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JILT 1998 (1) - Widdison and Schulte

Quarts into Pint Pots? Electronic Law Tutorials Revisited

Robin Widdison and Richard Schulte
Centre for Law and Computing
University of Durham

1. Introduction
2. Some Previous Experiments
  2.1 The Warwick Experiment
  2.2 The William and Mary College Experiment
  2.3 The First Durham Experiment
  2.4 The New Mexico Experiment
  2.5 The LSE Experiment
  2.6 Summary
3. Lessons Learnt from the Previous Experiments
4. The New Durham Experiment
  4.1 Design of the Experiment
  4.2 Conduct of the Experiment
5. Findings and Evaluation
  5.1 Findings
  5.2 Evaluation
6. Conclusion
  Appendix A
  Appendix B

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This is a refereed article published on 27 February 1998.

Citation: Widdison R and Schulte R, 'Quarts into Pint Pots? Electronic Law Tutorials Revisited', 1998 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>


This article is concerned with the use of electronic mail as a medium for small group law teaching. In it, we start by surveying some of the more notable experiments that have been conducted in the recent past and which have been fully written up in the available literature. We then use our survey to generate a catalogue of the strengths and weakness of email as an educational tool when used for this purpose. Next, we describe the design and conduct of a new experiment that we carried out with Durham contract law students in the academic year 1996/7. Finally, we set out and evaluate the findings of this new experiment.

Key words: Electronic mail, Law Tutorials, Survey of Previous Experiments, New Experiment, Design and Conduct of Experiment, Findings and Evaluation.

1. Introduction

The recent freeze in the expansion of the higher education sector has, of course, done nothing to reduce the number of students who are being squeezed into our universities. Furthermore, in the post Dearing era, we can now expect more expansion ahead (Dearing, 1997). How, then, can we continue to teach all-comers without either lowering the quality of education that we are able to offer on the one hand, or skimping on our research, writing and administration commitments on the other? In short, how do we force quarts into pint pots!

A significant increase in the numbers attending lecture courses can, perhaps, be accommodated without too great a diminution in the educational value of that medium - which is fairly minimal to start with, according to some commentators (Bligh, 1972) (Ramsden, 1992, pp 154-155). Pressure on academic library resources can be eased not only by increasing the number of paper copies held but also by dramatically augmenting available traditional sources with round-the-clock access to CD-ROM based and online electronic materials. By the same token, the quality of written work can be maintained or even improved by intelligent use of sophisticated, modern wordprocessing packages.

One educational medium, however, continues to buckle under the remorseless pressure of student numbers, technological change and financial restrictions. That medium is small group teaching - tutorials, seminars and practicals. This would not matter so much if it were not for the fact that such teaching is such a central component of a university education in the United Kingdom. The days are long gone when tutorials were routinely conducted on a one-to-one basis. Nevertheless, some of the benefits of direct tutor/tutee interaction can still be achieved with groups of anything up to a dozen students in the physical presence of their tutor. What can be done to maintain these standards in the current climate? Such teaching is extremely demanding on resources. Employing large numbers of new staff is, apparently, off the agenda. Requiring existing staff to teach more and more small groups is an alternative. However, the large amount of extra time and effort needed has to come from somewhere. It can only be obtained by redeployment from some other academic activity.

Can information technology come to the rescue? Funding by the United Kingdom's Teaching and Learning Technology Programme has been used to employ teams of academics from a wide variety of disciplines in the creation of high quality 'courseware' - computer assisted learning materials.[1] In law, such teams, under the auspices of the Law Courseware Consortium, have developed an impressive multimedia package of materials called Iolis. [2]There is an inherent risk, though, in assuming that the use of such courseware will maintain or improve learning outcomes by steering teaching trends away from small group teaching towards 'self-paced' computer aided learning. In fact, it has been demonstrated over and over again, that today's hardware and software are just not sophisticated enough to provide the sort of challenging, stimulating interaction that occurs on a regular basis between a good tutor and a group of intelligent, prepared, well-motivated students (Collins, 1994). In general, the current generation of courseware provides a useful tool for tutorial preparation and for revision. At best, existing courseware may just manage to substitute for the introductory, 'building block' phase of a tutorial (Scott and Widdison, 1994).

We must be careful not to loose sight, however, of the fact that computer technology can be applied to legal education in other ways. It is not limited to providing wordprocessing, courseware and access to electronic sources. The emergence of the Internet surely reminds us of the vital role that computers are capable of playing in mediating one-to-one communication between individuals and one-to-many communications amongst members of discussion groups. The most common manifestation of computer communications technology today is electronic mail (email). Significant work has, of course, already been done on the role of computer mediated communication (Mason and Kaye, 1989) and, more generally, on the impact of new technologies on university education (Laurillard, 1993).

In an attempt to contribute usefully to this body of work, we will focus our discussion on the potential that email may have to offer the teaching of law undergraduates when used in combination with courseware and 'face-to-face' small group teach sessions. More specifically, we will do four things:

  1. Examine some of the previous experiments in the use of email for law teaching
  2. Explore some of the lessons that can be learned from this work
  3. Describe the design and operation of a new experiment that we have conducted in the Law Department at Durham University
  4. Set out and evaluate the findings of our recent experiment.

2. Some Previous Experiments

2.1 The Warwick Experiment

Clark, Dale and Paliwala at the University of Warwick conducted an experiment in the use of email conferencing for undergraduate legal education during the academic year 1991/92 (Clark, Dale and Paliwala, 1992). The exercise involved second and third year undergraduate students taking a half option inLaw in the Information Society. The students in question were based on campus. They were, generally, computer literate at the outset and had volunteered to take the course in question. The course was taught over a period of ten weeks by means of weekly two-hour seminars and dealt with the introduction and utilisation of information technology into society in general and the legal system in particular. Additionally, time was set aside to hold practicals where students could familiarise themselves with applications such as computer assisted legal research, expert systems in law and legal hypertext.

