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JILT 2000 (3) - John Fairhurst

 

 


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Huddersfield's Electronically- Delivered PgDL (CPE) Course, Part Two

John Fairhurst
PgDL(CPE) Course Director
Department of Law
University of Huddersfield
j.fairhurst@hud.ac.uk

Abstract

The University of Huddersfield is the only institution to have been validated by the CPE Board to deliver the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (Common Professional Examination) course for delivery by distance learning, using the Internet as the principal method of delivery. The course came on-stream for the 1998/99 academic year.

The previous JILT articlein October 1999, consisted of a detailed evaluation of the course following its first year of delivery. This is a follow-up article consisting of an evaluation of the course following the conclusion of the 1999/2000 academic year. It is more comprehensive given the fact there were students on both years of the course, and July 2000 witnessed the first graduates. The article offers an insight into the future of electronically delivered law courses at both postgraduate and undergraduate level.

Keywords:Course Evaluation, Legal Education, CPE, CPE Board, Distance Learning, Electronic Delivery, Computer-based Learning, Collaborative Learning, Pedagogy, Online Law Libraries, Blackboard CourseInfo.


This is a Refereed article published on 31 October 2000.

Citation:Fairhurst J, 'Huddersfield's Electronically-delivered PgDL (CPE) Course, Part Two', 2000 (3)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/00-3/fairhurst.html/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2000_3/fairhurst/>



1. Introduction

The Department of Law at the University of Huddersfield has recently completed its second year of delivering the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (Common Professional Examination) course electronically, over the Internet. This article is a follow-up to that which appeared in JILTlast year (Fairhurst 1999); the article consisted of a detailed evaluation of the course at the end of its first year of delivery. Readers are referred to this previous articlefor general background information relating to the nature of the course and the delivery mechanism.

1.1 Conclusions: 1998/99 academic year

The 1999 JILT article (Fairhurst 1999, pp.23-30) made, inter alia, the following recommendations (based upon the summarised conclusions below) for a subsequent evaluation of the course, which shall form the subject matter of this article:

1.1.1 Retention rate/assessment

What are the Year One and Year Two 1999/2000 retention rates and assessment results, compared to those on the conventional part-time course?

Retention rate

The retention rate of students on the 1998/99 course appeared to be statistically poor. Of the 13 students who initially enrolled on the course in September 1998, only eight (61.5%) completed the academic year. However, the withdrawals were all for reasons which made future participation on the course difficult, if not impossible.

Assessment

Of the eight students who completed the 1998/99 academic year, seven entered the final examinations. The pass rate was 100%, which was greater than that for students on the conventional part-time course. The average mark in each of the four subjects studied was likewise greater than that of students on the conventional part-time course. Two underlying factors were highlighted which could have had an influence on this data:

Firstly, the requirement that distance learning students regularly submitted tutorial work should have ensured that they covered the whole syllabus and that any mistakes or misconceptions were rectified in the tutor's feedback (this was not a requirement for students on the conventional part-time course). However there is a caveat to this in that, in practice, six of the eight distance learning students who completed the year soon began to fall behind with tutorial submission and some of the later tutorials were not submitted.

Secondly, the academic qualifications of the distance learning students were generally higher than those of the conventional part-time students, and therefore the distance learning students could be considered to be academically stronger; this underlying factor may have had a significant effect on the data.

Nevertheless, a 100% pass rate in the first year of operation was indicative of the fact that the distance learning course was educationally successful.

1.1.2 Interaction and collaborative student learning

Has the new learning environment (Blackboard CourseInfo) resulted in student interactivity and collaborative learning?

During the first year of the course, the Internet-based learning environment was basic but functional. One of the conclusions of my article (Fairhurst 1999, pp. 24-26) was that the absence of live chat rooms hindered the ability of facilitating and actually achieving collaborative student learning. The learning environment incorporated asynchronous email discussion groups, but these were generally not being used by the students. For the start of the 2000/2001 academic year, the University purchased a sophisticated software package, Blackboard CourseInfo, which incorporates discussion boards and chat rooms (see Appendixfor an illustration of the Blackboard learning environment). There is also a facility to place students in smaller learning groups with their own private discussion board, chat room and document-sharing facility.

1.1.3 Tutors' delivery time

How has this changed in the 1999/2000 academic year compared to the 1998/99 academic year?

