Law Courseware and Iolis:
Assessing the Present and Constructing the Future
|2.||The origins of Iolis: TLTP|
|3.||The elements of Iolis|
|3.2||Help and the 'video' tutorial|
|3.4.1||Questions, answers, feedback|
|3.4.2||Introduction to law|
|4.||How is Iolis to be used?|
|4.2.3||The rest of us|
|5.||Iolis and the future of computer-based learning in law|
|5.1.2||Assessment and scoring|
|5.4||Authoring for all|
Discussion arising from this article
In the first year of its availability to law schools on a subscription basis 54 Higher Education institutions had subscribed to Iolis, the product developed by the Law Courseware Consortium as part of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils. Although it is too soon to make a full assessment of its impact, Iolis has raised the profile of computer-based learning in UK legal education in a remarkable way. Following discussion of some of the features and opportunities offered by Iolis, suggestions are made regarding the future direction of courseware for law, and a contrast is drawn with the approach currently being taken CALI, the US Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. It is suggested that in the wake of the major advances offered by the present Iolis materials more attention should now be given to promoting the widespread use of the authoring system developed by the LCC, and to the integration of courseware with other electronic sources of information and computer-mediated communication in the context of legal education.
Legal education - Iolis - CAL - computer-based learning.
This is a Refereed Article published on 28 February 1997
Citation: Moodie P 'Law Courseware and Iolis: Assessing the present and constructing the future', 1997 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/cal/97_1mood/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_1/moodie/>
The tools and materials developed by the Law Courseware Consortium and published under the name Iolis represent a major departure in the field of computer-based learning in law. Previous software, however innovative, was generally small in scale and seldom adopted for use away from the author's institution.
Given the quantity and range of what is provided by Iolis it would be difficult to doubt the importance of the LCC's contribution. Widdison (1995), whilst suggesting that the time was highly auspicious for the launch of Iolis, nevertheless thought that it was much too soon to say whether the arrival of the courseware should be seen as amounting to a big bang or a damp squib. Indeed, because of the breadth and inherent flexibility of the Iolis materials, and the wide variety of ways in which teachers and students may choose to use and develop them, it may still be some time before we can make a confident assessment of the full impact of the courseware on legal education. On the other hand, it may be possible to suggest routes for the further development which will maximise the benefit and impact of the work already accomplished.
Iolis was initially funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) through the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme which was launched by the former Universities Funding Council in 1992. The aims of TLTP included the improvement of both the quality of education and the efficiency of its delivery across all the main HE subject areas. According to UFC Circular 8/92 the programme aimed to make 'teaching and learning more productive by harnessing modern technology' and to 'help institutions to respond more effectively to the current substantial growth in student numbers, and to promote and maintain the quality of provision'. Some of those who bid for funding assumed that the greatest stress was to be upon efficiency. The Law Courseware Consortium, in its original bid for TLTP funding, emphasised the extent to which the eventual product would replace existing teaching.
The HEFCE (1996) evaluation of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme carried out jointly by Coopers & Lybrand, the University of London's Institute of Education and the Tavistock Institute confirmed the original official emphasis on both quality and efficiency. However, it also reported (at paragraph 525) that some of the project teams had perceived a shift in the emphasis of the programme away from efficiency towards allowing a greater freedom to concentrate on quality.
The LCC, encouraged, no doubt, by many of those involved in writing the courseware, seems to have been amongst those projects which went along with this movement away from simple efficiency. No longer was CAL (computer assisted learning) in law to be seen as a cheaper alternative for other forms of teaching. Abdul Paliwala (1995), Director of the LCC, rejected previous suggestions that CAL might replace traditional teaching techniques: 'It is easy to fall into the trap of treating IT applications as toys or gimmicks or to use them unthinkingly as substitutes for traditional forms of learning... We need to ask instead how CAL as both a new form of publishing and of learning can best fit into the existing educational framework, and in particular meet the needs of individual institutions, lecturers and students.'
There is some fear, however, that in the current state of funding HE managers will increasingly press for reliance on computer-based learning as an economy measure. This fear is fostered by reports such as the lead item in the Times Higher Education Supplement for 22 November 1996 which suggested that 'Strategic plans submitted to the Higher Education Funding Council for England reveal that universities expect to replace lecturers with information technology...'
