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JILT 1998 (2) - Herberger et al.

Collaborative Learning via WWW in Legal Education

Prof. Maximilian Herberger
Friedrich Scheuermann
Iris Kauffmann
Institute for Law and Computer Sciences
Universität des Saarlandes

1. Introduction
2. Didactics
3. Development of the Course
4. The Structure of the Course
5. Technical Realisation
6. Personnel and Other Resources
7. System Interface
8. Evaluation of the Summer Term 1997 On-line Course
  8.1 Application, participants and drop-outs
  8.2 Student Results
  8.3 Activities
  8.4 Individual Activities
  8.5 Student Evaluation and Statistical Evaluation
9. Comparison to Ordinary Courses
10. This Years International On-line Course
11. Conclusion

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Distance learning via WWW is a new field for higher education. New media require different styles of conveying knowledge; they raise questions about which didactic methods are applicable to Web-based teaching. New methods also demand intensified preparation. The on-line seminars of the 'Institut für Rechtsinformatik' (Institute for Law and Computer Sciences, ILCS) of the Universität des Saarlandes have proven to be far more time and personnel intensive than regular courses, but they open up new possibilities for students and teachers; and permit easier interdisciplinary and international collaboration. In today's world, international orientation is welcome and necessary- not only for students as the evaluation of the courses shows. Our courses evaluation also suggests that students really value teaching \ learning which allows them to study independent of a specific time or place. The development of on-line courses presents many new problems for teachers. One of the problems of on-line courses is their customisation. To develop an approach that is both efficient and effective, special attention has to be given to the users' needs in regard to existing computer skills and the course objective (questions of content). One advantage of on-line courses, compared to learning by CD-ROM, is the possibility of communication and exchange of knowledge between students and educators which also brings them closer to 'real life' teaching. This article seeks to present basic thoughts about the construction of on-line courses. As an example, the structure and content of the on-line course given in the summer term 1997 will be described identifying some problems specific to on-line courses and how they might be resolved in future courses.

Keywords: distance education – legal education - on-line courses – computer-aided communication

This is a Refereed Article published on 30 June 1998.

Citation: Herberger M et al, 'Collaborative Learning via WWW in Legal Education', 1998 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.

1. Introduction

For the past few years, the ILCS of the Universität des Saarlandes has been trying to develop new concepts for teaching and learning that could be used for educating students in their field of studies. New information and communication technologies have become increasingly important. This may be explained by their potential but also by the growing insufficiencies of German universities. On the Internet, you can inexpensively find a wide range of information and then also make it available to other people. To make knowledge available was the goal of the ILCS and the reason why the internationally respected 'Legal Internet Project', a multilingual information system for legal on-line resources, was created

Following this, the next step was to deliver courses via the Internet. With some financial support from the university, a system was developed that made it possible to develop and deliver a course using WWW technology. This relied on experiences from the organisation of other Internet-based courses. In the summer term 1997 and winter term 1997/98 two seminars with identical course objectives ('scientific work on the Internet') were offered. One was offered by the ILCS for students of Law; the other by the English Department open to an international audience. The first one was held in German, the second one in English. All information, including course activities (which have been made anonymous), and previous courses, are publicly available on the WWW.

2. Didactics

The search for appropriate methods to improve learning processes and testing has to be seen in connection with technical, organisational and economic factors (Seel, 1991). When discussing multimedia, the issue of media integration needs to be considered, to which no conclusive answers have been found yet (Wingert and Riehm,1996, p145 1991).

Currently, it is trendy to connect didactic concepts to learning theories of constructivism according to which knowledge is constructed individually (Shuell, 1996; Schulmeister,1996). Consequently, more effort has to be directed toward the development of useful learning environments for acquiring knowledge. This leads to a new definition of the role of both teachers and learners. Professors become 'hosts' or mediators, and learners need to adapt to actively and independently seeking for relevant information on their own. Within the realms of Web-based teaching and learning you no longer speak of 'conducting classes' because it refers strongly to 'outdated' behaviouristic and teacher-focused approaches.