Have outline answers reduced the volume of feedback?

If collaborative student learning is now taking place, has this affected the need for detailed feedback?

The previous article (Fairhurst 1999, pp.26-27) indicated that the number of staff-hours required to successfully deliver the distance learning course during the 1998/99 academic year was high in comparison to the conventional part-time course. Distance learning students were required to submit an average of two tutorials each week for marking and feedback. This constituted the most time-consuming activity for staff and was regarded by tutors as being akin to a one-to-one tutorial. Quite often students were making common mistakes and therefore it was suggested that outline answers could significantly decrease the laborious task of tutors having to repeat feedback. It was also suggested that if the email discussion group could be successfully incorporated into the students' learning activities, so that students were beginning to learn from one another, the necessity for individualised tutorial marking and feedback could be reduced.

1.1.4 Face-to-face tuition

Have the views of students during the 1999/2000 academic year changed with regard to the compulsory nature of the sessions?

The CPE Board externally validates the course. The Board is made up of personnel from the two professional bodies (The Law Society and The General Council of the Bar), practitioners from the two branches of the legal profession (solicitors and barristers) and academics. The CPE Board stipulates that students have to attend a minimum of twelve face-to-face tuition days each academic year. Students on the first year of the course in 1998/99 almost unanimously recorded the view that the sessions should remain as a compulsory element of the course, and that even if they were optional they would attend.

The sessions proved educationally rewarding for students. However, the compulsory nature of the tuition deterred the recruitment of overseas students. It is also at odds with the Department's rationale for introducing this mode in the first place: flexibility for those in full-time employment; with family commitments; with a disability etc.

This article is an evaluation of the course, following the end of its second year of delivery; the evaluation is based primarily upon a consideration of the above issues (sections 1.1.1 to 1.1.4). Although pedagogical issues permeate throughout this article, substantive pedagogical discussion is reserved to section 3 (on collaborative student learning) and 5.2.3 (when discussing the pedagogical rationale for compulsory face-to-face tuition).

2. Retention rate/assessment 1999/2000

2.1 Retention rate

2.1.1 Year One

Twenty students were recruited onto Year One of the distance learning course, compared to 13 on the conventional part-time course. Of the distance learning students, two withdrew and four deferred their studies to the 2000/01 academic year, representing a 70% retention rate (increasing to 87.5% if the deferrals are excluded from the statistics). Of the 13 part-time students, three withdrew during the year, which equates to a 76.9% retention rate.

This can be compared to the 1998/99 retention rates of 61.5% (increasing to 69.2% if the one student who deferred his studies until the 1999/2000 academic year is excluded) for the distance learning course, and 92.9% for the part-time course.

It would appear that the distance learning course can expect to have a greater number of students withdrawing during the academic year, compared to those on the conventional part-time course. The distance learning course, with the requirement that students submit an average of two tutorials each week for marking and feedback, starts off at a fast, undiminishing, tempo. Students who fall behind during the first week are playing catch-up and the pressure this creates would appear to result in them either withdrawing from the course or deferring their studies. One of the two students who withdrew, along with three of the four who deferred, were all lagging behind with their tutorial submissions from the first stages of the course. These four had been recruited onto the course the week before it commenced. Preliminary reading and the completion of written exercises on the English Legal System (which is estimated to take about 80 hours to complete) had to be undertaken prior to the course's commencement. It was unlikely that those students recruited onto the course the week before its start date would have had sufficient time to complete this work, and therefore they were faced with the dual burden of completing their preliminary work as well as submitting tutorials for the substantive subjects.

The remaining one student who withdrew was one of the most academically gifted. However, a move abroad and an increased workload within his new employment resulted in his decision to leave the course. The other student deferring his studies to the 2000/01 academic year did so because of work and family commitments; his tutorial submissions became less frequent and he was counselled into deferring his studies.

As stated in the previous article (Fairhurst 1999p.23), the superior retention rate for the part-time course could be due to the fact that students could attend classes without having prepared for tutorials. In addition the part-time course starts at a less frenetic pace, thus providing students with a settling-in period.

For the 2000/01 academic year it has been decided to have a cut-off point two weeks before the course begins for the recruitment of students onto the distance learning course. This will ensure that students have sufficient time available to have completed their preliminary work, thus enabling them to concentrate solely on the substantive subjects.

