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JILT 1999 (2) - Paul Maharg

14th Annual BILETA Conference - CYBERSPACE 1999:
Crime, Criminal Justice and the Internet

Review of CAL Stream

Reviewed by
Dr Paul Maharg
Law School
University of Strathclyde
paul.maharg@strath.ac.uk


The CAL stream this year was less a single stream, more a number of rivulets in different sessions. It began with a workshop on the implementation of CAL. The workshop was chaired by Paul Maharg and was led by Dr Erica MacAteer, a lecturer in the University of Glasgow's Teaching and Learning Service with experience in the development, evaluation and implementation of computer assisted learning materials across a range of disciplines.

The TLTP and other CAL initiatives have provided the legal academic community with a range of resources and tools for enhancing student learning in law. Their presence raises issues of implementation for staff. How should we use courseware in the context of more traditional forms of teaching and learning? What difference will it make to our students' learning to embed electronic learning resources alongside lectures and tutorials? How do other disciplines use courseware similar to our own? Above all, how do we use courseware to help us teach more effectively? This workshop explored some of these issues in the modest amount of time available. Although it focused primarily on implementation of courseware, and considered this in the light of the potential support role of more generic C&IT resources within the teaching of Law, a number of related issues were discussed. Some participants were keen to discuss implementation of distance-learning strategies in their institutions, and in the discussion of these revealed the importance of matching hardware capabilities to educational aims.

In his paper 'Both the Problem and its Solution? The Scope for Communications and Information Technology in Legal Education' Abdul Paliwala surveyed some of the theory applicable to law and IT, covering areas such as interactivity, electronic conversations and simulations (observing nicely that 'the issue of communication becomes that of the art of management'), and issued health warnings along the way to the theory-obsessed, the techno-dazzled. The frame of his paper was the fictional example of a Zambian student who studies law at MacMurdoch Global U., based in Cambridge MASS. 'At' is precisely the wrong word, of course, for Maria's course is internet-based, and Paliwala's wide-ranging paper explores the ramifications of this globalisation of legal study, not only for legal education per se , but for the promotion of 'legal cultural values which are appropriate for the local culture'. His conclusion, that 'localisation of learning succeed depends as much on political and economic factors as on educational ones' echoed some of the practical economic issues raised in the CAL workshop.

Robin Widdison's 'Computerising Legal Education: What Next?' was, like Paliwala's, a future-oriented paper, focusing on how CAL and CMC might be developed in the medium- to long-term in legal studies. Prediction is always a dangerous game, particularly in the field of information technology, but Widdison was prepared to go as far as predicting the increase of both interactive open learning materials (mentioning IOLIS in particular), and simulation games. He envisages that, with government pump priming of the sort given to the TLTP programme, simulations will move to centre-stage, with the vacant wings filled by 'virtual law tutors' - intelligent agents, capable of responding to students directly, which will 'mould itself exactly to the intellectual ability, psychological learning type, and academic progress of the individual student which it is assigned to serve' Whether funding on a TLTP scale will ever be available to HE again, of course, is quite another question. I tend to agree with Tony Bradney's recent description in the SPTL Reporter of government policy regarding HE as having 'the intellectual depth of a shopping list written on the back of a used envelope', and that this does not bode well for future funding initiatives.

Some CAL papers appeared in the 'Law and Information Technology' sessions. Ronald Leenes reviewed dialogue systems that used AI techniques. In particular he focused on a legal dialogue game (DiaLaw) and compare this model to a specific type of legal procedure, namely Dutch civil summons procedure. His paper outlined the procedure and described in careful and helpful detail how DiaLaw implemented this within the context of a dialogue between two parties. While noting that general models of legal reasoning and dialectics such as DiaLaw 'do insufficient justice to the characteristics of actual legal procedures', and that improvements could be made by researching a better 'typology of locutions', he nevertheless concluded that dialogue games do 'offer a promising way to study legal argument'. His paper presented one version of the use of AI in legal education that contrasted with another version presented in the panel entitled 'Beyond Law as a System of Rules: Getting IT Right', namely Peter Alldridge's 'Does C&IT facilitate the Wrong Things?', Philip Leith's 'Algorithms, Diagrams and Legal Formalism', Cyrus Tata's 'Making Sense of Disappointment in Computers & Law: Applications to 'Support' Substantive Legal Decision-Making' and Maharg's 'Law, Learning, Technology: Reiving Ower the Borders'. The contrasting discussions gave conference delegates the opportunity to consider the complexity of the issues involved in the use of AI methods. Contrasts such as these in the conference point up again the importance of BILETA as a serious platform for the emergence and elaboration of debate regarding the interface between technology and educational issues in legal studies.

In the same session as Leenes, Antoinette Muntjewerff gave us an update on her PROSA system (PROblem Situations in Administrative Law). This is an instructional environment for learning legal case solving. Muntjewerff's review of the literature on problem-solving relevant to her system was impressive, and it was clear that the system was well grounded in the Instructional Design approach to CAL taken by Merrill (in his Component Display Theory) and Keller & Suzuki, and based upon strongly cognitivist approaches to learning and instruction developed by Gagne. At present, PROSA contains twenty-five cases on a variety of topics, each available at different levels of difficulty, and its structure is designed to be used in legal domains other than administrative law. It is about to undergo formative assessment by students.

There were two more sessions which contained CAL topics. In 'Law Students and the Use and Abuse of Electronic Forms of Information' David Williamson examined the advantages and disadvantages of student access to electronic legal information. His paper was valuable for the way in which it highlighted the everyday issues which can bedevil even the best designed CAL. He discussed in particular student expectations of electronic search facilities (an intriguing area for further research) misuse of electronic data, 'cybercheating', and the effect of electronic data on 'bricks and mortar' libraries. His paper ended with a call for 'wider co-operation between library staff, technical staff, subject academics and students [to] be developed and encouraged'.

Some of these issues were tackled by the paper presented by Richard De Mulder and written by Lia Combrink-Kuiters, Richard V. De Mulder, Henk Elffers, and Kees van Noortwijk, entitled 'Comparing Student Assignments by Computer'. They described a program, CODAS (Conceptual Document Analysis System) they had developed which evaluated coursework submitted by students, and checked for plagiarism. The program is based upon their earlier work on statistical analysis of word similarity and frequency and conceptual retrieval, and from the results presented at the presentation it appeared to be highly successful at identifying plagiarism between different students' work.

The last CAL paper should more properly be described as a paper on law school administration using an intranet - Chris Martin's 'The Electronic Law School - Development of the Intranet College Information System (iCiS). However, there were clear implications for teaching and learning law arising from it as well. Martin described the development of (and problems associated with) timetabling, work allocation schedules, central room bookings, self-enrolment systems and paperless examination board meetings amongst other things. To those of us listening it was clear that what we had here were the essential components of the system sketched in outline by Paliwala earlier; and that the administrative innovations were not only changing the learning environment for students and staff, but would subtly and inexorably change the culture as well.


This is a Conference Report published on 30 June 1999.

Citation: Maharg P, '14th Annual BILETA Conference - CYBERSPACE 1999: Crime, Criminal Justice and the Internet', Conference Report, 1999 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/99-2/maharg.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1999_2/maharg/>


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