The call for more individual encouragement and flexible teaching approaches make constructivistic methods very interesting because they consider user needs in the context of their individual background, e.g. specific job-related needs. Except for some text documents, which might serve as a basis for discussion, no other material is given to the learner. All the material needed can be found on the WWW and is retrievable by the individual. Group work is frequently used because it supports the notion of learning as the result of social interaction (Reinmann-Rothmeier and Mandl, 1994). It also provides the possibility to further differentiate individual skills and needs by the formation of sub-groups. Studies have also shown that participants create mental models of their communication partners and adapt their social behaviour if they expect a longer term interaction (Walther, 1993). It is no surprise that interaction between individuals, as well as motivation, is an issue that is often discussed when creating an efficient on-line course concept.

3. Development of the Course

How should on-line courses be organised so that legal education can take place on the Internet? Based on existing didactic knowledge a concept was developed that would meet the needs of users at the Universität des Saarlandes and it has already been extended to international users for current courses. What led to this development and the adjustments that had to be made will be discussed later.

Whereas learning by material on disc or CD ROM is already an accepted means of self-education, comparatively little use is currently made of the Internet as a means of distributing educational offerings. Accordingly, there is little experience available of how to do it. The starting point for the on-line courses was that one important feature for quality teaching in real life higher education is the dialogue and the availability of information. Because of decreasing funds, the supply of ready information in the libraries is becoming a serious concern. The Internet can help bridge the gap and support scholarly exchanges if interactive participation is made the main principle of a course's organisation. Making it a requirement for the course participants had a great impact on the design of the course. It was seen to be of general importance that the students have to learn where to find useful information and therefore also have to develop the ability to use the Internet. Therefore, the following aims were seen as goals to be achieved in an on-line course:

  • getting practical experience in how to use Internet services, e.g. WWW, Telnet, FTP, IRC, Newsgroups, etc.
  • finding legal information sources on the Internet, e.g. mailing lists and USENET, and evaluating them according to their content quality, timeliness and relevance
  • learning how to use the Internet for scientific work

To incorporate these requirements, the seminar was divided into several phases in which the different objectives were practised.

Phase 1 (Introduction):

The introductory phase was not evaluated. It offered the participants the opportunity to access and to try out the learning interface and software and to resolve any technical problems. They had to give information on themselves and their hobbies on a form which was provided. This way, the participants got to know each other and no repeated presentations were necessary.

Phase 2 (Technology):

Following the online-literature at hand, participants were expected to familiarise themselves with relevant knowledge necessary for using the Internet. The HTML-workshop enabled people to discuss problems which occurred while trying to create a HTML-document, a task given at the beginning of this phase.

Phase 3 (Search for information):

Here, the focus is on the question of what technological potential the Internet provides for searching information. Other questions to be discussed were how the Internet could be integrated into the methods of the user's own scientific work and what it offered for everyday (student) life?

Phase 4 (Evaluation):

In addition to evaluating relevant resources in the WWW on legal matters, helpful tools for legal work in the Internet were discussed.

Phase 5 (Legal matters):

In this final phase a legal problem closely linked to the Internet was given for discussion (e.g. legal problems of hyperlinks).

The phases differ according to their content, the type of assignments and the way of their solution. At the beginning, primarily technological concerns are being dealt with, but in the course of the seminar the emphasis shifts to the evaluation of the potential for users and the usefulness for scientific work.

4. The Structure of the Course

The didactic concept was developed according to its goals (getting Internet knowledge and user competence). The structure was designed to be open and flexible to accommodate the user's needs more effectively and promptly. This allows participants from other departments to benefit from this course, as well. Since Internet competence is becoming a key skill in today's working environment one aim of the course was to develop this competence. The modular character supports flexible structures by allowing different modules to be taken out of one context and put into the other. The adjustment of content is fairly easy and allows for variable use of modules at different points in time. This is especially important for courses where the content has to be updated on a regular basis.

Reports concerning the didactic design of the learning environment are available but they usually don't describe in detail what steps were taken. In addition, it should not be forgotten that the concepts depend heavily on their context and might serve different purposes only partly. We describe in detail the necessary steps taken in the development of these on-line courses in detail, in order to illustrate the main considerations in designing an on-line course. The experiences of other on-line course projects were very valuable in the construction of this course e.g. by the Department of Pedagogical Psychology and Empirical Pedagogy in Munich (Nistor, 1996; Bruhn, Gräsel, Mandl and Fischer, 1998).