In addition to the normal weekly seminars and practicals, the course included an electronic conferencing exercise focusing on aspects of data protection. The conference ran during the fifth and sixth weeks of the course. The electronic discussion was managed by means of a piece of electronic conferencing software calledTelePathy. Such conferencing software aims to extend the range of simple email systems by being specifically tailored to facilitate the handling of 'broadcast' one-to-many messages addressed to all members of a group instead of 'narrowcast' one-to-one messages passing between particular individuals. Furthermore, in order to enhance conferencing, this type of software imposes a structure that separates out the different topic 'threads' of a broader discussion into parallel mini-conferences. In addition, the software imposes a temporal hierarchy on messages so that the first message received on a new topic of the discussion becomes the root message and all subsequent messages on that same topic are appended to the root message as comments.

2.2 The William and Mary College Experiment

In the spring of 1994, Professor Trotter Hardy at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia, conducted an experiment in law teaching and the use of email (Hardy, 1994). The experiment involved a group of fourteen students based on campus. The group was required to collaborate in the drafting of an ideal constitution for a fictitious country called Dalmatia. They had to accomplish this task via a single medium only - email discussion. The experiment took place over the period of one whole semester.

Hardy first, set up an email mailing list using Listserv software. Listserv is a form of 'mail exploder'. Like a dedicated electronic conferencing package, a mail exploder is designed to facilitate group discussion via email. Thus, any message sent by one member of a discussion group is automatically copied to all other members. Here, however, the similarity between the two types of software ends. The mail exploder is much less sophisticated than the dedicated electronic conferencing package. So, for example, it does not possess tailor-made facilities designed to structure a broad discussion into a number of parallel mini-conferences on discrete topics. Equally, it does not readily impose a rigid temporal hierarchy onto the messages received.

2.3 The First Durham Experiment

The first experiment at the Law School at Durham was conducted by Widdison and Pritchard. It involved an exploration of the question: 'what happens when a face-to-face Contract Law tutorial is replaced entirely with an electronic tutorial (Widdison and Pritchard, 1995)? Like the Warwick experiment, this Durham experiment involved on-campus students. Unlike the Warwick experiment, however, it deliberately targeted 'ordinary' students who were not necessarily skilled with, or enthusiastic about, computer technology. The experiment also involved 'press-ganging' a number of tutorial groups from a non-technological course rather than working with self-selecting groups of volunteers. The course selected for the experiment was contract law - a large, compulsory course for first year undergraduates.

Like the William and Mary College experiment, the Durham experiment made use of simple mail exploder software rather than more sophisticated conferencing packages. It was hoped that this would keep the technological threshold as low as possible. On the other hand, some element of structure to the exercise was sought. This was done in two ways. Firstly, Widdison and Pritchard structured the discussion of the chosen contract law tutorial problem by means of a 'mooting' format. Secondly, they imposed a clear-cut agenda together with a strict timetable on both the tutor and students for each stage of the discussion.

2.4 The New Mexico Experiment

At the University of New Mexico Law School, Taylor made use of Internet email to reduce the geographical and time limitations placed on the delivery of a law course (Taylor, 1996). The course in question - Taxation in Indian Country - typically had a small enrolment of between eight to sixteen students. The Law School possessed particular expertise in the subject area and was able to attract enough on campus students to make the course viable. There was also a demand for the subject at other Universities. However, the demand was insufficient to warrant offering a course at those institutions.

For his experiment, Taylor enrolled five off campus law students studying at other North American universities (four in US universities and one in a Canadian university) in addition to his normal quota of New Mexico students. The traditional course involved class discussions, assigned readings, extensive research and a written component. To accommodate the needs of the off campus students, one on campus student was assigned to take notes of case studies discussed in class and distribute a copy to the remote students via email. The off campus students prepared their own case studies which were presented by the tutor on their behalf in live class discussion.

After the hypothetical case studies, each student was required to research the law on behalf of a real client. The off campus students were encouraged to look for projects in their own geographical areas. The tutor provided all the students - both on and off campus - with detailed written comments on their projects. Assessment of the off campus students involved the tutor deciding a mark in collaboration with professors in the home institution.

2.5 The LSE Experiment

Kelman at the London School of Economics has recently conducted a 'small distance learning experiment' linked to the delivery of his Information Systems and the Law course to postgraduate students (Kelman, 1997). The course normally consists of ten to fifteen two-hour lectures and tutorials per week spread over two terms. Difficulties had previously been encountered. these included his own inability to attend physically and give the lectures due to other work commitments. This problem, combined with a high student drop out rate, students missing lectures and the significant costs of having to attend lectures and tutorials contributed to the decision to try experimenting with email technology.

The experiment made use of an electronic conferencing package called Virtual Access, rather than a simple email exploder package. It entailed the delivery of nearly all the lectures over a period of five days rather than the normal ten to fifteen weeks. The students were then required to participate in an ongoing 'virtual tutorial' over a period of about three months via the medium of the conferencing software. At the end of this period a final short series of face-to-face lectures and tutorials were conducted over a period of two days. Students' contributions to the virtual tutorial were then used as a basis for the assessment their performance during the course.

2.6 Summary

For convenience, the following table summarises some of the key features of the above experiments.

Warwick University

William & Mary College Durham University New Mexico University LSE
Course Title Law in the Information Society Law and Economics Contract Law Taxation in Indian Country Information Systems and the Law
Period 1991-2 1994 1994-5 1995 1996-7
Status Optional Optional Compulsory Optional Optional
Students Year 2-3 UGs Taught PGs Year 1 UGs Taught PGs Taught PGs
Location On Campus On Campus On Campus On Off Campus Off Campus
Duration 2 Weeks 1 Semester 1 Tutorial Round 1 Semester 2 Terms
Technology Used Conferencing Software Email Exploder Email Exploder Email Exploder Conferencing Software

3. Lessons Learnt From The Previous Experiments

Drawing on the detailed discussions in the literature on the above experiments, it is possible to extract and explore some of the strengths and weaknesses of using email as a medium for small group law teaching. Let us turn first to the strengths.

