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JILT 1997 (3) - Stuart Cross

A Lecturer's Review of the SLCC CD-ROM

Stuart Cross
University of Dundee
s.r.cross@dundee.ac.uk

Contents
1. Introduction
2. Background
3. Structure and Features
  3.1 General
  3.2 Installing and Starting the Package
  3.3 Subject Areas
  3.4 Distinctive Features
    3.4.1 Materials
    3.4.2 Statutes and Cases
    3.4.3 Help and Navigation
4. How is the Courseware to be Used?
5. Conclusion

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This is an IT Review published on 7 July 1997.

Citation: Cross S, 'A Lecturer's Review of the SLCC CD-ROM', IT Review, 1997 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/sw/97_3cros/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_3/cross/>


1. Introduction

Hitherto computer based learning in law in Scotland was largely restricted to individual institutions where the software involved had been locally developed. While the packages may have been innovative and well developed, they tended not to be used outwith the developer's institution. The suite of programmes developed by the Scots Law Courseware Consortium now offers an opportunity for a much wider use of computer based learning across Scotland.

2. Background

The Scots Law Courseware Consortium, based at the University of Strathclyde, was funded with the Law Courseware Consortium under the auspices of the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme. While both consortia have produced packages with common elements, the Scottish software has a quite distinctive 'feel' and a number of features which are markedly different from the IOLIS package produced for England and Wales. While the number of Higher Education institutions likely to make use of the courseware developed in Scotland will obviously be significantly smaller than in England and Wales, it seems likely that the benefit and impact of the courseware will be equally significant.

3. Structure and Features of the Courseware

3.1 General

The courseware opens with an attractive front page which demonstrates the TLTP origins of the software with a tiled background showing the TLTP icon overlaid by a distinctive outline of the Scottish mainland and islands. For some users, an initial difficulty may arise as the Courseware is not self-sizing and is designed for 800 x 600 screen resolution. This problem with page sizing can mean that certain packages simply cannot be used effectively on certain equipment.

Access to the individual modules is through a clearly structured toolbar at the top of the page with a slightly more questionable choice of options as to 'How to use Windows/Where do I Start' shown in the body of the page. While the Microsoft tutorial on How to use Windows may be of some use, it seems probable that most students using the Courseware will already have reasonable familiarity with the Windows operating system and, if not, they will almost certainly cover the use of Windows as part of an introductory IT course before they use the Courseware as part of their teaching and learning experience.

3.2 Installing and Starting the Package

For a new user the installation process should prove relatively painless if the instructions accompanying the CD Rom are followed. The options on opening the Courseware involve either using the tabs on the toolbar to access the Courseware modules or using the 'Where do I Start' dialogue box which, in fact, simply highlights the toolbar options. While most of the packages within the Courseware modules are relatively accessible for the new user, it would have been rather more user friendly had the front page offered an introduction to a 'Help' or tutorial introduction guiding users around the Courseware as the accompanying literature for each of the packages is somewhat brief in guiding the new user around the packages.

3.3 Subject Areas

The Scots Law Courseware Consortium has, at one level, followed the approach adopted by the Law Courseware Consortium of England and Wales by packaging the Courseware into particular subject groups or modules. Lacking the level of resource available to the LCC, the number of modules contained within the Scots Law Courseware is significantly smaller with two modules presently available, Family Law and Other Modules. The Family Law module is the most developed element of the Courseware containing eight separate packages: Adoption; Cohabitation; Divorce; Parenthood; Capacity and Legal Representation; Consequences of Marriage: Regular Marriages; and Irregular Marriages. 'Other Modules' contains four packages: 'Contracts'; 'Homicide'; 'Property I' and 'Property II'. Rather than following the approach adopted with the IOLIS package whereby each individual package has an essentially standard presentation, each of the Scottish packages has its own distinctive approach and design. While such a distinctive approach to each package has apparent attractions, with students being offered a fresh outlook to each subject area, the differing styles and, in particular, the differing navigation requirements of each package may cause some students difficulties in initially accessing and using the packages particularly where the packages are being used by students on their own or without the benefit of a supervised introduction.

3.4 Distinctive Features

Each of the packages within the two modules adopts its own unique style and presentation but there are common themes within a number of the packages.

3.4.1 Materials

All of the packages make reference to and incorporate sources or materials which according to the type of materials involved and the manner in which these can be accessed varies significantly between the packages. In Property I, for example, the package is centred around the story of Jack and The Beanstalk and the manner in which property transfers in key items involved in the story and to whom they ultimately belong. Very effective use is made of simple hypertext links in the narrative which accompanies each page of the story with the links either operating on a single level and being used to explain concepts such as 'Nemo dat quod non habet' or linking to second and further levels with more detailed explanations or links to other materials such as Sections from statutes.