2.1.2 Year Two

In Year Two of the course, all seven distance learning students and all ten part-time students continued through to their final assessments. This is par for the course on the PgDL (CPE); it is rare for students who proceed to Year Two to subsequently withdraw.

2.2 Assessment

2.2.1 Year One

Distance learning

Of the 14 students who proceeded to their final examinations in the summer, nine passed and will proceed to Year Two, three failed, one failed by default (because he did not attend the exams) and one deferred his exams to the following academic year. If the student who failed by default and the one who deferred are excluded, this represents a 75% pass rate; down from the 100% pass rate the previous year.

Subject-to-subject, the average marks were: Contract Law 55.25%; Criminal Law 50.33%; EC Law 58.42%; and Public Law 57.67%. Two of the twelve students are on course for a distinction (average of 70% ), with a further five on course for a commendation (average of 60% ).

Conventional part-time

Of the ten students who proceeded to their final examinations in the summer, eight passed and will proceed to Year Two, one failed and one deferred his exams to the August resits. If the deferred student is excluded from the statistics, this represents an 88.9% pass rate.

Subject-to-subject, the average marks were: Contract Law 56.33%; Criminal Law 51.22%; EC Law 52.44%; and Public Law 56%. Five of the nine students are on course for a commendation (average of 60% ).

Distance learning v. conventional part-time

The overall average mark for the distance learning students was 55.42% compared to 54% for the part-time students. Although there have been some failures, the fact that a majority of students on the distance learning course are on target for commendations (with two distinctions a possibility) is indicative of the fact that the course is achieving its educational objectives.

2.2.2 Year Two

Distance learning

Of the seven students who sat the final examinations, six passed and one was referred in his Land exam, representing an 85.7% success rate. Of the six students who passed, three were awarded commendations having achieved an average of 60% .

Subject-to-subject, the average marks were: Equity and Trusts 48.86%; Land Law 49.71%; Torts 52.57%. Students also had to complete a research project during their second year; the average mark was 64.43%.

Conventional part-time

Of the ten students who sat the final examinations, three students passed, three were referred in one subject, one failed all three exams, and three had their exams deferred due to extenuating circumstances. Excluding the deferred candidates, this represents a 42.9% success rate. No commendations were awarded.

Subject-to-subject, the average marks were: Equity and Trusts 42.71%; Land Law 49%; Torts 48.57%. The average mark for the research project was 58.43%.

Distance learning v. conventional part-time

Previously (Fairhurst, 1999, p.23), the weak academic ability of the conventional part-time cohort of students was highlighted. This has undoubtedly been reflected in their final results. The overall average mark for the distance learning students (over the two years of the course) was 55.86%, compared to 53% for the part-time students.

3. Collaborative student learning 1999/2000

While the statistics discussed above in section 2 set the scene for the course in terms of retention and success rates, it does little to add to the growing academic debate about the implementation of technology for teaching; what works and what does not? Academics the world over are divided as to the extent to which technology can be incorporated within education, in particular the extent to which an entire course can be delivered online (see, for example, University of Illinois Report 1999).

Suitability of a course for online delivery can depend upon the course and the student body. The University of Illinois (Report,1999, p.2) has recognised that 'traditional' undergraduate students benefit from '... the maturing, socialising component of an undergraduate college education and this requires on-campus presence.' This is further elaborated on (at p.41):

'Perhaps the most risky wholly online context is the offering of whole degrees in undergraduate education. While this mode might be justified for some place-bound students, online interconnectivity, as good as it can be, still cannot replace the human interactions of in-class, in-the-hallways, and in-the-pub situations.'

In contrast, the Report states (at p.21) that postgraduate students 'have already gained a great deal of socialisation through their first degree, and less of this is needed ...'

The PgDL (CPE) course is postgraduate in nature and therefore is prima facie suitable for online delivery.

Feenberg (1999b, p.1) has referred to Plato's denunciation of the written medium because of its failure to recreate the spontaneity of oral dialogue. The pedagogical merits of engaging in dialogue between students, and between tutors and students is well documented (see, for example, Chickering and Gamson, 1987). In Plato's view (Plato, 1961), the written manuscript could not instruct a student who misunderstood its message, because of the passive form of the medium. As Feenberg (1999b, p.2) stated:

'Plato holds that the technology of writing has the power to destroy the dialogic relationship which ought to occur between teacher and student. As he sees it, the medium in which we communicate determines the quality of our interactions. But this is a deeply flawed view, as many contemporary scholars have argued. Rather, the social impact of technology depends on how it is designed and used. Writing can lend itself to ongoing dialogues between teachers and students, and speech can easily become one-sided.'

