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Response to Law Courseware and Iolis


I was interested to read your review, and in particular one of your conclusions - that we should engage in the democratisation of authoring by offering IolisAuthor to everybody - made me think hard about what we're doing.

It's not an oversight that we don't currently do this, it's by design, and I wondered what your reaction would be to my reasons, which in a nutshell are as follows:

1. Our primary business is publishing. When we were originally funded by HEFCE to develop courseware, our brief was to produce a high quality library of materials. IolisAuthor is really only a by-product of that brief. Like any other publisher, we seek out authors, try to persuade them to produce the materials we're looking for, and support them as they do so. We aren't in the "helping people to author their own CAL" business any more than Penguin are in the business of helping people to use word processors. That's not to say that helping anyone who wants to author their own materials isn't a worthy goal, just that right now it's not ours.

2. Quality control. If anyone who wants to could use IolisAuthor to create their own materials, then it's inevitable that some of those materials would be good and some poor. But (obviously) they'll all look like Iolis workbooks and in principle at least, could be capable of dragging the "official" materials into disrepute. The workbooks that we publish, while a long (very long, sometimes ;-) way from being uniformly excellent, are at least subject to some editorial control, and in theory, if not yet in practice, we aim to bring them all up to a consistent standard. Third party workbooks might make that job rather harder. I suspect that the Lexical project suffered from the same problem.

3. Handholding. Although we're reasonably happy with IolisAuthor, it's not yet a trivial program to learn. We spend the best part of a day with people who want to author showing them how to get started and guiding them through the initial hurdles of creating their first few pages. Without that sort of assistance, authoring, whether with IolisAuthor or with any other tools, is still a fairly intimidating prospect for most legal academics who are frequently only just coming to computers at all. My suspicion is that simply making the tools available without the comprehensive support network we supply to authors could actually be counter-productive; there's nothing more likely to put someone off then trying and failing. And the very limited resources we have at the LCC mean that we can only deliver the support "package" to a small number of people. Hence the authoring teams. Also, if individual authors come to us with projects that "fit" within Iolis then we're happy to work with them on their production. Recently, "law for surveyors" and "law for medical students" both got started in this way. It seems to me that this may be a better, more supportive way of getting people comfortable with producing CAL.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts on this. Clearly, as demonstrated by US-CALI, it's perfectly possible to adopt the opposite position.



This Comment was published on 3 June 1997.

Citation: Dale J, 'Response to Law Courseware and Iolis' Comment, 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>


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