The most important principles for the course were:

  1. Technical barriers have to be overcome as much as possible. The user must not be distracted from being able to concentrate on the content of the course.
  2. Openness toward location and time, i.e. the courses should not be limited to one place but long range collaboration between other educational institutions should be initiated. There is no restriction on the time spent on the seminar, i.e. no specific hours have to be observed. There is only a general requirement of on-line time, i.e. active participation is demanded.
  3. No learning material is distributed. Only some links for basic material are available in the on-line library. The participants have to find the rest of their material on the Internet (help is given where needed, of course, by the online team or by other participants).
  4. There has to be a variety of methods to actively contribute to the course.
  5. The assignments mainly involve group work.. Therefore the necessary structures for intensive communication have to be available. That includes the technical side as well as the motivational side. Group work is part of every phase (except for the introductory phase). The groups usually consist of 5-7 people, at the beginning of each phase each group is reorganised to contain different members to stimulate the communication at a broad level. Assignments are announced shortly before every new phase.
  6. People who have a problem with group work or the discussions can make up for their deficits by handing in individual work. This includes for example the design of an HTML page.
  7. Evaluation has been given great attention since the didactic implementation and the technical concept still leave open questions. To promote feedback and consequently to be able to adjust or expand the course concept, questionnaires are sent out. The relevant data is collected in a variety of ways by analysing the contributions and the evaluation of the course assignments. This data provides the basis for the accumulative and formative evaluation. The questionnaires are designed to capture data that cannot be gathered by only interpreting data tracks, i.e. data generated by the on-line activities of users.

Theoretical and empirical studies suggests that learning results will be improved if students have to actively work on their study materials in a social setting (Bruhn, Gräsel, Mandl and Fischer, 1998). This didactic concept based on group learning needs communication and that is why all participants are requested to check their e-mail boxes regularly and why log-in times are included in the evaluation. Participants were reminded that e-mail communication with other students and with the organising team was preferable to ensure that other remote participants of their group would benefit from the discussion which would otherwise be opaque to them. Amongst local students some face-to-face communication did occur, however. Tasks to be managed in a group included:

  • Searching the Internet for valuable resources concerning subjects related to law, useful addresses and resources with the help of search engines
  • Conducting research in literature databases
  • Looking through electronic journals
  • Submitting questions to a panel of experts through list servers.

The Internet contains a wide variety of material and by processing it new material develops and is made available to fellow students. Skills pertaining to electronic publishing in the WWW are developed as a result of presenting the findings of each group in the required document format, i.e. HTML. Instead of the usual 'head-of -the-classroom' teaching style, this concept allows and supports independent findings and working on knowledge fields on the Internet. The acquired new knowledge is further reinforced when the findings have to be presented to the other students in an intelligent way.

In the summer term 1997 topics for such group work were:

  • Potential of the Internet - What tools, functions, services and further possibilities are offered by the Internet?' (Technology)
  • 'Information and communication systems of the Internet - What use does the Internet have for everyday legal work with special consideration of mailing lists and newsgroups?' (Analysis of existing offers)
  • 'In what way does the Internet influence 'legal culture'?' (Research topic)

Parallel to this, two on-line conferences concerning copyright issues and legal assessment of hyperlinks were held that could be discussed in discussion forums. The asynchronous conferences made it possible for topic specific discussions to go on outside of group boundaries. At the end of the seminar, a critical on-line chat session was held to provide experience of the potential of the synchronous exchange of opinions.

At the very end of the course, there was an on-line exam with both search and multiple choice tasks. The tasks referred back to material covered throughout the course. The results of each completed assignment were evaluated as they were solved. The evaluation followed the credit-point-system where a maximum of 20 points could be obtained. Students of the Universität des Saarlandes get their points transferred to match the university's grading system so that they can get a 'seventh credit' which is accepted as part of the necessary prerequisites for the state legal examination.

The participants were asked to give a written evaluation at the end of each phase. In addition to that, a separate session was held to exchange opinions on the course and the events of the course. This evaluation has proven to be very helpful for the improvement of the course.