3. The elements of Iolis
The HEFCE (1996) evaluation of TLTP categorised 70 per cent of the software they reviewed as hyperstacks. In their terms this covered software 'which presents information on the computer screen as pages which include links through iconic buttons and 'hot' words to other pages... The collection of pages is analogous to a stack of cards but the links between them move outside the perceived structure of the stack - they are thus termed 'hyper' links.' About 30 per cent of all products were classified as hyperstacks taking the form of relatively straightforward electronic books, whereas another 40 per cent were hyperstacks with additional functionality which gave more opportunities for students to interact with the material, whether through simulations, graphing tools or assessment exercises. Iolis falls within this last category, and therefore may be seen as representative of the style of many TLTP products.
3.2 Help and the 'video' tutorial
It would be possible for a new user simply to run the whole package, select an area of law to study, and proceed from there. With a little trial and error most students would soon discover the basic functions of the software and discover that in essence it is easy and even pleasurable to use. However, many users would not quickly, if ever, find and make good use of some of the most useful features of Iolis. The LCC recommends that students are given a short, perhaps half-hour, introduction to Iolis. If that is not possible, or as a follow-up to such an introduction, the five minute on-screen 'video' tutorial describing the use of Iolis is thoroughly recommendable. In addition, users can access an excellent context-sensitive help system at most points in Iolis. The care and skill that have gone into these aspects of Iolis reflect the value of having a properly funded development team at the centre of any courseware development.
The LCC intends to make the tutorial available for downloading at <http://www.law.warwick.ac.uk/lcc/>. Although it was designed as a tutorial for users of Iolis, it also offers anyone unfamiliar with the courseware a good illustration of the features of Iolis considered here.
3.3 Subjects covered
The approach taken in Iolis may make it typical of many TLTP products, but its scale, in terms of its objective of covering a large proportion of many law degree programmes, places it on a par with only a small number of other ambitious TLTP products. The range of the present coverage of Iolis coupled with the commitment, through a subscription scheme, to expansion into new areas and regular updating of current material may well be unique amongst TLTP projects. The subject areas covered in the Autumn 1996 edition of Iolis are: Contract, Criminal Law, European Law, Introduction to Law, Public Law, Property Law, Tort Law, and 'Law for other subjects', which includes law for social workers and law for business students.
Between full releases of the courseware on CD-ROM new and revised workbooks are downloadable from the LCC's website at <http://www.law.warwick.ac.uk/lcc/>.
Each subject area is dealt with in a series of workbooks. Property, for example, is dealt with in eight workbooks, Contract in twelve, and Criminal Law in eleven. Each workbook starts with a page offering a menu of topics, and there are frequently sub-menus with further choices. However, within each section of a workbook a student's progress is essentially linear. The typical model is that one or more opening pages will present some introductory text. Once the student has read through these pages some questions or tasks will be set, with the general expectation that they will be undertaken immediately rather than assuming that any further inquiry or discussion, either at or away from the computer, is necessary.
The problems of easing a user's navigation through such a large collection of material have been effectively addressed through the provision of clear on-screen instructions as to the next action to be taken, and through easily accessible 'maps' of the current workbook and the complete structure of all the workbooks. Students generally have little difficulty in finding their way through the appropriate sections of the courseware.
The extent and range of the Iolis workbooks, written by more than 40 different authors, mean that it is impossible to give attention to them all here. Everyone contemplating the use of Iolis within their own field will have to make an assessment of whether the relevant workbooks cover the material their students will be studying, and, most important, whether the level of the material makes it appropriate for anything other than purely introductory use. Whilst some workbooks adopt a relatively traditional approach to content and testing, others adopt approaches which are more likely to make them complementary to, rather than imitations of, the teaching in some institutions. The workbook on sexual offences, for example, explains to students that it emphasises 'conceptual issues (such as the gendered nature of offences; types of intercourse; and the relevance of consent) rather than concentrating on particular offences'. The same workbook successfully presents two protracted case studies that are valuable tools for exploring issues through student interactions.
3.4.1 Questions, answers, feedback
There are approximately 20 possible formats for pages within Iolis, many of them allowing for various formats of questions, which authors may select from. Although many of the options are variations on the standard approach of multiple choice questions, some are rather more inventive, and reflect the concerns of experienced teachers to avoid the excessive simplicity of the structures of some early computer-based learning products. On the other hand, having the possibility of rather more imaginative types of question does not mean that they will always be used effectively. One question type permits an author to ask a student to sort between three and eight statements into order; the question is regarded as correctly answered only if the student drags each statement into the place in a ranked order list that is regarded as correct by the author. A page in the Introduction to Public Law workbook dealing with Dicey on the Rule of Law uses this format. The workbook author states that Dicey 'separated the principles of the rule of Law into 3 concepts'; the three concepts are listed and the student is asked to 'Place them in their correct order.' It is only after a student has, perhaps, struggled to rank the significance of the three concepts that she will discover, in the feedback, that the author required her simply to know the order in which Dicey wrote about the three concepts.
