'Help' with Sale of Goods: initial thoughts
- 2. Learning styles
- 3. The selection and creation of the SoG file
- 4. Changes in delivery style
- 5. Running the Sale of Goods programme
- 6. 'Help' with Sale of Goods questionnaire 1995/96
- 6.1 Was the SoG file a waste of time or was it a useful supplement to the course?
- 6.2 Computer availability
- 6.3 Multiple choice questions
- 6.4 Was the SoG file enjoyable?
- 6.5 Did the SoG file clarify difficult issues?
- 6.6 Was the SoG file beneficial and should it continue to be offered?
- 6.7 Was the SoG file too complex, confusing or misleading; was it presented clearly?
- 6.8 Was the SoG file actually used by students?
- 6.9 Questionnaire conclusions
- 7. The future
Date of publication: 30 September 1996
Citation: Young M (1996), ''Help' with Sale of Goods: initial thoughts', BILETA '96 Conference Proceedings, 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/elj/jilt/bileta/1996/3young/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1996_3/special/young/>
'Help' with Sale of Goods (hereafter 'SoG file')is a Windows Help File which contains all the student notes, including full text of statutes,  case references  and extracts of cases, for the Sale of Goods module offered on the LLB programme at the University of Luton. The reason for the development of the SoG file was to provide students with an 'interactive'  set of notes which they could use to construct a printed set of notes that was best suited to their own particular learning style. It was hoped that the 'interactive' nature of the SoG file would encourage students to become active learners.
The research that has been done into the wide question of how students learn shows that students learn by a deep and/or surface approach, or a holist or serialist approach, or by a combination of all approaches to learning - see Pask (Pask G., 1976), Marton and Saljo (Marton F. and Saljo R., 1976), Svensson (Svensson L., 1977), Ramsden and Entwistle (Ramsden P. and Entwistle N.J., 1981), Ramsden (Ramsden P., 1979), Laurillard (Laurillard D., 1979) and Entwistle(Entwistle N.J., 1981). The overall conclusion of these pieces of research seems to suggest that although learning method is a mixture of all types, a mixture of holist and serialist, a mixture of deep and surface, those students who adopt a 'deep' learning style  to a subject better understand that subject and consequently perform better in examinations etc. If, then, learning materials can be designed that students can adapt to their own learning styles, and which can also assist them to develop a deep approach to learning, then an ideal learning environment would have been created! However, caution must be exercised in trying to create an ideal learning environment. As Butler (Butler F.C., 1985) has stated
"Attempts to equate and to match what are presently called 'learning styles' with various instructional methods and media have produced, for the most part, rather inconclusive results. The state of the art at this time is such that we may be wasting time and resources trying to devise instruction suited exactly to the learning needs of each student."
Given, then, that individual students learn in a manner which suits that particular individual  but remembering that a deep learning style is to be encouraged and also the caveat of Butler (Butler F.C., 1985) that, "we may be wasting time and resources trying to devise instruction suited exactly to the learning needs of each student" the SoG file was an attempt to provide a flexible learning tool that students could adopt to their own learning styles but which would encourage a deep learning style.As part of the design of the SoG file note was taken of Beynon (Beynon A.L., 1985) who discusses the importance in certain subject areas (and law would certainly be one such subject area) of an open-ended approach based on an analysis of the knowledge structure inherent in the discipline itself. Beynon describes two methods of learning described by Nuthall and Snook (Nuthall G. and Snook I., 1973) and Hartley (Hartley J.R., 1981). Firstly, the behavioural control model whereby the teacher has control over student behavioral and over the conditions of learning: the teacher is a manager who seeks to accomplish specific objectives as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Secondly, the discovery learning model whereby learners have control of their own learning ie learners have control in building up their own knowledge structures. It was with the second of Beynon's method of learning in mind, 'the discovery learning model', that the SoG file was designed. By using a Windows Help File it was hoped that 'the knowledge structure inherent in the discipline itself' (Beynon A.L., 1985) could be made clear by the use of menus and hypertext links, and that 'discovery learning'  could be encouraged by hypertext links, the powerful Windows Help File 'Search' facility and the ability to quickly look up sections of statutes and references/extracts of cases. In short it was hoped that the SoG file would, as Beynon states, provide a model illustrating different approaches to the teaching of the same material at different levels according to individual learning styles or individual needs.