5. Technical Realisation

For the technical realisation the following principles were set:

  • the interface has to be easy to use
  • navigational tools have to enable easy orientation
  • time taken for development and programming must be kept to a minimum
  • the call-up of pages has to be easy and quick; no memory intensive processes should be initiated by the call-up of a page.

All activities in the on-line course are based on the WWW. For the development of the learning environment and the setting up of appropriate structures an Apache server was installed on a computer with a LINUX operating system. For the creation and adjustment of program applications (Scripts) Perl (version 5) was used which is available free of charge. The advantage of the program lies in the combination of easy, understandable and stable syntax on the one hand, and high achievement in the word processing realm on the other hand. To ensure a quick call-up of the pages, no frames were used and the graphics were carefully selected so that they would need very little transfer capacity.

6. Personnel and Other Resources

The organisation of on-line courses definitely takes more time than ordinary courses. For the on-line courses of the summer term 1997, one professor, one assistant, two student assistants and several volunteer helpers were involved in the project both before the start and throughout the course. The technical work included the designing and programming of the course, the processing of the registrations, including distribution of logins and passwords before the actual start and then the publishing of the task and the associated information on the Internet. Preparation also includes the finding and evaluation of Internet material - time consuming work. The text of the different messages (e.g. registration receipt) and the on-line course in general have to be made available in German and English. Co-ordination work of the publishing of group results and the publishing of each new task should not be underestimated. The incoming statistical data from registration has to be analysed to get an accurate assessment of the participants, e.g. gender mixture, fields of studies and skills. The data of the previous courses has to be processed to ensure the anonymity of the participants and then made available to the public on the Internet. The mailing lists for the new team members, the core team and new volunteers also have to be set up. These are only a few examples of the different 'chores' that need to be taken care of.

Since the entire communication process is based on e-mails, a system for responding to requests, problems or comments has to be established and implemented, i.e. the e-mails not only have to be monitored but also answered.

In the winter term 1997/98, on average, about 25 e-mails per day were generated between the 50 participants of the one course; approximately 20 messages per day were sent from the participants to the organisers, and an average of 30 messages per day were sent within the organising team. Overall, with only 50 participants approximately 75 e-mails per day had to be processed (read, forwarded, checked, answered, saved). The number of e-mails varied with the type of assignment. In the group work phase, the number of messages among participants was usually higher and during the phase with the technical assignments, the number of e-mails to the course organisers rose.

7. System Interface

The system has both public and private areas. In order to access the private area each participant must be registered on the seminar. All information that doesn't require a special log-in is considered public. That includes the following categories:

  • Information (external access only): Here, interested WWW-users can get information about the content of the course, teaching methods, dates and registration procedures.
  • Café: The 'Café' serves as a general 'meeting' place where interested people can exchange opinions and thoughts about any topic they like in a relaxed atmosphere. Non-registered people who are interested can access at their leisure.
  • Conference: The 'Conference' deals with specific topics. Generally, it is directed by the course instructors over a period of 3-4 weeks.

To be able to use the private area of the course, users need to be registered and have a log-in name and a password. This keeps the on-going discussions protected from unauthorised access. There are additional categories available for undisturbed interactions and exchange of opinions among the groups apart from the café. Passwords enable access to the 'Information' pages in the private area including current information, overviews (dates, current results etc.) and descriptions of how to go about your work and what formalities have to be observed. Similarly, 'Presentation' contains all groups results, which can be viewed, and the 'Library' contains relevant literature, WWW-links and helpful tools that are necessary for the assignment or just of general interest. The participants may also leave their own references there.


8. Evaluation of the Summer Term 1997 On-line Course

The evaluation of the data retrieved from course activities and Internet-based statistics that were analysed in a number of ways were valuable tools for the assessment of user behaviour and success of the course. Additional data was retrieved from students' written reports and the four questionnaires sent out in the course of the seminar. This method has been very efficient since a large proportion of the data could be automatically transferred to the relevant evaluation programs and no manual transferring was necessary. Additive, formative and other accepted methods of evaluation can be equally applied and combined .