* Email is cheap. The expense of setting up and maintaining the academic Internet have traditionally been absorbed centrally by the higher education institutions. As a result, the cost to the individual users of using email is free for those on campus and cheap for those dialling up from off campus sites.

* Email is flexible. By this we mean that it is a highly plastic technology that can be readily moulded into a variety of formats. Thus, email can be used like a telephone for instantaneous communication. It can be used like the post for non-instantaneous communication. It can be used for one-to-many conferencing just as easily as it can be used for one-to-one communication. Email can be used to transmit any form of digitised information including 'active' information such as computer programs and 'passive' information such as text, diagrams, photographs, video clips or sound. Electronic messages can comprise either a single information type or any multimedia combination of types that a sender might care to concoct.

* Email frees users from geographical constraints. Electronic communication can, of course, take place without users needing to be in the same place simultaneously. Indeed, the Internet is now so ubiquitous that communication can readily occur almost regardless of the physical location of the participants. Thus, email is particularly useful for distance learning courses, although it has considerable benefits for campus based students as well.

* Email liberates users from temporal constraints. If instantaneous interaction is not possible or convenient it can take place on a non-instantaneous basis. There is no need for all members of a tutorial group to take part in a session at the same time. In particular, law tutors can operate in 'parallel' rather than in 'series' - facilitating and participating in several tutorials simultaneously.

* Email provides a student with greatly improved access both to the tutor and to other students. If the technology reduces or removes the impact of geographical and temporal constraints, it follows that it removes important barriers between teacher and taught and between members of a tutorial group.

* Email encourages individualised instruction. It is very easy to switch from the one-to-many environment of group discussion to one-to-one interaction. A student who is having difficulties and who may be seriously embarrassed by being shown up, for example, can be engaged directly and in private by the tutor using the same technology in the same way. Ramsden suggests that the quality of a student's understanding is 'intimately related to the quality of their engagement with learning tasks' (Ramsden, 1992, p 39). That quality can readily be adjusted by the tutor to match the perceived needs of the struggling student.

* Electronic communication can be less intimidating than face-to-face discussion. Interaction, particularly by email, can be carefully thought out and rehearsed before being transmitted. Being remote from the tutor can reduce the immediacy and intensity of an exchange. To a confident student this may be a drawback. To a nervous student, however, it can prove to be a godsend.

* Use of email entails practise of written communication skills. Lawyers are wordsmiths - (or, less kindly, word mongers!). Acquiring good written and oral communication skills is, of course, an important part of legal education. Email provides an excellent opportunity to develop these skills - whether they be formal drafting skills or less formal, 'chatty' written speech.

* Email provides an instant record of communications that can be stored, processed and reused. An email discussion, being in writing, can be stored either in its 'raw' state or after editing into e.g. a collective essay or conference proceedings. The stored material can then be reread for revision purposes. A tutor facilitating a number of electronic tutorials simultaneously may find that the ability to recycle materials produced in one tutorial can provide considerable economies of scale.

* The use of email provides for ready monitoring of performance. An email discussion leaves its own 'audit trail' by default. It is possible for tutors to use the resulting material for assessment purposes. Assessment may be made from both from a qualitative and quantitative point of view. As to the latter, it is easy to extract information on the number, frequency and timing of each student's contributions to the discussion.

* Email is much easier to manage than paper-based communications. It can be read, sorted, stored and retrieved, forwarded and replied to more quickly and with less effort than the equivalent volume of 'hard copy' correspondence such as letters, memoranda and notes.

* Use of email in law teaching provides and important element of added value. Students must acquire relevant computing skills in order to use the email system. It is clear that law is rapidly becoming a highly computerised domain. Familiarity with a key technological application such as computer communications is now becoming a sine qua non for graduates in search of prestigious - and well-paid - legal careers.

There are also, by contrast, significant problems associated with the use of email for law teaching. Here are some examples:

* Exposure to the learning experience of peers (sometimes referred to as 'vicarious learning'[3]) seems to be improved by the physical presence of other participants. This advantage is completely lost if contact is solely via email. Students who have participated in previous email teaching experiments have commented on the lack of the immediacy, intensity and sparkle that play an important part in stimulating and engaging participants. Furthermore, email can be a very bland means of communication. It provides no direct access to the important clues as to meaning and mood that are picked up from tone of voice, face and gesture.

* Whilst email has been used with some success for group discussion, face-to-face interaction works better. Exchanges of email - particularly non-instantaneous exchanges - are generally slow and inflexible. Several participants can all send contributions simultaneously - the electronic equivalent of a number of people all talking at the same time. Equally, participants can find it difficult to hold the whole of a complicated discussion in their heads for long enough. An alternative is to refresh one's memory from time to time as to the contents of earlier contributions. However, this task can add both to the time taken and to the tedium of electronic conferencing.

* Exercises developed for use with email teaching need to be highly structured. The first experiment at Durham indicated to us that 'free-form' tutorial exercises are not suitable for use with electronic tutorials. Activities need agendas. More structured exercises such as drafting exercises, formal moots and quizzes all seem to work better. There is a risk, though, that some of these tailor-made activities may create a false impression in the minds of students that law and legal reasoning are highly formalistic in nature (Collins, 1994).

* Email teaching may require more self-discipline and self-motivation from the students than traditional educational techniques. Inevitably, less face-to-face contact and supervision from a tutor may create problems particularly for school leavers in their first year of undergraduate study. On the other hand, email teaching may be particularly appropriate for postgraduates and legal practitioners undertaking continuing legal education courses. (Kelman, 1997)

* Email deprives a student of the opportunity to practice oral communication skills. Although email provides ample practice of written communication skills - both formal and informal - the chance to prepare and present oral argument is also of vital importance to law students. Depriving such students of a key opportunity for verbal discussion and debate may well prove to be a retrograde step.