There is the possibility of requiring a student to enter a word or so in a short free text answer, which is then matched for the stipulated correct answer or for various incorrect possibilities supplied by the author. Relatively few questions make use of this sort of question; although it can be more challenging for a student than simply ticking a box, there is no doubt that it is also very challenging for an author to predict the variety of possible answers students may give and to provide appropriate feedback for the range of inappropriate answers. Another option is to allow the student to enter an appropriate response to a task at rather greater length; when this is completed the student will be offered for comparison an answer supplied by the workbook author. Naturally there is no feedback from the program directed to specific points in the student's text; to do this reliably is well beyond the capability of today's software, and the Iolis system wisely makes no attempt to provide such a facility. However, it would be good to see in a future version the possibility for a student to send her answer directly to a lecturer or supervisor for comment.
Although some question types may be quite demanding for authors to use effectively, there is no doubt that the large range of predefined question formats allows authors considerable scope for inventiveness, and must be seen as one of the major strengths of the Iolis environment. Observation suggests that students appreciate the variety of tasks which appear in the workbooks.
The success of testing is largely dependent upon the quality of the feedback that is given for both correct and incorrect answers, and it is good to see that there has been a marked improvement in the helpfulness of the feedback in several workbooks when compared with the position at the time of the early beta releases of the courseware. In addition, many workbook authors have made good use of the flexibility built in to the authoring system in order to deal with uncertainty and opinion. Sometimes this is achieved effectively by the simple idea of giving the same feedback whichever answer a student gives, with some indication, for example, that there is scope for a difference of view on the matter.
Whatever the format of the questions, the general approach of a brief section of text followed by questions, repeated throughout most Workbooks, provides the user with the security of familiarity at the expense of flexibility and self-direction in her use of the material. There is no way in which answering questions can be deferred, other than by paging forward to discover the renewed thread of text and then locating the questions again later. Similarly, it is not possible for a student, looking for a quick check on her knowledge during a period of revision, to find the questions on a topic without working through the text on the topic. And, in spite of the enormous scope an author has through the possibility of links to the resource-book, there is very little explicit encouragement for a student to depart from the knowledge domain determined by the workbook author.
3.4.2 Introduction to law
One set of workbooks deserves particular mention because of its potential importance for all students at the beginning of their course. A student's first steps in the new discipline of law need careful guidance. There is an important place for the attention-grabbing, motivating, and even inspirational introductory lectures which we all believe we do so well, and there is certainly nothing in the workbooks on Introduction to Law which any good lecturer need fear would replace her act. However, there are some things which even the best lectures may not achieve. In particular, students starting in law should be participants in a process in which one of the aims is that they should feel comfortable with the basic building blocks of the new discipline as soon as possible. An important aspect of this process will lie in the handling of primary and other materials, and being reassured that they understand the language and basic concepts. It is here that computer-based learning has a crucial role to play in supplementing whatever face-to-face help a student can be given.
The Introduction to Law section of Iolis includes workbooks dealing with case law, legislation, English and European institutions, and dispute resolution. There are still some minor rough edges to these workbooks, such as feedback to a wrong answer which starts 'We agree', non-working hypertext links to source material and other links to graphics, and several references to courts of 'appellant' jurisdiction. The level of detail provided in the introductory text to most sections of the workbooks is very limited. And yet there is some real value in these workbooks that derives from allowing students their first experience with 'real' legal material. From simple exercises asking about the applicability of statutory provisions to fact situations, to more demanding tasks such as identifying the ratio from a judgment, these workbooks provide a useful means for students to obtain immediate feedback on their first steps in law. There are some points which might be addressed in future releases, such as the level of rigidity used in the type of question which asks a student to identify a particular sequence of text (such as identifying the words constituting the ratio) and which may result in the student being told the answer was incorrect when in reality it was very close to being the 'correct' answer specified by the author. Nevertheless, one is left with the feeling that the major improvement needed for these workbooks is their expansion, to offer students the chance of more questions and exercises to confirm or improve their feeling of mastery of the very early stages of studying law.