The evaluation of the course activities and course success shows the following results:

8.1 Application, participants and drop-outs

In the 1997 summer term, twenty-nine students of the Universität des Saarlandes registered with the German on-line seminar. Since the course was offered by the Law Faculty, the majority of the participants were law students. The interest from students of other departments was so impressive that exceptions were made. The parallel seminar offered by the English Department did not concentrate on legal issues but was more culturally oriented. The number of participating students was 77. They were from various countries. The general results were comparable but will not be listed here because the course was not law-related.

The registration showed the following user profile:

  • Gender: no specific differences, 50 per cent male/ female
  • Reason for participation: relevant for studies: 52 per cent, no reason given: 45 per cent
  • Availability of workstation at home: 90 per cent
  • Existing skills (range medium-good):
  • Computer knowledge: 80 per cent of all participants, word processing 97 per cent
  • Usage of on-line system, e.g. legal databases: 41 per cent
  • Internet knowledge: 72 per cent (WWW 72 per cent, e-mail 80 per cent)
  • On-line research (Internet): 62 per cent
  • HTML knowledge: 3 per cent

The existing skills and the level of knowledge of the Internet were already high before the start of the course. This is not typical for German law students. An explanation might be that this kind of seminar attracts those who already use the computer for their daily work. Compared to other Internet courses (e.g. for English students - course on how to use the Internet for their work), which involve personal attendance of the students, this is a significant difference.

The low drop-out quota is also not typical. This can be interpreted favourably for the concept of the course, i.e. students seem to prefer the on-line course over other course offers at their department. Only two people cancelled their participation for personal reasons (other exams, shortage of time).

8.2. Student Results

The results of student activities were very satisfying for the organisers. Overall, a high level of achievement was reached which was probably partly due to the high prior knowledge of the students. A majority of the students finished the course with a good grade (US = A-/B level). The submitted assignments fulfilled the expectations and even went way beyond them sometimes. The creation of the document in HTML format presented a problem for only a few participants.

The evaluation itself was not different from ordinary courses. Every interested person could find the points given for the different types of work under 'Information' and there under 'Evaluation'. The making of precise questions and the correction of the test didn't involve more thinking than for ordinary courses. Additional work occurred only because tests, quizzes etc. had to be made available on the Internet.

Each circle stood for a point. The colour of it indicated what it had been awarded for. The red circles containing a number were for group work and the number inside of the circle was the group's number. The blue was for activities, the grey one for an individual essay, the white one for participation in the conference, the yellow for a passed final exam and finally, the green one for an extra point. The example shows only the standing of a few participants.

8.3. Activities

Group discussions went very well at the end of each group phase. Even though the discussions developed only slowly at the beginning no interference from the course team was necessary. A characteristic of the discussion, was that before the assignment could actually be worked on organisational questions had to be solved first like who would be responsible for which part of the assignment or how the different steps had to be co-ordinated. Generally, the discussions among participants were goal-oriented, constructive and polite. No basic difference between female or male student interaction was noticed but admittedly, this was no real concern in the summer term 1997. In the winter semester, there was one all male and one all female group. They did not differ in their results but both groups complained about being in a unisexual group. These results are not publicly available yet.

Consequently, the current groups are put together based on the existing skills, language knowledge, age, and their location. The aim is to have an even mix of all these criteria in the group. This should help to keep the communicational motivation high and also to ensure that the assignment can be completed without too much interference from the on-line team.

8.4. Individual Activities

Since the solving of an individual assignment was voluntary, high participation wasn't expected. Only two participants did a presentation on a given topic.

8.5. Student Evaluation and Statistical Evaluation

The students were periodically asked about their opinion on the ongoing course. The results were positive. The personal workload during the course was judged to be high to very high by the majority of the participants (72 per cent). Most students checked the learning environment daily for new messages.

Although 90 percent of the students had said that a workstation was available at home, about 56 per cent participated from one of the university's computer labs and only 44 per cent did their work at home. This might be explained by the fact that telephone costs of research on the Internet are covered by the university if the computer labs are used. This is reflected by the following table, which shows from where the access to the on-line seminar was made:

Access type Accessed by No. of accesses Description
At the university (internal access) JurCIP-computer: 9705 Computer lab (CIP) of Faculty of Law
other university access: 471 Other CIPs or work places at the university
outside of uni (External access) Uni-Ascend: 7410 Using the modem access possibility of university
Remote access: 3294 Via other Internet-Service-Provider

Table 1: Access types

The number of accesses made was calculated by a program. The data used for evaluation included the source of request (IP-address), log-in name, date and time, GET and POST and which page or script was accessed. The table shows a pattern where most accesses were made around noon with fewer accesses in the early morning hours and slight rise after 8p.m.