The starting point was the selection of suitable 'media' in which to deliver to students a set of flexible lecture notes which contained most of the basic information that students would require to construct their own, individualised, set of notes. Part of the required flexibility was the ability to easily search the 'data base'. A further requirement was for students to be able to 'cut and paste', edit and assemble information contained in the data base without altering the original material contained in the data base. Further requirements were cost and ease of use. A Windows Help File fulfilled these requirements.
One of the advantages of using a Windows Help File is the familiarity  that all Windows users have with such files: being familiar with such files users would face no learning curve in the use of the system. And of course, windows users do not have to pay anything extra to use them. Further, the cost of acquiring software to author Windows Help Files was only $15.  The SoG file was constructed from an existing set of lecture notes that was usually given to the students in the form of a printed and bound set of notes. However, the notes needed some detailed updating because of the amendments made to the Sale of Goods Act 1979 by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994, the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1994 and the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1995. No updated copy of the printed lecture notes was produced.In addition to the lecture notes that formed the basis of the SoG file the full text of the Sale of Goods are the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994, and the Factors Act 1889 were included: a table of cases was also created. The final SoG file was only some 360K bytes long. 
The way that the Sale of Goods programme for full time students had been delivered up until the academic year 1995/96 was a fairly traditional pattern of two one hour lectures per week plus a one hour tutorial per fortnight. However, 1995/96 was to see the Sale of Goods programme run for the first time for part time evening students; these students typically receive about half the contact time experienced by the full time students. This led to a rethink of how the Sale of Goods programme should be delivered to both sets of students. As a result the shape of the Sale of Goods programme was altered so that both sets of students received a weekly one hour seminar/tutorial with the odd lecture  at the beginning and end of the course. Both sets of students were, of course, also provided  with the SoG file. By combining the facility of the SoG file with the more conventional form of tuition it was hoped that the limitations of hypertext as noted above  would be overcome.
In order that the LLB students at the University of Luton become IT literate as soon as possible they have to undertake a compulsory Legal Information Systems (LIS) programme in their first year. This is really a basic introduction to computer applications. The programme  mainly consists of a through introduction to word processing and a general introduction to data bases and spread sheets. However, last year (1994/95) students were introduced to Windows Help Files and in particular to a Help File called 'Help' with Exclusion Clauses which compared the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 with Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994: in fact one of the courseworks for the LLB contract law programme was based on this Help File.Since all the full time students who took the Sale of Goods programme in 1995/96 had had this grounding in IT it was assumed that they would require little by way of introduction to Windows help files.  In the end the 'introduction' took two weeks (four 'lectures'): this inevitably put the programme behind. However, the programme then settled down and ran as described above.
As part of the evaluation process of the SoG file students were asked to complete a questionnaire. The student group consisted of 23 full time students and seven part time students: in total thirteen students returned their questionnaires. Generally students were asked whether they 'strongly agreed', 'agreed', 'neither agree nor disagreed', 'disagreed' or 'strongly disagreed' with a statement.
The first question asked students if they thought the 'SoG file was a complete waste of time'. Seven students strongly disagreed, three students disagreed and only one agreed.  Allied to this question was a question which asked whether the SoG file was a useful supplement to the course; 8 strongly agreed, 3 agreed and no one disagreed. Reasons given as to why the SoG file was a useful supplement to the course included the structure the SoG file gave to the course. As one student said
'As I was unable to attend many classes due to work commitments the help file gave me the opportunity to work through the course in a structured way which I don't feel would have been so successful with just written materials.'
It is interesting that several students mention 'structure' as an important feature of the SoG file. One of the advantages of hypertext is that by layering the information, and by being able to easily create cross references, the immediate structure of a subject can be shown to the user. 
Another reason given as to why the SoG file was a useful supplement to the course was that it enabled students to study at their own pace which, after all, was one of the original reasons for creating the SoG file.
Students were asked if they either owned a computer (6 yes, 7 no) or whether they had regular access to a computer outside the University (8 yes, 5 no). One of the reasons for asking this question was to see if there was any correlation between the ownership of, or access to, computers and the acceptance of the SoG file. Examination of the questionnaires showed that ownership of, or access to, computers did not make any difference to a students attitude to the SoG file. 