The workbook on 'Using a law library' is an interesting component of Introduction to Law. Although the present version seems rather incomplete, with some graphics not available, this could eventually be a very valuable resource for students about to undertake their first voyage of discovery in the law library. Some local guidance, possibly through the use of annotations, might be needed to reassure first year students that their first priority may not be to remember exactly how to locate, for example, a Statutory Instrument. As with all the workbooks, lecturers should make sure that they are familiar with the approach taken by the author before referring their students to this workbook. The suggestion to keep a research diary may be very sensible, but since it may not be advice universally given to first year students, it is important that students should know whether or not it is endorsed by their lecturers. The same might be true of the emphasis, in the section of the workbook dealing with the analysis of facts, on the use of the TARP approach (Thing or subject matter; Cause of Action or ground of defence; Relief sought; Persons or parties involved).
There are no workbooks within Introduction to Law which deal with the more generic study skills such as effective reading, revision, or exam preparation. Their absence is very understandable, since there are other programs (and, of course, books) which deal with these matters. Neither is there a workbook dealing explicitly with the skill of writing an answer to a legal problem. Aspects of the skills involved in working towards a written problem answer are covered in the sections on using a library and planning research, but these sections stop short of considering good practice and style in the final answer to a problem. The provision of a new workbook in this area would be of considerable benefit to large numbers of first year students.
The resource-book contains the full text of almost 1500 items. The vast majority are reports of cases, with a small number of statutes (or extracts from statutes) and relatively few articles. A student can easily access the resource-book from any point in the courseware. Searching is quite sophisticated and fast, and the materials are also conveniently listed by subject matter. Unfortunately, most of the materials in the resource-book are presented in a purely linear fashion, without, for example, links from the beginning of a report to the various judgments in a case. At many points in the workbooks authors have provided hypertext links to specific material in the resource-book, but much more direct encouragement could be given, through more demanding questions, for students to explore the riches of the resource-book.
Nevertheless, in spite of its limitations, there is a good argument for considering the resource-book to be the most useful aspect of Iolis, as suggested by Nobis (1996) in her comments in this journal on the draft Second BILETA Report on IT and Legal Education. It provides easy and convenient access to the primary materials which many law teachers will wish their students spent more time reading, and also contains a legal dictionary. Its value lies in being a relatively neutral resource, unhandicapped by any possible idiosyncrasies of a workbook author's approach which might dissuade some lecturers from referring their students to the workbook.
A student using Iolis is given a very convenient method of keeping her own notes. Text from the workbooks (including feedback to answers) and from the resource-book can be easily 'grabbed' into a personal electronic scrapbook which is automatically saved at the end of a session for later use. A user can add her own notes, and can paste the content of the scrapbook into a wordprocessor. Workbook authors are given the chance to use particular page formats which automatically save designated text to a student's scrapbook. As a means of encouraging students to keep track of their own learning, and to work with the primary materials in the resource-book, this facility is an important component of the courseware, although lecturers may need to caution some students against relying too heavily on lengthy quotations.
There are some limitations on the scrapbook: each user's scrapbook is quite limited in size (although this can be overcome if necessary by cutting and pasting to a wordprocessor and starting again with an empty scrapbook); and it is not possible to copy graphic elements of the courseware to the scrapbook.
Users can add textual annotations to pages in the workbooks. Other users will be made aware that a page has annotations by a flashing symbol; it is then simple to bring up the text of the annotation on screen. Depending on how the courseware has been installed, it may be possible for both students and lecturers to add annotations, or for this to be restricted to lecturers. It will be interesting to learn whether many law schools permit unvetted annotations from students.
One of the major purposes of the annotation facility is to permit some degree of customisation of the courseware by lecturers who want to add their own view of the material which is presented. Given that this mechanism was not intended to allow a lecturer to modify the original workbook, it seems to work reasonably well, although there are some reservations. It is not possible, as it is with some wordprocessors, to attach the annotation to a precise location on the page, and an annotation cannot be added either to the 'question' part of a page, or to the feedback to a student's answer. The result is that although the annotation facility has considerable benefits, it is only a partial solution for anyone who wishes to present a sustained alternative view of an issue, or wants to be able to add some greater depth to the treatment of a particular point.
4. How is Iolis to be used?
The LCC has suggested that the courseware has sufficient flexibility to allow it to be used in a variety of ways. It could be used, for example, as an introduction to a topic, as required work linked to specific lectures or supervisions, as the starting point for writing essays, or as a revision tool. The possible drawback to this eclectic position is that different uses may have different pedagogical requirements, and it is significant that one of the most critical findings of the HEFCE (1996; paragraph 246) evaluation of TLTP was that very few projects indicated explicitly the model of learning on which their software was based.