Plato was speaking in 1961, when the use of technology within education was light years away from what it is today, and therefore it is perhaps not surprising that he held such views as to the passivity of the written medium. It is accepted that in 1961 traditional correspondence courses provided for tutors to provide written feedback to students via snail mail, but Feenberg's rejection of Plato's views is probably harsh when placed in its historical context and in particularly given the fact that Feenberg (1999b, p.1) went on to state:

'There is something about dialogue, and the active involvement of the teacher, that is fundamental to the educational process ...'

Technology was not sufficiently advanced in 1961 to incorporate synchronous written dialogue (through chat rooms) between tutor and student, or indeed between students; it was not even possible to engage in asynchronous written dialogue through discussion boards. Therefore pedagogically, Plato's rejection of the technology of writing would legitimately have carried some weight in 1961, but not now. Feenberg (1999b, p.1) himself accepted that dialogue had to be 'woven into the design of any new instructional tool'.

In a kind of implicit approval of Plato's views, Feenberg (1999bp.4) castigates the traditional correspondence courses because of the student's isolation:

'... the Internet can do more than merely improve the traditional correspondence course; it can also be used to add human contact to an educational model that has always been relatively impersonal. Using email and computer conferencing, groups of students can be assembled in online communities where they can participate in classroom discussion with teachers on a regular basis.'

Feenberg (1999b, p.5) stated that in reliance on the current base of experience with interactive forms of online education: '...the evidence seems clear, at least to those who have tried it: written dialogue works.' He acknowledges that written dialogue is not the same as face-to-face interaction but he concludes that the former has advantages over the latter.

Jones R et al (1998) conducted a review on whether or not Computer Mediated Communication could provide the basis for collaborative learning on the Internet, and noted that conventional face-to-face tutorials could be dominated by students of higher ability to the detriment of students of lower ability, even if the aim of the tutorial is to support collaborative learning. Similarly, other factors could inhibit a student to involve themselves in a face-to-face discussion, e.g. age, sex, ethnicity, social class. They concluded that an electronic learning environment, which incorporated discussion boards and chat rooms, could assist in alleviating this domination and neutralising the other factors.

With regard to tutor/student dialogue, Chickering and Ehrmann (1997, pp.1-2) stated:

'Communication technologies ... can strengthen faculty interactions with all students, but especially with shy students who are reluctant to ask questions or challenge the teacher directly. It is often easier to discuss values and personal concerns in writing than orally, since inadvertent or ambiguous non-verbal signals are not so dominant ... electronic mail, computer conferencing, and the World Wide Web increase opportunities for students and faculty to converse and exchange work much more speedily than before, and more thoughtfully and 'safely' than when confronting each other in a classroom or faculty office ... with the new media, participation and contribution from diverse students become more equitable and widespread.'

Feenberg (1999a, p.2) has noted that online discussions can provide a richer and deeper dialogue when compared to face-to-face interaction. Commenting upon his involvement with an online course at the Western Behavioural Sciences Institute:

'There the virtual classroom was a place of intense intellectual and human interaction. Literally hundreds of highly intelligent comments were contributed to our computer conferences each month by both students and teachers. The quality of these online discussions surpasses anything I have been able to stimulate in my face-to-face classroom.'

The great advantage the electronically delivered course has over its traditional correspondence counterpart is the ability to engage in collaborative learning between students, and tutors/students. However, my evaluation of the first year of delivering the distance learning course electronically (Fairhurst, 1999, pp.24-26) indicated that collaborative student learning was not being achieved. During the 1998/99 academic year, the learning environment only incorporated email discussion groups, rather than live chat rooms. The small number of students who completed the academic year (eight) were usually working on different tutorials at different times, thus militating against the possibility of engaging students in a meaningful dialogue. Therefore although the discussion groups were being used with enthusiasm in the first few weeks of the academic year, this came to a sudden halt after the fourth week and no further contributions were made during the remainder of the academic year.