* Email teaching may contribute to the development of a 'cut and paste' mentality. There appears to be a growing tendency amongst some law students to forego writing essays and other written work from scratch. Rather, they take snippets from various electronic sources - including records of email discussions - string them together and then edit the result. It can be argued that there may be some educational advantages in using such a cut and paste approach. However, use of this technique to the complete exclusion of any de novo writing may well turn out to suppress creativity of thought and expression.

* There is a technological threshold to be overcome in the use of email. Students must acquire the necessary skills. Furthermore, they must also have access to a suitable networked computer whenever they are required to take part in an electronic tutorial. Although the number of computers in law schools is steadily growing, we are nowhere near a situation where queues and booking systems are a thing of the past (BILETA, 1997).

4. The New Durham Experiment

4.1 Design of the Experiment

The main goal of the new Durham experiment was to determine whether email technology could be used to reduce the amount of tutor time and effort spent on small group law teaching whilst simultaneously maintaining the quality of that teaching. In the light of the lessons learnt from all the previous experiments discussed above, the method we adopted was to design an experiment that sought to explore further the potential of the technology by playing towards its strengths and away from its weaknesses. A secondary goal was to determine whether the style of teaching adopted by a tutor influenced the time and effort required in order to maintain teaching standards.

In Durham, the Contract Law course is normally taught via eight cycles each comprising lectures, self-paced study and face-to-face tutorials. The normal tutorial lasts one hour and students are required to complete the relevant section of the Iolis courseware and then to prepare answers to a number of 'problem' and 'essay' style questions for discussion. With this in mind, and in the light of the lessons learnt from all the previous experiments discussed above, we sought to design an experiment that would further explore the potential of email technology. In essence, we attempted to play towards the strengths of that technology and away from its weaknesses. In what way did this new experiment differ from the earlier Durham experiment? In the following ways:

  1. Unlike the earlier experiment where information technology replaced traditional small group teaching wholesale, this time we decided to use it to supplement and enhance normal tutorials. With this in mind, we sought to explore the value of building law tutorials out of a combination of both electronic and a face-to-face components.
  2. Differing from the earlier experiment, we chose to forego any attempt to use email for group discussion and conferencing. Instead, students would be required to communicate with the tutor on a one-to-one basis, reserving the subsequent face-to-face component for group interaction.
  3. Instead of using 'examination-standard' tutorial questions as the subject matter of the experiment, this time we chose to employ a set of diagnostic tests that would be designed and structured so as: (i) to give both tutors and students the maximum amount feedback about each student's grasp of basic issues; (ii) to involve the minimum input of tutor time and effort; and (iii) to work optimally through the medium of email. After some thought, we decided that the format most likely to meet these requirements would be that of the quiz.
  4. Unlike the earlier experiment which was of short duration, the new experiment was designed to last through virtually the whole course - i.e. all of the contract tutorials scheduled for the course apart from the initial, introductory tutorial.
  5. It has been suggested that the study of law comprises two phases to learning. The first or 'instructivist' phase involves the student absorbing predetermined presentations of objective knowledge. The second or 'constructivist' phase involves the student developing their own unique interpretation of reality, using external resources and reflective thinking to assemble their own, personal 'knowledge base' (Jonassen and Reeves, 1996, p 695) (Weaver et al, 1996). Differing from the previous experiment, it was decided that there would be two tutors involved, each tutor adopting a different style of teaching. The first tutor deliberately adopted an instructivist style - a closed, agenda-driven approach in which students were expected to demonstrate an ability to apply their acquired legal knowledge in the 'correct' way. By contrast, the second tutor deliberately adopted a constructivist style - an open, more discursive approach in which students were encouraged to develop their own views on the legal issues under discussion and to express those views with confidence.

In what way was the new Durham experiment similar to the earlier one? As follows:

  1. As with the earlier experiment, we decided to choose a mainstream, compulsory course for the new experiment. In fact, the same first-year course that had been used for the earlier experiment was selected - Contract Law.
  2. Like the earlier experiment, we chose to integrate email technology into an existing teaching activity - law tutorials - rather than to graft on an entirely new activity as either an addition, or a complete replacement, to any of the existing activities.
  3. As with the earlier experiment, students were 'press-ganged' into involvement in the new experiment in order to eliminate the element of self-selection and to avoid ending up with a preponderance of technophiles taking part in the exercise.[4]
  4. Like the earlier experiment, we chose to spread the activity relating to each experimental tutorial over a longer period than is the case with a normal tutorial. This decision was not entirely voluntary, though. To some extent, this elongation is required in order to use the technology optimally.
  5. Like the earlier experiment, we concluded that the best way to evaluate the experiment was by seeking the views of both students and tutors. The students would be given an anonymous questionnaire to fill in. The tutors would be asked to keep a record of the amount of time and effort spent on the email component of each tutorial and to prepare a set of 'uncoded' comments detailing their experiences and impressions.

4.2 Conduct of the Experiment

During the 1996/1997 academic year, we carried out our new experiment using the experimental tutorial design mentioned above to teach first year undergraduate contract law students. We decided to select a quarter of the total number of tutorial groups to work with - four out of the total of sixteen groups. A tutorial group usually comprises eight or nine students. The total number of students involved in the experiment turned out to be 34. As we indicated above, the students were not invited to volunteer. Each of them had signed up for their tutorial group unaware that they were to participate in the experiment.

Ordinarily, students in the contract law course are required to attend a total of eight one-hour tutorials, half in the term before Christmas (The Michaelmas Term) and half in the term before Easter (the Epiphany Term). The first term's set four tutorials was conducted by one of the authors. The second term's set was conducted by the other author. As we have seen, this enabled us to expose the students to two different styles of teaching. It also provided a useful basis for comparative assessment by both the authors and the students. The first tutorial of the experiment was, in fact, conducted as a normal, face-to-face tutorial. During that session, both authors spent a quarter of an hour introducing the experiment and explaining to the students what was required of them. Any students who anticipated having difficulties or who felt that they would benefit from a training session on how to use email was encouraged to seek assistance at this stage.