There is little doubt that, thanks to the efforts of the LCC team and the staff of the Law Technology Centre at the University of Warwick, very many more academics have now been exposed to the existence of computer-based learning than at any previous point. These efforts appear to have been successful in recruiting law schools as subscribers to Iolis: as of January 1997, 54 HE institutions were subscribers. However, it is probably too soon to assess how likely it is that Iolis will be fully integrated into the teaching and learning strategies of these law schools. The HEFCE (1996; paragraph 413) evaluation pointed out that evidence of actual usage of all TLTP materials is sparse, and this still seems to be true for the Iolis courseware. In the absence of further information, one might suggest the existence of three categories of academic staff response to Iolis.
4.2.1 The minimiser
The true minimiser's approach to Iolis may be based on limited experience, apathy or a generalised hostility to IT. The minimiser's approach might well be to make the courseware available to students, if only because of the feeling that if other universities are doing so any comparison would risk the appearance of not taking issues of teaching and learning seriously. Such a minimiser would certainly want students to know of the courseware's availability. A minimiser might even mention its existence to students twice: at the beginning of a course ('You might want to look at what's on the computers...') and at the end ('And if you're really stuck during your revision, you could always try the computers...').
4.2.2 The enthusiast
There may be some 'enthusiasts' who see the mere existence of such extensive courseware as an indication that it must represent a major opportunity to supplement or even supplant existing teaching. However, the true enthusiasts for computer-based learning will undoubtedly seek to use the material creatively, and will not disguise the fact that to do so may involve considerable thought and effort.
Some enthusiasts may be frustrated that they are not able to edit the workbooks themselves, either to remove what they see as errors or ambiguities, or to tailor the material more closely to their own course structure. The decision of the LCC to protect the workbooks from local adaptation must be correct. The work of the authors must be as firmly protected as that of a textbook author. However, the annotation facility permits a degree of customisation by allowing lecturers to add their comments to specific pages of a workbook, and the enthusiast may eagerly explore the opportunities offered by the use of annotations. There are some obvious limitations to this approach. It is not possible to incorporate any element of interaction within an annotation; and if a lecturer wishes to comment on many points with a large number of annotations the student will find that the use of the courseware will become quite complex. The better answer would be for the enthusiast to add a new, alternative workbook for her own students, although, as discussed later, this may not be easy to arrange.
4.2.3 The rest of us
Most law lecturers, even if properly sceptical of oversold solutions, take an interest in developing the teaching and learning process. Many will be interested to see whether Iolis can be of use within their course, and may have commented on early beta versions of the courseware when the LCC and the LTC made many efforts to elicit comments from lecturers and students.
It is likely that lecturers who are most committed to the new technologies will have been amongst the first to evaluate workbooks for use with their own courses. Some will have decided for good reason that Iolis is not suitable for integration into their own course, and should certainly not be seen as minimisers. A good example of a lecturer's considered evaluation of Iolis in the context of a specific course (in this case a Principles of English Law course for non-lawyers) can be seen in the extensive web-based material produced by Gary Wilson (1996) at the University of Leeds, which includes the advice that 'The Iolis computer based learning package is very much an optional package for you to look at if you want to check your understanding of a topic or feel you would like a greater amount of detail of a case.'
However, it is possible that more could have been done to promote the material in traditional ways to the many lecturers who may remain slightly suspicious or simply uncertain. A lecturer may need clear guidance as to the approach, level, and materials used in a workbook before deciding whether to make use of it. The importance of such factors is illustrated by Widdison's (1995) suggestion that the Contract workbooks, written by authors from 'five very different types of law school', have the flavour of an anthology. It would be helpful to make such varying orientations explicit in order to guide lecturers to workbooks that might be particularly relevant to their own courses. In the US, CALI (the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) distributes more than 100 exercises in more than 20 areas of law. CALI's catalogue (40 glossy A4 pages) describes what each exercise covers (occasionally pointing out what it does not cover), and includes for most an approximate completion time and statement of any preliminary reading which students should have completed before using the exercise.
5. Iolis and the future of computer-based learning in law
One of the marks of the success that the LCC has already achieved is that it will be difficult in the short to medium term future to consider computer-based learning in law without thinking of the Iolis project. The outward appearance and general shape of almost all law courseware is likely to be determined by the Iolis authoring system. Following the arrangement to license the use of the Iolis authoring system to CALI, that assessment may soon be as true of the US as it is now for the UK.
In England and Wales the intention is that Iolis will continue to be updated as part of the subscription policy for sales to law schools. The principal objectives at the moment are to expand the topics covered in the workbooks, and to update those that are already available. In addition, the LCC continues to develop the underlying software, as shown by the arrival of a new page format ('Survey') in the version of the Criminal Process workbook which will be issued with the Spring 1997 edition of Iolis.
