C&IT Comes in Many Sizes
A Review of the C&IT Stream at the LILI Conference
Four of the five presentations illustrated how C&IT is becoming part of the basic structure of legal education in many institutions. The fifth, by Stephen Migdal from the University of Wolverhampton, described ambitious plans for a C&IT component within the collaborative scheme to support part-time legal education involving the 20 law school members of CALE (Consortium for Access to Legal Education).
One presentation, by Katherine Mulcahy from the College of Law in Sydney, featured a major set of distance learning materials on 18 CD-ROMs covering most of the professional training course for law graduates in New South Wales. The remaining three presentations (by David Grantham of Coventry University, Edwina Higgins and Laura Tatham of Manchester Metropolitan University, and Veronica Strachan of The Robert Gordon University) showed how the development of smaller scale C&IT components within an institution is becoming an increasingly mainstream approach.
The Dearing Report stressed the advantages of partnerships between institutions in developing C&IT projects. Although Katherine Mulcahy's presentation of materials from a single institution demonstrated that this may not always be the most appropriate approach, for many purposes, such as the provision of full-text legal materials, collaboration has clear advantages. On the other hand, the three presentations of smaller scale developments suggested that much can be also gained from encouraging a parallel track of locally produced C&IT materials as supplements to existing teaching and learning resources.
One pre-requisite for the development of local resources must be that production of these materials becomes simpler than it once was. Packages which make it relatively easy to take the first steps in using C&IT are becoming more common. More institutions are purchasing site licences for such software, and providing the support which is necessary for its effective use. Two presentations (by David Grantham, and Edwina Higgins and Laura Tatham) made use of WebCT. This is one of several web-based 'integrated learning environments' through which teachers can make materials available to students, set various types of questions, encourage participation in discussion fora, provide space for student groups to produce and submit their own presentations, and keep track of how individual students have been performing. Veronica Strachan's presentation included the use of Question Mark's software to produce enhanced versions of several true / false tests which she had used previously in a paper-based format. Recent developments in open technical standards for software in this field mean that tests or self-assessment questions using the extensive facilities of Question Mark Perception can be fully integrated within courses based on the latest version of WebCT.
We may not yet be at the stage where most people find it as easy to put course materials on their law school intranet as to produce them in the form of printed lecture handouts, or as natural to lead an online discussion as to conduct a traditional tutorial, but these LILI presentations showed the potential of current software to enable these developments. The pain that was once associated with adopting C&IT is being reduced. Edwina Higgins told how, as a newcomer to WebCT, she had decided to use only its basic facilities in developing a new 'Introduction to the Study of Law' course. This had made the process manageable, and the material effective.
If the increasing availability of relatively straightforward tools is encouraging local initiatives in C&IT, what is the future for courseware such as Iolis which aims to provide materials for all law schools to use? The collection of full-text materials in Iolis shows the importance of the centralised provision of legal materials; nothing similar could be sensibly attempted by individual institutions. Many of the Iolis workbooks are used effectively by law students. One significant problem with Iolis, which is not web-based, is that it is not easy to integrate specific elements of its workbooks into the web-based course materials now being produced within institutions. David Granthamdemonstrated an attempt to overcome this difficulty. He showed how his own material, presented though WebCT, can be linked to Iolis by instructing students to make use of a particular section of Iolis and then return to the locally generated material. His approach shows that using local material alongside Iolis can bring greater depth to a student's experience. However, technical differences between Iolis and other software leave us still some distance from the possibility of fully integrating 'central' material with additional local content of the type so interestingly demonstrated at the LILI conference.
This is a Conference Report published on 29 February 2000.
Citation: Moodie P, 'C&IT Comes in Many Sizes: A Review of the C&IT Stream at the LILI Conference, 7 January 2000, Conference Report, 2000 (1)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/00-1/moodie.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2000_1/moodie/>