At the start of each term, the students were provided with tutorial sheets for the coming four tutorials. These tutorial sheets were specially designed for use with the experimental tutorials. A specimen sheet can be seen in Appendix A. First, in common with their colleagues in normal tutorials, participating students were told to study the Iolis contract courseware materials relevant to the topic they were looking at. Second, participating students were required to complete a diagnostic test to help the tutor determine whether they had a satisfactory basic understanding of the topic. The test comprised a set of ten multiple choice quiz questions covering the topic. These questions were selected to cover a substantial number of key issues arising within the relevant topic. The multiple-choice answers presented were designed to be probing and to require careful thought in order to discourage sloppiness and defeat guesswork. To obtain a good score on the quiz, there was no doubt in our minds that the students would have to 'know their stuff.'

Students were instructed to transmit their quiz answers to the tutor by email. Messages from the students could be as minimal as they wished. They were told that a set of answers in the form of nothing more than a string of letters - i.e. ADAAACDBDA - would suffice. The tutor would then respond individually to each student indicating which questions where correct and which areas the student required further study. These responses could readily be standardised so that the tutor was able to reuse them by simply making a few additions and deletions. Students were also invited to take this opportunity to ask questions of their tutor either about the quiz or, indeed, any other aspect of the topic under study that troubled them. The tutor also responded to the student's additional queries at this stage. After the email component was complete, students were required to attend a one half-hour face-to-face component in their respective tutorial groups. Each half-hour was to be taken up with a discussion of one or both of two examination-standard questions - an essay question and a problem question. Examples of such questions can be seen as questions III and IV in Appendix A.

As will be recalled, the first tutor adopted a directed, 'instructivist' style of teaching. What effect did this have on the conduct of the tutorials? Whilst both questions on each tutorial sheet were covered, the constraints of time dictated that analysis was often rather cursory and the opportunity for students to contribute was limited. None-the-less, it appears that most students were stimulated sufficiently by the face-to-face component to facilitate effective, further self-study. The first tutor also encouraged students to send him email with any queries that were outstanding after the face-to-face component. A number of students took advantage of this opportunity, but the number was not as great as had been expected. This may, perhaps, have been connected to inexperience of study at university amongst first year students.

The second tutor, of course, used a discursive, 'constructivist' teaching style. The immediate result of this change of teaching style was that there was only enough time to deal adequately with one of the two examination-standard tutorial questions in the face-to-face component. Bearing the goals of the experiment in mind and the desire to maintain teaching at a level equivalent to normal tutorials this created a problem. To remedy this problem, and after discussion with the first tutor, the second tutor gave up trying to cover both questions fully and devised a new, third component to follow the quiz and face-to-face components. After every class, the students were sent a 'debriefing' email. This 'follow-up' component comprised detailed notes on how to answer the tutorial question that had not been covered during the face-to-face component. Needless-to-say, the students were still required to prepare both examination-standard tutorial questions for each tutorial. To encourage full preparation, the tutor did not inform them which question was scheduled for face-to-face discussion until they arrived for their tutorial!

5. Findings And Evaluation

5.1 Findings

As we have already stated, the views of the students were gathered by means of an anonymous questionnaire. 33 (97%) completed forms out of a possible 34 were returned by the student participants. The questionnaire comprised seven precoded questions and one 'catch-all' uncoded question at the end. 27 students (82%) wrote detailed replies in response to this last question.

The questions, together with the responses received are set out in full in Appendix B.

5.2 Evaluation

As with the first Durham experiment, we have sought to present the experiment and the findings 'warts and all'. Gratifyingly, this time there appeared to be fewer warts! This may indicate that we have managed to learn some important lessons from all the previous experiments that we surveyed. About two thirds of our randomly selected participants - 22 students (66%) - had little or no experience of email before taking part in the experiment. If we achieved nothing else, at least we gave a substantial number of students the opportunity to gain familiarity with a communications technology that is becoming vitally important not only in our universities but also in legal practice too. However, as the following discussion demonstrates, we did achieve something else as well.

Let us turn to the tutorial components themselves. The quiz component of the tutorial seems to have been a success. 24 students (73%) reported that it was either helpful or very helpful in identifying areas of difficulty with the relevant tutorial topics. More predictably, 26 students (79%) expressed the view that the face-to-face component of the tutorial was helpful or very helpful in aiding their understanding of the tutorial topics. The addition of the third, follow-up component in the second term also met with approval. 26 students (79%) thought that the third component either helpful or very helpful. When we asked the participants for an overall assessment the value of the tutorials - the cumulative effect of the quiz, the face-to-face session and the follow up taken together - some 18 students (55%) responded that the experimental tutorials were more or much more helpful that normal tutorials in other subjects (typically Tort, UK Constitutional Law and European Integration Law). This might sound less encouraging than some of the other results until one observes that a further 11 students (33%) thought the experimental tutorials were as helpful as normal ones. To put this another way, some 29 students (88%) said that they felt they were at least as well off as they would have been if they had been given traditional style tutorials.

The level of motivation, of course, plays an important part in effective learning. One key catalyst for increasing motivation is enjoyment. For this reason, we asked the participants how much they had enjoyed the experimental tutorials by comparison with normal tutorials in other subjects. 22 students (67%) responded that they found the experimental tutorials either more or much more enjoyable. A further 9 students (27%) thought the experimental tutorials were as enjoyable as normal ones. In other words, some 31 students (94%) said that they enjoyed the electronic tutorials at least as much as normal tutorials. Needless-to-say though, we have to be guarded about attaching too much weight to this encouraging finding. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for increased enjoyment may simply have been the novelty factor -vive la difference!