The LCC plans to expand the coverage of Iolis, and new workbooks on Trusts, Consumer and Family law are in the course of preparation. Equally important is that new authors should be encouraged to provide alternative workbooks on topics already included within Iolis.
Current workbooks, although they include coverage of a wide range of topics, typically provide a relatively small number of questions on each separate issue through which students can assess their understanding. The assumption at present seems to be that by working through the questions all students will have had an appropriate amount of exposure to the issues. Little thought seems to have been given to how the needs of those students who may need more exposure might be met. In one workbook the author falls back on the advice at the end of a sequence of questions that if the user is not certain in her understanding, she should go through the section again. One of the advantages of computer-based learning is that it would be easy and natural to offer a student the option of seeing further explanation and attempting further questions if she wishes.
One aspect of the Iolis courseware is the lack of emphasis placed on developing branching structures that would, if only in a limited manner, adapt to the responses given by a student. From each menu item pages generally follow in a linear fashion, with only the feedback screens varying for different student responses, and no separate branches making up alternative routes through subsequent sections of the courseware.
At least some of the authors started work intending to incorporate such branching structures into this second generation of law courseware. Scott and Widdison (1994), for example, noted that they hoped to develop contract workbooks which would include branching for the pedagogic benefits it would bring, although so far this remains a desirable objective rather than accomplished reality. The Iolis authoring software seems to be quite capable of supporting this type of structure in certain page formats. However, the Help screen on writing multiple choice questions (at least, in the version licensed to US CALI) gives a firm warning that may help to explain why the potential of branching has not generally been realised: 'For authors working with the LCC on workbooks for publication within Iolis, we prefer that this technique not be used; it is included primarily for the benefit of authors in other countries.'
There may be some pedagogical argument against automatic branching to, say, a remedial track, but it seems unduly restrictive to deny the use of the technique to authors who may believe it to be effective. And it is clear that there are other, very desirable, objectives to be achieved by means of a branching structure. One good example is in the set of civil procedure exercises on preclusion written by Roger C. Park and Douglas D. McFarland, using the CALI-IOLIS authoring system, which won the US CALI Donald Trautman Prize for 1995 - 96. At several points in those exercises, when a student answers a multiple choice question, the different answers branch to different sets of subsequent questions. Through these differentiated follow-up questions Park and McFarland have developed a technique which they use to lead a student to consider the arguments which may justify her initial answer. In this way an author can easily work at greater levels of complexity than many of the questions in the English Iolis workbooks attempt; more will be discovered about the reasoning which led the student to her initial answer, and there will be an opportunity for much more precisely targeted feedback.
5.1.2 Assessment and scoring
Iolis does not record a score for students answering the assessment questions. Many of the English and US CALI exercises that were written before the availability of the Iolis authoring system provided an end-of-test score for the student, and some of the CALI exercises compared the score with the average score of a reference group of students. In such a simple form assessment has many drawbacks, particularly where, as with much of the Iolis courseware, questions will not always have a single correct answer. In some ways, therefore, the absence of a scoring system in Iolis need not be seen as a drawback.
However, programs which keep track of a student's progress may offer some advantages. For example, even if a score is not presented on screen, the value of a 'score' variable can be used within the program to take a student to a particular part of the courseware depending upon the number of right or wrong answers. Possibly even more useful is a system which provides a teacher with aggregated scores on individual questions; this facility can provide a valuable means of assessing how well students have understood particular aspects of a course, and may therefore assist in the process of developing alternative approaches to teaching the course in future.
5.2 The resource-book
The importance of having the resource-book so easily accessible from the workbooks has been seen by the LCC, by workbook authors, and probably by many teachers responsible for implementing Iolis, as one of the key features of the courseware which distinguishes it from the generally small-scale offerings of early computer-based learning in law. In many settings it is quite likely that the availability of primary material by this route will significantly increase the ease with which students can find a copy of items that a lecturer has included on a reading list.
Many students will want to print copies of cases and other material from the resource-book. Although it is possible to print resource-book materials, this can only be done by saving the text to the scrapbook and either printing it from there or pasting it from the scrapbook into a wordprocessor for printing. One difficulty a student might face is that the scrapbook can handle only 1000 characters at a time. However, there is a good argument that students should be encouraged not to rely on a printed copy of a whole case, but to develop the skill of selecting significant portions of the text to export to their own files.