Accesses per weekday
and time period (total)
Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su Explanation
00:00:00 - 05:29:59 162 188 184 222 285 80 54 Cheapest phone fees
05:30:00 - 08:29:59 62 11 97 72 52 29 3 Get-up time, still cheap fees
08:30:00 - 11:29:59 913 576 370 740 913 87 66 Main lecture time
11:30:00 - 14:29:59 1081 1021 767 1145 952 320 160 Lunch break
14:30:00 - 17:29:59 905 1289 749 807 680 125 202 Main lecture time
17:30:00 - 20:29:59 718 484 380 511 530 101 113 Last lecture, computer labs are closed
20:30:00 - 23:59:59 601 471 352 657 240 209 143 At 9pm phone fees are cheaper again
Total: 4442 4040 2899 4154 3652 951 741 .

Table 2: Absolute distribution of accesses per weekday at certain periods of time (in total)

The overall peak on Tuesday around 3 p.m. is due to the fact that this is the time where the on-line course was listed in the catalogue and the students hadn't planned on other classes at that time. The generally higher participation on Monday has to be due to the e-mails and messages which occurred during the weekend. It can be expected that this pattern will change this year because of the involvement of international participants who will be in different time zones. The differences in times of participation are one reason why the chat sessions are optional.

With the help of questionnaires, feedback on the quality of the course and its components was obtained. The following aspects of the course scored well with the students:

  • fun participating: 92 per cent
  • course concept in each phase (64 per cent) and the duration of each phase (60 per cent)
  • conferences, especially the one on copyrights (63 per cent)
  • hosting of discussions and conferences by the course organisers (70-80 per cent)

Apparently, no problems with the environment existed as indicated by good scores for all elements included in the questionnaires. Some aspects of the environment received very high scores:

  • orientation and navigation on the course surface (84 per cent)
  • structure (80 per cent)
  • separation of public and non-public area (92 per cent)
  • design (68 per cent)
  • information (76 per cent)
  • other items of the learning environment, e.g. café, library, etc., (70 -80 per cent)

Learning successes/ improvement of knowledge were given the following weighting:

  • usage of WWW in general (48 per cent)
  • confident usage of the Internet (84 per cent)
  • usage of WWW search tools (54 per cent)
  • usage of newsgroups (54 per cent)
  • usage of the Internet for studies (68 per cent)
  • Web-based group work (84 per cent)
  • legal topics (52 per cent)

A vast majority found the WWW to be a useful tool for their work (81 per cent). Additionally, 96 per cent of the participants thought that on-line courses should be offered in the future. More than half of them (54 per cent) were against on-line courses that also require personal presence. 88 per cent of the participants were hoping that the ILCS would offer more on-line courses.

9. Comparison to Ordinary Courses

To guarantee the successful continuance of the course, the participants have to be actively involved in the course. They have to be motivated because drop-outs affect the work of the remaining group members and can affect all members of the course. In ordinary classes it is easier for the professor or course instructor to detect a lack of motivation and react to it immediately. Effective measures are changes in rhetorical style or direct addressing of the remaining participants. In an on-line scenario where only electronic communication is possible the course instructor doesn't have many options. The remaining participants can still be addressed but something like the entertaining value of a course instructor cannot be used to increase the motivation of the participants.

Another factor that usually keeps students active is extrinsic motivation, such as the fact that the course is required for graduation. Otherwise the typical behaviour for non-required courses sets in: lesser participation and decreasing attention during the seminar. The on-line courses offered by the Faculty of Law were and are still optional courses and there, too, typical behaviour could be noticed. The lessening of attention became apparent by fewer entries in discussions and a less accurate reading of messages.