As we indicated above, however, whilst this experiment seemed to have less warts than its predecessor, it was by no means wart-free. One oddity was that 9 students (27%) claimed to have taken less time to prepare for their experimental tutorials by comparison with normal tutorials in their other subjects. It raises the question whether the quiz questions in the email component were used by the students as a focus for their self-paced study. Rather than reading widely in the area of the general tutorial topic, the students may have concentrated on reading enough to answer the quiz questions. Because the nature of the questions gave clues as to answers, the areas requiring reading were easier to identify thus reducing the time necessary to sift through reading material. Alternatively, students may have used less time to prepare knowing that they were to receive detailed notes in the follow-up component. Furthermore, we are not clear whether this result causes an advantage or a disadvantage to learning outcomes, as we had not correlated the students using less time with the accuracy of their answers to the quiz nor their examination results. All this raises a number of perplexing issues that should, perhaps, be explored further.

More problematic, to our minds, was the oft-repeated view expressed in the uncoded answers to the last question that the face-to-face component should have been longer. Of the 27 uncoded answers received, 10 (37% of those answering) made this point. A couple of students actually said that they would have liked a full one-hour normal tutorial and the email component as well. Since our goal was to try to reduce tutor time and effort spent on small group teaching, this was not what we wanted to read! On the other hand, a number of students reported that 40 or 45 minutes spent face-to-face might be sufficient if accompanied by the email and follow-up components. This could be achievable if, say, the quiz aspect of the email component was partially automated.

Some Iolis courseware materials already contain fully automated revision quizzes so why trouble with additional semi-automated quizzes administered by the tutors? There are at least three important reasons. Firstly, tutors can tailor their feedback to individual students much more precisely and appropriately than the computer can. Secondly, tutors can explore areas of weakness in basic understanding with the students to determine the most effective remedial action to take. Thirdly, the students themselves can be encouraged to initiate an email dialogue with their tutors. This dialogue may well be triggered by some issue arising in the quiz and then evolve into a broader discussion about other problems that the students may be having with the topic under study. Each of these features is helpful in encouraging and stimulating a student's engagement with the material.

What did the two tutor/authors think of the experimental tutorials? Their main interest was to assess the new Durham experiment in terms of its primary goal - to determine whether email technology could be used to reduce the amount of tutor time and effort while maintaining the quality of small group law teaching. So, was the quality of teaching maintained? Both tutors independently formed the strong impression that it had been. This view seems to be borne out by the opinions expressed by the students albeit with the caveat that they had received no normal contract tutorials with which to compare the experimental tutorials directly. They were, though, able to make indirect comparisons with their normal tutorials in other subjects during the time that they were participating in the experiment.

If quality was maintained, was this achieved by means of less tutor time and effort? Firstly let us examine whether any time was saved. The normal tutorial lasts for an hour. An experimental tutorial lasted for half and hour. There were four experimental tutorial groups. This means that a total of two hours of face-to-face time were made available for the other component(s). The first tutor's records showed that he did manage to save time - he used up, on average, only one hour 24 minutes of the two hours available for the quiz component. By contrast, the second tutor who, it will be remembered, introduced a third, follow-up component, utilised the whole two hours available for each round of tutorials. However, it is important to note that he did not exceed the target amount of time either.

Let us now turn to the issue of tutor effort expended. Both tutors were clearly of the view that the effort that they had put into conducting tutorials had been reduced. There were five main ways in which this saving was achieved. Firstly, freedom from geographical restraints meant that they were able to do work on the email component of the tutorials wherever they happened to be. No travelling was needed. Also, the tutors could break off from one task to do tutorial work and then return to the original task - change, as ever, being as good as a rest! Secondly, freedom from temporal restraints meant that they could do tutorial work on whatever day and at whatever time it suited them thus providing much greater flexibility in terms of their personal time management. Thirdly, the tutors were able to benefit from economies of scale. Both responses students' quiz answers and follow-up messages could often be standardised and mass-produced - simply 'topped and tailed' in order to personalise them for each individual student. Fourthly, they were able to save a considerable amount of effort managing the 600 or so email messages that were generated during the experiment. Finally, the email quiz component built up into a record detailing each student's initial grasp of the basic issues in relation to all the topics covered - an instant 'audit trail'. Basically, in return for far less effort than was usual, the tutors obtained a much more comprehensive assessment record than would normally be the case. This record - a mere by-product of the main exercise - was something for nothing.

6. Conclusion

What have we established by means of this experiment? In our view, we have shown that it is possible to turn part of a 'normal' face-to-face law tutorial into a one-to-one email exchange between tutor and individual student without any resulting diminution in the quality of that teaching. Furthermore, it is clearly possible to save some tutor time by the use of the technology provided the tutor adopts a closed, instructivist teaching style. Adoption of a more open constructivist style, however, tends to cause these time savings to evaporate. This is so because extra tutor time is needed for follow-up email communication with students in order to maintain the teaching quality. Regardless of which of the two teaching styles were adopted, however, the replacement of part of a face-to-face tutorial with an email component appears to have produced significant savings in tutor effort. Freedom from geographical and temporal constraints, benefits from economies of scale, enhanced communication management and the production of detailed records of student performance as a by-product all combines to ease the burden on the busy law teacher.

Because of the speed at which our information technology evolves, it is claimed that a computer generation is up to ten times shorter than a human generation. Soon our focus of attention - and everyone else's, for that matter - will shift to the educational potential of instantaneous non-instantaneous video mail. Overnight, some problems associated with email communication - i.e. lack of immediacy, sparkle, and clues as to meaning and mood picked up from tone of voice, face and gesture - are likely to diminish dramatically or vanish. Also, instantaneous video mail, at least, will almost certainly provide a much more effective electronic environment for group discussion than email.

None-the-less, we predict that email will continue to be of central importance in law teaching. Video mail may, in fact, make far greater inroads into the domain of physical face-to-face teaching than it will into the email domain. Whilst video communication becomes the preferred electronic medium for 'talking head' interaction, email will reposition itself as the preferred technology for all forms of written communication - ranging from formal group drafting exercises through collective essay writing to the most informal written speech or chat. The evolution does not stop here, of course. Given the flexibility of information technology the most likely end result will be an electronic communication medium that is infinitely plastic - constantly adjusting itself to convey communications made up of any or all of the basic digitised ingredients - video, graphics, sound, text and software - in the optimum possible way.