As mentioned above self assessment multiple choice questions were provided at the end of each topic. In relation to these questions students were asked if 'generally they found the questions at the end of each topic helpful'?  Seven strongly agreed, four agreed, and one strongly disagreed. The one student  who strongly disagreed was one of the few students who persistently said 'that notes are better'.Students were further asked if 'the questions at the end of each topic helped them to answer the 'classroom' tutorial questions better'. Two strongly agreed and six agreed; only one disagreed. The main type of help that students seemed to get from the questions was the anticipated one of help in reinforcing principles; comments included
"I remembered principles, especially if I answered incorrectly."
"Overall it helps to put everything into order; with the questions it allowed me to check on what I did know and didn't know..."
"They set out general rules and principles."
"Increased understanding of topic.
Hopwever, there were some comments which indicate that some students were helped to develop higher order skills. Such comments were
"Tutorials and questions were similar in approach. They helped apply the law."
"I think the topic questions helped me to see how I should approach the tutorial questions which I tackled as part of my revision."
"The questions helped us apply the law."
It is not a surprise that students found the multiple choice questions helpful in reinforcing principles rather than in higher level skills such as problem solving since multiple choice questions tend to steer towards fact recollection rather than higher order skills such as deductive reasoning. One explanation as to how the questions helped students 'to apply the law' might be that many of the questions required students to work out solutions to problems rather than simply requiring them to regurgitate facts. Another explanation might be that the step by step answers that students were given as feedback provided enough insight to some students so that they were able to improve on their problem solving skills. 
The next question asked if 'using the SoG file was enjoyable'.  Two students strongly agreed, seven agreed and only one disagreed. Reasons given for the 'enjoyability' were
"More interactive  than using just printed materials, and I was able to copy relevant parts to a work file and build up my own notes."
"It was a practical, hands on approach - in contrast to merely reading a book so was original and a welcome change."
Allied to the enjoyability of the SoG file was the question of whether it 'created a good atmosphere for learning'. One student strongly agreed, seven agreed and no one disagreed. A follow up question asked what the 'main reasons for the good atmosphere were'. Joint first were 'I could work at my own pace' and 'I had more freedom to explore'. Joint third were 'I had to do the work myself' and 'I was more actively involved'. The last reason given was 'the absence of the lecturer'.
One student strongly agreed that the SoG file clarified difficult issues, 7 agreed and only one disagreed. When asked for reasons as to how the SoG file clarified difficult issues students said
"In a way the file was a record of what might be said in the lectures so that it gave a perspective other than that of the textbook without so much writer's cramp."
"Cases were detailed and sufficient references made."
"I learned from mistakes and the relevant explanations were therefore easier to remember."
Although there was strong support for the proposition that the SoG file did clarify difficult issues the comments that were given are fairly inconclusive. Again further investigation will be pursued by means of interview.
The next question asked if the SoG file was beneficial and should it continue to be offered. There was strong support for the question; 8 strongly agreed, 3 agreed and only one strongly disagreed . Reasons given in support were
"It gives a structured way of learning, and is particularly helpful if one isn't able to attend classes. Especially helpful for part time students."
"It improved knowledge and emphasised significant areas which might have been overlooked, eg cases."
"You can work at your own pace and if not sure about something could go over it at leisure."
"It gave a good atmosphere for learning. A different approach - gave you the chance to work at your own pace and consider things slowly if need be - not attainable in ordinary lectures."
"I found it of immense benefit and think it to be a most innovative method of learning that I'm sure will be de rigeur in 20 years time."
The reasons given in support of the SoG file offered nothing new from the reasons given in support of previous questions. However, the comments did reinforce previously identified points viz structure, knowledge, working at one's own pace, and a good atmosphere in which to learn. As for the final comment made it may be more prophetic than the student intended.