Similar observations were made in other on-line courses, i.e. the TeleTeaching-Projekt Heidelberg/Mannheim (Geyer, Eckert and Effelsberg, 1998). Although students thought favourably about the continuance of the courses, the participation lessened at the end of each term. The main reason given was other exams. Since there was no real pressure on the students to complete the course, it was very hard to persuade them to invest the time and finish the course successfully.

To keep the motivation high, the communication factor has to be emphasised and interaction has to be integrated into the didactic concept as a key factor for a successful on-line course. Both the participants and the on-line team have to be quick to react to messages and e-mails to avoid frustration on the participant's part. Interaction becomes measurable by the amount of exchanged e-mails and the references made to previous messages. Valuable for the course of the seminar are those exchanges that add to the course, i.e. the solving of an assignment. To get a picture of the thematic variety of the discussion you can compare the messages left in the café of this year's course. If the personal mailbox is checked only once a week, this automatically represents a barrier for interaction and therefore for the course because the group work's evolutionary development depends on the frequent exchange of knowledge and information. To ensure effective organisation, a kind of 'on-line presence' is required - all the more because the asynchronous character of this type of exchange makes communication harder. If participation is not registered for 7 days, a message asking for reasons is automatically sent.

E-mail as a technical means for communication results in different communicative behaviour compared to face-to-face conversations. Not only is the form different but also the content. Everybody gets an equal chance to participate since there is no time limitation as there would be in an ordinary course, e.g. one class hour. The asynchronous exchange of messages leaves enough time for everyone to send a comment on a message or a task, however this can have a negative effect on task management. In theory, the result should be an even amount of messages from every participant. This is not the case as you can see from the group results of the summer term 1997. The nature of the communication process resulted in the formation of structured relationships between participants. That is. relationships between people were formed where one represented the expert and the other the student. In the chat session the difference of communication style became evident. Some expressions that were used would have been acceptable in speaking but in writing they looked very offensive and some of the remarks were misleading. According to Reid's article Electropolis: Communication and Community On Internet Relay Chat (1991) this change of behaviour is due to the anonymity of the participants, i.e. although names were given there was no real personal connection, only a virtual one. The absence of direct visual or audible reactions, which are important clues for correct or incorrect behaviour in face-to-face communication, make it necessary to find new ways for this kind of feedback. She concludes that 'Protected by the anonymity of the computer medium, and the few social context cues to indicate 'proper' ways to behave, users are able to express and experiment with aspects of their personality that social inhibitions would generally encourage them to suppress' and she continues that it also gives more freedom to people and enables them to open up (1991, pp10-11). A question to find out whether this aspect of the course was a reason for participating or not was not directly incorporated into the questionnaire. But the reasons given for dropping out have not indicated that electronic communication was perceived negatively. The general response was positive, as has been said before.

Work processes in an on-line course require a certain learning and working behaviour. It is necessary that participants have basic knowledge of how to use the Internet. Next to being self-disciplined in spending the required amount of time on the Internet, participating in group work also has to be learned. It is important to observe the set of rules given by the organisers of the team, e.g. the immediate information of the group members and course organisers in case of cancellation of participation.

The role of the professors and course instructors changes, too. They have to be on-line hosts and advisers. The appropriate competencies, e.g. to be able to give technical support and to fulfil general advisory functions via e-mail, have to be developed. This year, an e-mail guideline was send out to those who wanted to be moderators to help them to adapt to the new medium. Professors or course instructors also have to adapt to working in teams. They will usually depend on some kind of specialist. Regular office hours or class schedules might become 24 hour days for seven days a week. One reason is that compared to ordinary courses much more time has to be spent on organisational tasks and contemplation about didactic problems.

10. This Years International On-line Course

Whereas the previous on-line courses of the ILCS were aimed at law students of the Universität des Saarlandes, the interest from other departments and universities brought about a big change in the course structure. The new course 'Law-related work on the Internet' is designed for international users. There were no limitations on the number of participants. 181 people registered for the course; 125 are male and 55 female. Students still make up the majority of the group (144 people) but 70 of them also said that they had a regular occupation. 95 participants are from Germany, 28 from USA and the remaining people come from Great Britain, Sweden, Spain, Austria and Peru. New in this course is the possibility to participate as a 'guest'. That means that participants receive a log-in name and password so that they can also enter the non-public areas but they are not expected to do any course work and don't get a certification at the end. The possibility to audit the course was incorporated to enable those participants to take part in the course that have either already participated in a course or are interested but have only very little time available. That way, group work can proceed as planned and fewer group adjustments have to be made later.