Appendix A


I. Study the Iolis courseware workbook on 'Misrepresentation'. If there are any issues that you feel you do not understand, ask your tutor to discuss them with you.

II. Mistake/Misrepresentation Quiz

Choose one option that is the best answer to each of the following ten questions. Send your answers to your tutor by email at the following address: by no later than 5 pm on Friday 6 December. Check your email box at least daily for a response from your tutor.

1. Which of the following labels describes a situation where both parties to a contract are mistaken but they make different mistakes?

A. Cross purposes mistake

B. Shared mistake

C. Unilateral mistake

D. Non est factum

2. Which of the following must generally be established before a court will declare a contract void for shared mistake at common law?

A. One party is mistaken

B. Both parties are mistaken

C. Both parties are mistaken as to the quality of the subject matter

D. Both parties are mistaken as to the existence of the subject matter

3. The main significance of Solle v Butcher is that it appears to introduces into the law...

A. An equitable doctrine of shared mistake

B. A common law doctrine shared mistake

C. An equitable doctrine of unilateral mistake

D. A common law doctrine of unilateral mistake

4. Where two parties contract face-to-face, the court usually presumes that each party intends to contract with...

A. The person in front of him/her

B. A person other than the one in front of him/her

C. The person the other party claims to be

D. A person other than the one the other party claims to be

5. Prima facie, which of the following misrepresentations is automatically actionable if false?

A. A misrepresentation of fact

B. A misrepresentation of intention

C. A misrepresentation of opinion

D. A misrepresentation of pure law

6. Normally, which of the following circumstances is unlikely to be classified as an actionable misrepresentation?

A. Telling half the truth but keeping silent about the other half

B. Acting in such a way as to conceal some aspect of the subject matter

C. Remaining completely silent about some aspect of the subject matter

D. All of the above

7. In order to be actionable, a misrepresentation must be...

A. Communicated to the representor

B. Communicated to the representee

C. Communicated to and acted upon by the representor

D. Communicated to and acted upon by the representee

8. The Misrepresentation Act 1967 s2(1) had the effect of introducing into the law the new category of...

A. Fraudulent misrepresentation

B. Negligent misrepresentation

C. Negligent misstatement at common law

D. Innocent misrepresentation

9. The remedy of damages is not available as of right for...

A. Fraudulent misrepresentation

B. Negligent misrepresentation

C. Negligent misstatement at common law

D. Innocent misrepresentation

10. What is the appropriate measure of damages for negligent misrepresentation?

A. The same as the measure for fraudulent misrepresentation

B. The same as the measure for innocent misrepresentation

C. The same as the normal measure in tort

D. The same as the normal measure for breach of contract

III. During negotiations to sell a restaurant called 'The Dead Dog' the vendor, Sneeze, tells Innocence, a prospective purchaser, that the restaurant has an average turnover of £100,000 pa. To support his claim, Sneeze offers to show Innocence the accounts but Innocence declines the offer. However, had she inspected the accounts, she would have discovered that the true average turnover was only £50,000 pa.

Sneeze also tells Innocence that Cake, a well-known writer on food and drink, 'uses nothing but superlatives when writing about this place'. Unbeknown to Innocence though, what Cake has actually said about 'The Dead Dog' is that 'it is simply the dirtiest, nastiest, most fetid eating house in Britain.'

At the time of the negotiations, Sneeze also tells Innocence that he plans to retire from the restaurant business completely and take up flea farming instead.

Innocence agrees to purchase the restaurant for £500,000. Soon afterwards, she discovers that: (i) the claimed average turnover figure is inaccurate; (ii) Cake's well-publicised remarks, together with an outbreak of plague amongst the staff at the restaurant, have caused turnover to fall to nothing; and (iii) Sneeze has set up a rival business only 500 metres from 'The Dead Dog'.

Advise Innocence.

IV. 'Solle v. Butcher is indefensible as a matter of previous precedent, but a desirable development in English law.' Do you agree?

Appendix B

1. How much experience did you have with using electronic mail (email) before participating in your contract tutorials?

None = 11 (33%)

A Little = 11 (33%)

Some = 5 (15%)

Quite A Lot = 5 (15%)

A Lot = 1 (3%)

2. How much time did you spend preparing for your contract tutorials by comparison with normal tutorials in other subjects?

Much Less = 1 (3%)

Less = 8 (24%)

The Same = 18 (55%)

More = 6 (18%)

Much More = 0 (0%)

3. How helpful was the quiz part of the tutorial in identifying areas of difficulty with the tutorial topics?

Very Unhelpful = 1 (3%)

Unhelpful = 1 (3%)

So-so = 7 (21%)

Helpful = 18 (55%)

Very Helpful = 6 (18%)

4. How helpful was the face-to-face part of the tutorial in aiding your understanding of the tutorial topics?

Very Unhelpful = 2 (6%

Unhelpful = 0 (0%)

So-so = 5 (15%)

Helpful = 10 (30%)

Very Helpful = 16 (49%)

5. Where your contract tutor provided email follow up to the face-to-face part of the tutorial, how helpful was that follow up in aiding your understanding of the tutorial topics?

Very Unhelpful = 2 (6%)

Unhelpful = 0 (0%)

So-so = 5 (15%)

Helpful = 6 (18%)

Very Helpful = 20 (61%)

6. Taking the quiz, the face-to-face session and the follow up all together, how helpful did you find your contract tutorials by comparison with normal tutorials in other subjects?