The next question asked if the structure of the SoG file was too complex.  Two agreed, four neither agreed nor disagreed, four disagreed; one strongly disagreed. This was an unexpected result for despite the fact that care had been taken to carefully structure the SoG file in the first place, one of the most common complaints of hypertext is getting lost in hyper-spaghetti.  Of the three comments that were made about the SoG file being over complex two comments related to 'technical matters' such as copying from the help file and then pasting to Word 6 although comment was again made to the 'second copy improving on these points'.
Although some comments were made about the complexity of the SoG file, for example, "It possibly could be refined and a better order of sub-topics incorporated into it" and "Perhaps the sections within the sections made you loose your way as to exactly which point of law you were..." comment was also made that "the new version of the file alleviates this problem."  The fact that there were so few comments about the overall complexity of the SoG file was reassuring.
As has been seen above one or two of the students suggested that written notes should have been provided as opposed to the SoG file or at least both should have been provided. This type of response was not unanticipated and the suspicion was that some students would not use the SoG file at all or only minimally. To test this suspicion a question asked if they agreed with the statement 'I did not use the SoG file and I relied on other sources'; no one agreed with this statement, 7 disagreed and 3 strongly disagreed. The question further asked what other sources were used by students? The not surprising answer to this last question was that reference was made to the textbook. Although one or two students were observed in class using an old version of the written notes the responses to the other questions asked do bear out that to a large extent students did use the SoG file and that the textbook was used in its 'normal' role as a supplement and background reading.
The next step in this part of the investigation will be to examine the notes that the students prepared for themselves; this will be done as part of the interviewing process mentioned above.
Although the total number of students that undertook the sale of goods programme was only 30 and that, so far, only 13 students have handed back their completed questionnaires and that, therefore, care should be taken in the conclusions that should be reached, the questionnaire responses show a very positive acceptance of the SoG file. With student comments such as
"Very useful - please don't junk it! It provided a different way of learning than just ploughing through books etc, and so was a useful and enjoyable supplement. I can assure you that it's very worthwhile as far as I'm concerned."
"The Help file is a superb piece of software and represents the future of modern computer based education."
It would be difficult not to continue with the use of the SoG file.
The few problems that seem to have been encountered by the students related to some 'technical' problems and some problems relating to the complexity of the structure of the SoG file. These seem to have been overcome in version 2 of the SoG file.
Version 2 of the SoG file will be used in next year's sale of goods programme. It is intended that those students who wish to follow the sale of goods programme will be given version 2 of the SoG file before they leave university for their summer vacations. Also, it is intended that besides simply giving the SoG file to the students, they will be given a couple of introductory classes as to how to use Windows Help files; it is hoped that this will require minimal tuition this year since students will have been given more instruction than in previous years in their LIS classes in the use of Windows Help files.
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Butler F.C., 1985, The Teaching/Learning Process: A Unified, Interactive Model, Educational Technology Sept., Oct. and Nov. p.12
Entwistle N.J., 1981, Styles of learning and teaching, John Wiley, London.
Hartley J.R., 1981, Learner initiative in computer assisted learning: final report of the Director , CET, London.
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Marton F. and Saljo R. , 1976, On qualitative differences in learning. I Outcome and process , Br. J. educ. Psychol.
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Pask G., 1976, Conversational techniques in the study and practice of education , and Styles and strategies of learning , Br. J. educ. Psychol.
Svensson L., 1977, On qualitative differences in learning. III Study skill and learning , Br. J. educ. Psychol.
Ramsden P., 1979, Student learning and perceptions of the academic environment, Higher Educ.
Ramsden P. and Entwistle N.J., 1981, Effects of academic departments on students' approaches to studying , Br. J. educ. Psychol., 51, 368.
 The statutes contained in 'Help' with Sale of Goods are the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended by Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994, Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1994 and Sale of Goods (Amendment) Act 1995), the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994, and the Factors Act 1889.
 The 'references' are normally references to the textbook used with the module viz The Sale of Goods, Atiyah, 9th ed Adams.
 Laurillard argues that hypertext 'is not interactive, because there is no intrinsic feedback on the user's actions'. See Laurillard D., 1993. Rethinking University Teaching, a framework for the effective use of educational technology , Routledge, pg 121. Some of the shortfalls of hypertext that Laurillard identifies are accounted for in the SoG file by the provision of multiple choice self assessment at the end of each topic.