Further changes in the course concept affect the presentation of information on the course.

All screens are in German and English. Course communication can be held in German or English depending on the participant's choice. 121 people opted for English. The possible language barrier is further lessened by the fact that a button for translating messages was integrated into the course interface.

This term, the participants can also use a chat-room to experience synchronous communication for their personal enjoyment or for faster problem solving. If they are technically equipped they can take full advantage of the opportunity to hold a video conference. These are features that are not used by most of the participants on a regular basis and they were integrated into the course to show the variable use that can be made of the Internet.

To keep motivation high and to give students the opportunity to be more creative, the required HTML-page had to be designed without a given form, but only with guidelines. During the HTML workshop participants learn with the help of on-line literature and the help of their fellow students how to create their page from scratch. So far, the discussion is lively and successful. They also have to complete 11 quizzes, one each week to practice the knowledge they have acquired. As a motivational highlight, students take part in a design competition. They have to design a web-page and the best page will be chosen by the students themselves at the end of the course.

If you compare this years course schedule to that of the last semester you will find that the number of weeks was shortened to 10 weeks but that the work load and course activities were increased. Reasons for this were again motivational considerations. Different type of assignments keep students interested and busy. It is easier to motivate participants to continue to be active than to reactivate them. To make participants aware of the importance of their participation, they have to acknowledge that participation is required when they register for the course. During the course, an automatic message is sent out when a participants has not been active for seven days and is asked if he/she still wants to participate in the course. Up to now, participants thus contacted did not object to these messages.

Because of the new features, such as the quizzes and the design competition, more technical adjustments had to be made which in return increased the amount of organisational work that needed to be done. It is to be expected that the number of e-mails to be processed will increase considerably. Fortunately, the number of volunteers has also risen – including some 'ex-participants' who will act as moderators for the coming conferences. Just recently , a new team member was found on the Internet. While searching for new quiz questions, the creator of the questions discovered was persuaded to become the new quiz master for this on-line course.

11. Conclusion

The participants of the on-line courses voted for a continuance of the courses and generally liked this way of learning. They stated that is was necessary for their work as lawyers to know the potential of the Internet and how to use it. They enjoyed the group work and were willing to spend a lot of time and some money (telephone fees) on the completion of their assignment. In fact, some liked it so much that they volunteered to act as moderators for this year's course. Likewise, the organisers of the courses were all working beyond the times given in their contracts. The willingness to expand the boundaries of cross-border courses that require personal attendance to the possibilities offered by the use of the Internet is there on both sides.

The on-line courses in Saarbrücken have shown that an effective concept has to be flexible and depends on the volunteer work of the people involved because otherwise it would not be affordable at this point in time. The financial aspects could be solved if a fee was to be charged for the course. This is not possible yet, because current university structures in Germany don't allow this. More money could also mean the implementation of both very specialised and integrative courses, e.g. comparative study courses. The intercultural aspect of these courses was already apparent in the English courses but also influenced questions of the law-related quizzes and assignments. This years design competition is geared towards an international group. Participants are asked to design a homepage for Hugo Grotius, a truly international project, as we think. The Internet facilitates the often requested inter-institutional and international co-operation. By attending on-line courses valuable contacts can be established, either for future courses or for different projects.

Prerequisites to a more global education are the will to try out new ways and to search for and try out new options, sometimes it also means to part from old and known structures. It also means that new roles have to be accepted by students and professors. Especially the on-line instructor/organiser position requires new or broadened qualifications. Consequently, the time put into the development of course concepts, the testing of didactic methods and the effective management of the organisational tasks will remain high. The reward for conducting the courses in Saarbrücken was a community of interested and enthusiastic students and helpers. The results of the current international law related on-line course will give further information on how valuable this exchange can be.


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'Legal Internet Project', Universität des Saarlandes <>

Online-Seminar "Internet", Winter term 1997/98 <>

Online Internet Seminar, Summer term 1997 <>





Welcome to the international Online-Seminar "Law-related work on the Internet" <>


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