Much Less = 0 (0%)

Less = 4 (12%)

The Same = 11 (33%)

More = 17 (52%)

Much More = 1 (3%)

7. How enjoyable did you find your contract tutorials by comparison with normal tutorials in other subjects?

Much Less = 0 (0%)

Less = 2 (6%)

The Same = 9 (27%)

More = 17 (52%)

Much More = 5 (15%)

8. Finally, please use the space below to write down any suggestions for improvement or any other positive/negative comments that you would like to make in relation to your contract tutorials.

Perhaps longer problem type questions to be given over email. All in all, I did enjoy the experiment. However, using computers in this way will not suit everyone.

The face-to-face part of the tutorial was so-so because it wasn't long enough. Half an hour is not enough. I think it would have been a lot better if in addition to the questionnaire the face-to-face part remains an hour long.

It would be much easier to send in email answers if undergraduates had access to the departmental computer room. The actual face-to-face part of the tutorial was not long enough to cover the questions. It would be better if this was extended to an hour or three quarters of an hour.

Although the email quiz was useful, I am not convinced it was an adequate replacement for the other 30 minutes face-to-face per se. Would it not better to have the quiz and 60 minutes face-to-face time? The Iolis software has some bugs in a variety of places, but these are only a minor irritation in what is generally a useful, clear and user-friendly package. The follow up emails have been very valuable as, realistically, there is seldom sufficient time to deal with all the issues raised in the necessary depth. They will be particularly useful for revision and as the technology is available it would be nice to see the practice of follow up emails extended to other subjects.

Email system encourages you to keep up with case work, much less room to avoid difficult areas as some of the questions required a lot of thought and reading up. Tutorials were more focused, though I often felt there wasn't enough time to cover everything and sometimes best use wasn't made of the 30 minutes. Having said that, the shorter tutorials are infinitely preferable and untedious [sic] compared with some of the full length ones.

Half an hour didn't seem long enough to go through both the questions, although follow up email was helpful. Sometimes would be good to look over the questions in the quiz. These questions were not actually discussed in tutorials. In the first term, answers were not actually always provided for the quiz in the email response.

For the first half with [the first tutor], he didn't always say which of the email answers you had got wrong which wasn't very helpful as you couldn't tell which were the problem areas. Neither did he say what the correct answer should be.

Maybe the face-to-face sessions should be slightly longer - about 45 minutes rather than half an hour so that both questions III and IV can property be answered - rather than sent by email.

The face-to-face part of the tutorial was definitely too short. There was not enough time to discuss issues - we always hurried though the questions during the face-to-face part. It was a good thing to have the opportunity to be able to contact the tutor regularly by email.

Would perhaps like one-to-one tutorials once or twice a term.

It was good to experience a different/alternative teaching method.

Sessions should possibly be 40 minutes as half an hour isn't sufficient to go over all the topics.

Negative: Not having to do speeches on the subject matter other than questions III or IV, as well as case notes. Both of them seem part of learning process. Improvement: Incorporate speeches and case notes by extending tutorial by 15 minutes.

The email is a good system but possibly allows less for the sound knowledge of cases.

I believe that this experimental tutorial is much better than a face-to-face tutorial with a person who is not your lecturer. But a face-to-face tutorial is much beneficial if taken by your lecturers.

I enjoyed the tutorial set up. Perhaps a few more general questions as well would help to increase understanding.

The email questions give a focus to reading, making study easier. Contract tutorials are the best for me because they have more focus and the issues are explained and dealt with in a clear and precise fashion (unlike tort, in particular). However, I do feel that the other, conventional contract groups get a valuable opportunity not afforded to we emailers, in that the question we do not do seems to cut to the heart of the issue - have I missed something by not having opinions of other, or having an opportunity to get my own views 'marked'?

Lack of computers makes it difficult to get the quiz in on time if you don't have access to a networked computer room in your college now that there is no department computer room. The outlines on the question not covered in the face-to-face tutorial were excellent in providing material for thought and allowed more time to be spent on each question.

I found the email very useful as it showed you how much you really understood of the topic areas.

I found that there was less opportunity to discuss the issues as there was only half an hour. I did not feel that I fully understood the issues. However, it may be more use to do quizzes after tutorials as a check but not for part of the tutorial. It has, however, made the tutors more accessible.

I found the Iolis sections particularly useful, especially in applying knowledge to problem situations. I was a little worried that we might be missing out on important work by not doing [one of the questions on the sheet for traditional tutorials] - it was then extra work to study this question in my own time and in addition to the quiz. We often ran out of time in tutorials on a number of occasions.

The quiz was very good because it ensured you understood the fundamental issues and [the second tutor's] follow ups are always very helpful. The way in which [the second tutor] concentrates on one question in the face-to-face and then the other in follow up mail is very useful and probably the best method of teaching in tutorials.

The quiz was very helpful in pointing out the main points of each topic; helped to focus in lectures as well (on what to look out for).

The quiz was helpful in getting me to look at and think about my research and notes but it was not a substitute for face-to-face. The email follow ups to tutorial questions were very useful. I felt email was helpful and worthwhile but I would have appreciated more time face-to-face.

Simply keep the email tutorials, but at the same time restore the half [hour] face-to-face part of the tutorial back up to its full hour. Replace the email quiz with an email essay style question. Toughen up the quiz questions (they are too easy).

The thirty minute tutorial is not really sufficient to go over the problems set. The emailing [of the quiz answers] is difficult when the lectures are not in time with the due date for the sending. Although email is good for learning specific points; you just have to look for that specific answer and so don't really necessarily follow the topic it covers.

I definitely feel that the follow-up email was very helpful, because it is much clearer than trying to make notes from a discussion.


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[1] See the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme Web site at: <>

[2] More information about Iolis can be found at The Law Courseware Consortium Web site at:

[3] See, for example, the Vicarious Learning Web Site at:

[4] In a separate survey undertaken in 1996/7, contract law students were asked whether they had used email before beginning their studies at Durham. Of the 89 students who responded, 26 students (29%) said that they had. When asked whether they had used email in connection with their studies since coming to Durham, 74 students (83%) indicated that they had.

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