3.4.2 Statutes and Cases

It has been suggested that one of the more distinctive features of the Iolis package is its resource book with full text case reports and fully and partially reproduced statutes. A number of the packages in the Scottish Courseware also include materials such as case extracts and reproduced statutory provisions. Two examples of packages adopting such an approach are the 'Introduction to Cohabitation in Scotland ' and package on Regular Marriages. The Cohabitation package is one of several in the Courseware which are based on a set initial factual problem or scenario which is worked through by the student on the basis of the initial facts and dramatis personae developing over a set period of time. This 'time frame' approach has certain obvious attractions for use in the Family Law module in particular as it allows the author to develop a much more realistic picture for students of the likely dynamics and interaction amongst family members which are likely to give rise to family law issues.

The materials in the Cohabitation package can be accessed in a variety of ways. As with Iolis a toolbar is available at the side of the page which allows the user to access the materials directly without having to participate in the active element of the tutorial. Alternatively the materials can be accessed as part of the main element of the package which involves the user in responding to a series of questions based on the initial problem scenario and the developing time frame. The answers to these questions frequently refer to statutory provisions or Scottish Law Commission reports which form the bulk of the materials available to the user. While the range of materials may not be as extensive as in certain of the Iolis workbooks their linkage to the active questioning element of the cohabitation package has been effectively achieved.

The Regular Marriages package has a very similar 'feel' to the Cohabitation package and the package adopts a similar approach to accessing the materials with direct access from an on-screen toolbar and guided access as part of the question and answer procedure the package adopts to guide the user through the subject. While these two packages may look the same there are, however, clear differences in how the materials are likely to be used. On the opening screen users are given a standard series of facts based on John and Ann’s intended marriage. Users are then told that the on-line materials will provide the user with the relevant law and information on the subject matter to then proceed with the self-testing part of the package. So the user is being encouraged in this particular package to use the materials from the outset as part of the overall process of using the package. Given its approach from the outset it is not surprising to find that the materials in this particular package include not only extracts from cases and statutes but reproduced sections of two important textbooks.

3.4.3 Help and Navigation

The nature of the 'Help' facilities available in each of the packages varied considerably. In certain packages the rudimentary nature of the help or its complete absence was not a hindrance to the user as the on-screen guidance or the clear guide to navigation (such as in Property I) was such that additional help would be unlikely to be required. For those packages that were rather more complex in layout and design more detailed help could have been of assistance. The Irregular Marriages package would certainly benefit from more guidance on how to navigate the package. This package operates within the confines of a problem scenario covering a prolonged time frame and on occasion it can be difficult to place your location within the package as a whole.

4. How is the Courseware to be Used?

Certain of the packages within the two modules have clearly been designed for use in a particular way and at a particular stage in a user’s educational experience. The Regular Marriages package is structured in such a fashion as to enable it to be used as a stand alone tool which could be used as a self study package thereby freeing more time for the study of other topics on the relevant student course or for, example, as a tutorial tool with students requiring to cover the material in a directed tutorial environment. The introductory Property I package is clearly not directed for use by Honours LL. students studying Property Law but it is a very useful starting point for students embarking on a study of property law in Scotland. There is no doubt that the variety of styles adopted by authors, the varying levels of complexity and the differing approaches to assessment and directed learning in the various packages means that the Courseware as a whole is flexible enough to be used in the teaching and learning of law in a variety of different ways. What would be of use in the future would be greater dissemination of information to users on the intentions of authors when the packages were being constructed and even more usefully, feedback from those users who have already tried one or more of the packages in a particular fashion. The more information such as this is disseminated the easier it is likely to become to persuade less enthusiastic colleagues to consider using the Courseware as part of their teaching materials.

5. Conclusion

The arrival of specifically designed computer based learning materials for use in the teaching and learning of Scots Law is strongly to be welcomed and there seems little doubt that the Courseware will gradually play an increasingly important role in those institutions which subscribe to its use. As a relatively new package of products much work requires to be done in address how best to use the packages and integrate them with existing curricula and teaching materials. Similarly, some development work needs to be done on the Courseware package to ensure that as many institutions as possible can effectively use the Courseware across a varying spectrum of technical provision and support. For those already using the Courseware a particular issue which gives rise to concern is of, course, future upgrading and funding. To operate as an effective tool the Courseware needs regular updating and to become more attractive to new users more modules need to be added to the existing two. This, of course, all requires to be funded and The Scottish Courseware Consortium does not have the potential user base of institutions to draw on which exists in England and Wales. For the Scottish Courseware to build on the impressive start it has already made it needs the well deserved support of as many potential user institutions as possible.

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