center conducted numerous surveys of the students and met with them in small groups as often as the students' schedules allowed. We wanted to learn how the students used the material, how they liked using the material, and whether they thought it helped them as law students. We also wanted to know how the materials, the training, and the instructions could be improved. From these surveys and interviews, some observations can be reported and generalizations drawn.

The first-year courses at the law school have a mandatory grading curve. Professors can only allot a specific number of A's, B's, and C's. Overall, the students in the hypertext course materials project received slightly more of the allocated A's in all substantive courses than their numbers represented. In other words, where a class had five or six A's, four of the students in this group received A's.

As to the students' reports of the project, much of the information on their reaction to the project came from personal interviews. Not all students used the material to the same extent and depth as all others. However, most of the students became comfortable with using the electronic materials at some level with only the Center-developed set of instructions and no vendor hardback or commercial manual available.

Some of the students reported that they used the hypertext materials in class to capture notes, at home to do "book briefing" directly in the margin of the electronic casebook, and at the end of the semester to prepare automatic outlines for exam preparation. Some students recorded their class notes directly into the electronic casebook during class. Other students reported that they took class notes on paper and later rekeyed their notes into the hypertext casebook in order to use the automatic outliner built into the material. Many students created multiple highlighters to match their own theories and rules of the law.

Not all comments were positive. Most students reported that they needed a lot more training and instruction before classes began to become comfortable with the software. The students even urged that some form of the electronic casebooks be sent to incoming students during the summer before classes begin. At the outset of the school year, several students said that they did not like to read material from a computer screen, particularly from a notebook computer screen. Further into the semester, though, several of these students reported that they had learned to be comfortable reading from the screen. Some students believed that it was easier to read small sections of dense material on a computer screen than on a book page. Others began to appreciate having five heavy, bulky law school textbooks electronically stored in one seven-pound package. Despite some initial misgivings, several of the students who did use the notebook computers in class to capture class notes felt that they maintained the same interaction with the professor and their colleagues as did those students who took notes on paper.

The students were asked to complete a survey very early in the academic year to gather some information about their early reactions to the project. The results that follow indicate that, despite the initial learning curve required to come familiar with the software and the computer, the students were successful in using these tools. There were 28 students in this section; 20 responded to this early survey.

1. Evaluate the electronic casebook as a learning device in Legal Writing. Enter a number.

 

Very poor

     

Excellent

 

1

2

3

4

5

Responses:

1

6

5

4

4


2. Evaluate the electronic casebook as a learning device in Justice. Enter a number.

 

Very poor

     

Excellent

 

1

2

3

4

5

Responses:

4

5

6

6


3. Evaluate the electronic casebook as a learning device in Criminal Law. Enter a number.

 

Very poor

     

Excellent

 

1

2

3

4

5

Responses:

3

4

6

1

5


The success of the project is shown in the students' own reactions. As the students began their second year of law school, they persisted in their demand for hypertext material for their upper-level courses. At the start of the academic year, no course material was available. However, conversions of the Evidence course book and Commercial Paper, Commercial Sales, and Energy Law material have been completed for second semester.

7. Second Phase of the Project

In the Fall, 1995, the law school expanded the notebook computer project to one entire section of 100 students. For the most part, the same course materials were delivered to these students. Some professors did not use the same materials as their colleagues. Therefore, some students had fewer course materials than others. During the summer 1995, eight students from the original notebook computer project worked for the Center to revise the materials, correct errors, and to rewrite the instructions, bringing a high level of knowledge and expertise to the material based on their own participation in the first phase of the project.

No academic achievement analysis has yet been completed on these students. Some survey and anecdotal information is available about their participation in this project. In general, this group of students identified many of the same strengths and advantages in using hypertext course material as did the smaller group. By taking notes in the hypertext format, with the predesigned automatic outliner, some students report that their notes are neatly organized and help them create summary outlines at the end of the semester. They are pleased to have their semester notes and outlines on the computers. In addition, some students reported that the most valuable tool is the ability to conduct legal research and input the cases into the hypertext infobases for searching, highlighting, and annotating, features that support and enhance their legal writing and research assignments.

As expected, some students reported that they still prefer to read and annotate on paper as they report difficulty in reading text on a laptop screen. Nevertheless, some students also reported that they appreciated having a number of heavy books reduced to a single laptop computer. Once again, some students complained that not all of the casebooks were in electronic form—an indication of their own perceived need for such material.

8. Hurdles to Implementing Electronic Casebooks

Law schools face tremendous pressure. Fewer students are coming to law school. Those who graduate are finding it harder to find law work. In many cases, practitioners themselves are re-evaluating their careers and walking away from lucrative jobs. In short, the legal profession, upon which law schools exist, is changing. Technology dazzles us with the allure of making our lives easier, more efficient and more productive. Surely, electronic drafting and editing are a boon. Furthermore, the students at Chicago-Kent report that electronic casebooks are a boon. These benefits are not without cost.

Time and staff, our scarcest resources, are critically important to provide the required support of individual students and faculty with these small portable machines. Law students come to law school with more and more sophisticated computer skills. Yet, there remain some number who have few or no computer skills. This disparity in computing skills can strain the overall computing services delivery system of any law school. Those students with few computer skills, realizing the need to catch up, can create special demands on the computing services staff that cause a ripple effect across the entire law school community. To solve this problem, more initial training may be necessary for these less skilled students.

9. Integrating Technology Into Legal Education: A Law School Model

Law schools need to provide the environment that will make use of sophisticated technology tools acceptable in legal education while preserving the successful teaching and pedagogical methods of their faculty. Any one of the following strategies can be a starting point for providing the support and instruction that students and faculty need to be comfortable and successful with the new legal education materials.

  1. Promote the use of electronic mail (E-mail) as a basic communications channel within the law school and as a starting point for integrating technology into the fabric of the law school.
  2. Coordinate with appropriate faculty to offer classes in which materials, such as electronic casebooks, are available from the publisher along with the traditional print material.
  3. Encourage, even require, first-year students to obtain software, such as hypertext software, to integrate into legal research classes on their own home machines, desktop, laptop or both.
  4. Where faculty members distribute large amounts or a large portion of their course material in photocopy form, develop relationships with the publishers to have that material converted to a hypertext format.
  5. Encourage legal writing faculty to accept written assignments in electronic form, on diskette or as an attached E-mail message.
  6. Leverage the students' own expertise. Organize, encourage and support student organizations involving the integration of technology and law practice.

10. Conclusion

Chicago-Kent's four-year experiment in delivering core course material in hypertext format indicates that the students are successful in using this type of material, and that their academic achievement is not harmed. Much more objective evaluation needs to be conducted. More and more students are coming to law school with small portable computers. The students are generally familiar and comfortable with using basic word processing to support their law school tasks. Now, strong, simple hypertext platforms deliver new ways for students to learn the law without seeming to jeopardize their law school achievement. These tools will become an integral part of legal education; more and more students will depend on the growing deployment of sophisticated computing tools in law school and law practice.

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