 Gibbs describes a 'deep approach' to learning as where
"The student attempts to make sense of what is to be learnt, which consists of ideas and concepts. This involves thinking, seeking integration between components and between tasks, and 'playing' with ideas."
See Gibbs, G. Improving student learning - the CNAA Project. SCED Paper 66 Students at the centre of learning: ed Brown, S. 15-28, at pg 17.
 Also individuals will use different 'learning methods' at different times.
 There is evidence that browsing through large amounts of information by following links and relationships encourages implicit as well as explicit learning. See Duchastel, P. C., 1990, Discussion: Formal Learning with Hypermedi a . In Designing Hypermedia for Learning (Jonassen, D. H. and Mandl, H. eds), Springer Verlag, Berlin, pgs 135-146.
However, there is evidence that browsing systems, per se, are not sufficient learning environments. See Hammond, N., 1991 Tailoring Hypertexts for the Learner. In Cognitive Tools for Learning (Kommers, P. A. M., Jonassen, D. H. and Mayes, J. T. eds), Springer Verlag, Berlin, pgs 49-160.
 So I thought!
 Version 1 of the SoG file, with which this paper mainly deals, was authored using a piece of shareware called 'Write to Help'.
 Version 2 of the SoG file is some 700 K bytes long.
 One of the purposes of the SoG file was to replace the lectures, or most of them, with the SoG file. This substitution of lectures with 'hypermedia' seems to be the main use to which 'hypermedia' is put. See generally The special issue of Innovations in Education and Training International, August 1995, Vol 32, No 3. See particularly Forrester M. A., Indications of Learning Processes in a Hypertext Environment, pgs 256-268, where lectures in programming in the computer language FORTRAN where replaced with hypertext courseware.
 The SoG file was provided in one of two ways. Firstly, the SoG file was mounted in several computer suites situated within the University. Secondly, those students who had their own machines or had access to one were provided with a disk which contained the SoG file. The availability of, and access to, computers is dealt with below.
 The syllabus changes from year to year and this year (1995/96) students started the LIS programme by learning how to use email.
 Because of the nature of the part time LLB those part time students who took the Sale of Goods programme had taken the LIS programme in previous years and had not been introduced to help files.
 The one student who agreed with the statement later stated that he strongly agreed that 'the SoG file was a useful supplement to the course'; he also strongly agreed that 'the SoG file was beneficial and should continue to be offered'.
 However, care must be taken not to over complicate the help file; this is discussed below under 'Was the SoG file too complex, confusing or misleading; was it presented clearly?'.
 Another question asked if 'the University provided enough computers for student use'. Nine of the students either agreed strongly or agreed. Of the four students who neither agreed nor disagreed (or disagreed) only one them did not own or have access to a computer outside the university. Students were also asked if to state if they did not use the University's computers; five stated that they did not.
 In relation to the questions at the end of each topic students were also asked if enough explanation was when they failed to get the correct answer: 8 agreed strongly and 4 agreed.
 This same student, though, disagreed that 'the 'Help' File was a complete waste of time'.
 It is intended to follow up the students cooments by interviewing the students who provided the comments so as to try and ascertain how they were helped in 'applying the law' by the SoG file.
 An allied question asked if the 'Help' File was intimidating. Nine students said no and two students said yes although one of the students who said yes qualified his answer by saying that it was only intimidating to start with; I am quite surprised that more students did not make a similar comment.
 An interesting comment given that lack of interactivity as noted above is supposedly one of the deficiencies of hypertext systems.
 This type of comment came up several times in answer to various questions. It is a disappointing comment since all the LLB have studied 'computers' as a compulsory module in their fist year.
 Contrast the student who said "Too many hours at the computer screen are not best alternative and a handout easier to relate to."
 I'm glad to say!
 Again this student said "Notes are better."
 When asked if 'the 'Help' File was presented clearly' three students strongly agreed and seven agreed; noone disagreed.
 The complexity of the structure seemed to worry me more than anyone else; despite being careful in the construction of the file parts of it were, I thought when I came to use it, too deeply levelled.
 In the last week of tuition version 2 of the SoG file was made available; the references to second version etc refer to this updated file.
Several times in answer to various questions other students made the point that the second version had 'cured' the problems of version one.