One problem with the resource-book may be largely insoluble. Although students will find it easy and time-saving to locate cases through the resource-book, it is likely that they will not be so overjoyed at having to read them on screen. One partial answer to the problem of reading text from the screen would be to develop the hypertext capabilities further so that users could much more readily find their way to, say, a specific judgement they have been asked to study.
Since the resource-book is one of the particularly valuable features of the courseware, one response might be that to have more of this full-text material would be a great advantage. However, expansion of the resource-book should depend upon a review of the direction it should take. A very large part of the resource-book is currently made up of law reports. It is undoubtedly very convenient for students to have so many significant cases in such an easily accessible and searchable form. In comparison, surprisingly few articles appear in the resource-book, and it is likely that many subscribing institutions would welcome further efforts to secure copyright permission for a much wider range of material to be included.
That concern could be expressed rather more broadly. At the moment, it seems that the resource-book is 'owned' by the authors of the workbooks, so that the selection of material for inclusion is largely determined by the approach which they take. It would be a significant step forward for the resource-book to be 'owned' by the legal education community as a whole. If lecturers could see that their students would have easy access to electronic versions of all the cases and articles they are fond of including on their reading lists, their enthusiasm for referring students to Iolis might well increase considerably. Copyright, as always, may be a problem for some material; but the advantages of having an experienced central body such as the LCC negotiate copyright permissions on behalf of all law schools seem clear.
Using Iolis is essentially a solitary activity. One of the routes to more active learning would be for students to work on computer-based material in groups, involving discussions of the points raised in the material and joint decision-making on appropriate responses to questions. It would be possible to encourage groups of two or three students to work at one computer and discuss the material presented in the workbooks, although this would probably mean a booking system for class use of computer rooms to avoid irritating other students using the computers at the same time for other purposes. However, the Iolis courseware does not seem to have been developed with this particularly in mind. In this respect it is similar to most TLTP software: the HEFCE (1996; paragraph 231) evaluation found that all but two of the products it saw were primarily intended to be used by a single student working alone at a computer, and none of the products made any special provision to support collaborative use.
An alternative means of promoting active learning, which was promised in the early days of the LCC, would be the development of an integrated conferencing system to be used with Iolis, with all the advantages of establishing additional avenues beyond the conventional supervision discussions and formal essays for the expression of ideas and the conduct of debate. The suggestion that the existing annotation facility might be used as a substitute for a conferencing system would mean using a tool that is far from the ideal of a structured, threaded conferencing system, although it would be interesting to discover whether anyone is using it effectively in this way. A further problem with such a temporary expedient is that, ideally, the opportunities of a full conferencing system would be reflected in the material and style of the workbooks. Authors would have the opportunity to initiate conferences by posing questions within a workbook for consideration in a conference which could either be moderated by a lecturer or left for unmoderated discussion by students. It would not be unrealistic to think of live conferences spanning all the subscribing institutions!
Developing a communications function for Iolis would also help to solve one of the problems that might otherwise become significant if many students choose to purchase their own copy of Iolis. Without some ability to access remotely the annotations provided on the networked, institutional copy of Iolis, students using their own copy of the courseware will miss whatever advice and information lecturers make available for their students.
5.4 Authoring for all
The involvement of over 40 authors in creating workbooks for Iolis must represent an astonishing increase on the number of people who were publishing so-called first generation computer-based learning programs for law before the TLTP initiative. The LCC framework is a national one; an attempt to maintain national standards for the workbooks has involved the appointment of subject experts who review all workbooks that are authored for the LCC. In addition, staff at subscribing institutions are encouraged to suggest improvements and report errors to the LCC.
Without the national TLTP programme it is certain that the quantity of computer-based learning materials easily available for use by law students would not have approached that currently available through the LCC. However, now that many law teachers have seen what is possible through the use of Iolis in support of aspects of the core curriculum, awareness of how such an approach may help with strictly local needs will also develop. One obvious example is that material relating to the use of their own law library could usefully be written locally and incorporated as a site-specific addition to the workbooks in Introduction to Law. There is also a considerable potential for teachers to produce their own small-scale local material focused, for example, on work they are expecting their students to do for a particular supervision, although the value of such developments would be enhanced if the authoring system included the facility to send students' answers to their supervisors for further discussion in the supervision. Another possibility would be to encourage students to show their mastery of a topic by creating their own computer-based lessons.
The prospects for such local, small-scale uses of computer-based learning have been greatly enhanced because the authoring system, IolisAuthor, which has been used to develop the LCC courseware is both very easy to use and relatively powerful. No longer does a lecturer wishing to experiment with computer-based learning have to master complex authoring systems which are often aimed at professional developers; neither does she have to spend time developing a workable interface which will attract users to the courseware. At last, lecturers interested in computer-based learning can concentrate on the content and on the teaching and learning approach to be adopted in their materials. Although developments in some commercial authoring languages promise similar ease of use, the other major attraction of IolisAuthor is that it must now be seen as the de facto standard for the production of law courseware in England and Wales. If lecturers use IolisAuthor their students are automatically provided with a recognised and consistent interface, and it should be possible to integrate the use of local workbooks with the national LCC material.
However, there is an obstacle to such developments. IolisAuthor, produced by the LCC with TLTP funding and now with funding from subscribing law schools, is not normally available to lecturers unless they are authors of a workbook to be included in the national Iolis package. Widdison (1995), contemplating the 'radical step' that lecturers might use IolisAuthor to create alternative pages or even alternative workbooks, noted that the decision had been made that use of IolisAuthor would require the prior agreement of the LCC in order to protect the moral rights of the existing workbook authors as required by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. The current LCC position, expressed in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) page of their website <http://www.law.warwick.ac.uk/lcc/> in February 1997 is that IolisAuthor is 'occasionally made available to authors to develop their own ideas' and that anyone interested in discussing its use should contact the LCC.
This approach, with the LCC acting as a gatekeeper for computer-based learning development, is entirely different from that of the US CALI organisation, which has licensed Iolis-Author from the LCC. John Mayer (1996), CALI's Executive Director, has called for '1997 to be the Year of the Democratization of Computer-Assisted Instruction.' In the US, IolisAuthor (known there as CALI-IOLIS) is available to staff and students at all 164 law schools in the CALI Consortium. For intending authors, CALI (1996) provides a guide on 'How to write a CALI lesson'. The first part of the guide discusses good practice in writing computer-based learning material, and the second part is a guide to using IolisAuthor. In order to encourage use of the authoring system CALI has introduced three separate annual competitions for programs written by faculty, law librarians and law students, with prizes ranging from $250 to $2000; the use of IolisAuthor for competition entries is 'highly recommended'. CALI is also planning to develop a tool that will allow a lecturer to prepare a set of exercises using IolisAuthor and then to convert them automatically to web format for maximum flexibility of distribution.
There can be little doubt that the LCC courseware contains much that will be very useful to students and staff, although for greatest effect its integration into the routine patterns of teaching and learning will need to be carefully planned by lecturers who are planning to refer their students to specific workbooks or sections of the resource-book. Although a full evaluation of the usefulness of the courseware remains to be undertaken, any assessment of its impact will have to take account of other contemporary developments. One part of the background to the uptake of Iolis will be the current and post-Dearing position of the HE sector, and the issue of any perceived economic imperative for a move to greater reliance on IT. However, it will also be important to keep in mind other developments in IT which have occurred during the gestation period of Iolis. It could be argued that the impact of Iolis may depend on the degree of synergy between the LCC courseware and other advances in the use of IT in legal education. As well as being exposed to Iolis, students are increasingly exploring electronic resources such as the Legal Journals Index, the BIDS databases and web-based materials produced by their own lecturers as well as those at other sites. The more that students become accustomed to the value of electronic resources the more they will come to expect assistance from materials such as the LCC courseware. As more lecturers become aware of how easy it is, using free or cheap software, to create computer-based versions of their own teaching materials, the more they will recognise the advantages of a tool such IolisAuthor which makes the technical business of creating computer-based learning materials relatively straightforward.
The most important benefit from the widespread effort behind Iolis might be that courseware in support of learning becomes ubiquitous; some produced by collaborative effort, still more the product of local needs and opportunities. In this process traditional courseware, of which the LCC courseware stands as a good example of current practice, is likely increasingly to merge with other electronic sources of information, and with computer-mediated communication between students and staff within local and wider settings. Having already achieved such a substantial step forward, the next objectives for the LCC should include (to adapt Mayer's (1996) phrase) the demystification and democratisation of computer-based learning in law.
Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) (1996) 'How to write a CALI lesson' <http://www.cali.org/iolis/toc.html>
HEFCE (1996) 'Evaluation of the Teaching and learning Technology Programme' (Bristol: HEFCE, document M 21/96)
Mayer J (1996) 'What do computer tutorials do? Well...' Email to the e-teach list, 27 November 1996; quoted with permission; archived, for list members, at <http://mlm.kentlaw.edu/e-teach/>
Nobis Y (1996) 'Comment on the draft Second BILETA Report on IT and Legal Education', Discussions, 2 The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/wip/1bileta/Discuss/Nobis.htm>
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