The Blackboard CourseInfo learning environment, which was online for the 1999/2000 academic year, incorporates discussion boards, chat rooms and group work facilities. It is perhaps not surprising that the Year Two students did not make use of the facilities, given that they had become acclimatised to working individually rather than collectively.

However the Year One students had similar collaborative learning experiences (or a lack of such experiences) as the original class of 1998/99.

Fourteen Year One students proceeded to their final summer examinations compared to eight in 1998/99. The problem of students working on different tutorials at different times should therefore have been less problematic. However, a similar pattern emerged by about the sixth week. Only four students were regularly submitting their tutorials on schedule, the remainder submitting them late, with a small minority failing to submit.

In their end-of-year questionnaires, student responses on use of the discussion board varied, but typical replies to the question of whether they found the contributions of other students useful were:

'Useful only for the first few weeks, then contributions tailed off.'

'Useful but limited - use of discussion groups died out early on ...'

One student recognised the importance of the facility, by commenting:

'On a distance learning course this is the only way to really communicate with others - helps you to feel that you're not on your own.'

In reply to the question on whether they found making contributions and replying to other students' contributions a useful exercise, a typical response was:

'It was a useful exercise in stimulating interest and seeing the relevance of the materials.'

A similar response to use of the chat rooms was evident. In reply to the question whether they made use of the chat room, one student replied:

'Ultimately, though this is a useful resource, the problem is being able to guarantee that you will be online at a given date and time.'

This student went further, and suggested that in order to fully incorporate the facility into delivery of the course:

'Perhaps use could be made mandatory - but with students able to elect between two or three sessions. A difficult issue this, because open learning and the synchronised requirement of chat are mutually conflicting ideas.'

The PgDL (CPE) course is generally recognised as being an intensive and demanding course; one student commented on the 'killer workload'. The intensive nature of the course could therefore militate against students finding the time to use the discussion boards and chat rooms, particularly when they are given no direction by their tutors. That said, one group of four students formed their own study group for Criminal Law, and made use of their own private discussion board and chat room. They had all found Criminal Law particularly difficult and therefore sought to engage in a dialogue to assist their study. This activity was student-led and all four commented favourably on being a member of this learning group.

Following discussions with the students, the reason for the difficulty with Criminal Law appeared to be rooted in the tutor's desire that students develop a deep understanding of the subject from the outset. This is highly commendable, but given that this is a very intensive course, it is arguable that students need a certain amount of initial 'spoon feeding', before being academically stretched.

It was argued above that Plato's view that written dialogue was inferior to oral dialogue was perfectly justifiable at the time he expressed it (1961). However, provided there is written dialogue between the students, and tutor/students, Plato's view could be disregarded. On the PgDL (CPE) course this dialogue was not taking place, at least not until students submitted a tutorial to the tutor for marking and feedback. Therefore in a subject where they did not receive the initial 'spoon feeding', difficulties could arise. Although there was the facility to email the tutor for assistance prior to submitting a tutorial, students were generally completing the tutorial at the weekend prior to the Monday submission date when the tutor would not be available. Therefore, no dialogue would take place between tutor and student, and there was little or no activity within the discussion board and chat room. Once this group of students engaged in collaborative learning with one another their understanding and enjoyment of the Criminal Law increased.

On this course, the aim of the discussion boards and chat rooms is to facilitate collaborative learning between students (rather than to engage in tutor/student dialogue). However, it is arguable that it is necessary for the tutor to be actively involved initially in the activities in order to ensure that collaborative learning is achieved. Once students have familiarised themselves with using the discussion boards and chat rooms, the tutor's presence could be less dominant. Bearing in mind what has been discussed above it might be preferable, on pedagogical grounds, for the tutor to be involved in the dialogue at all times.

Where the sole aim is to achieve student dialogue, tutor involvement has been recognised as a pre-requisite to achieving collaborative student learning by Grantham (2000), who has stated that, in the context of discussion boards:

'I had to work quite hard to get students to make initial postings to the electronic legal forum. However, once they had made that all important first step, most of them contributed quite freely ... It is the tutor's role to lead them forward, to be alive to the need for gentle persuasion and to the timing of electronic interventions.'

Herberger et al (1998, p.9) have investigated the use of the Internet to support collaborative student learning in legal education. This requirement was also noted by them:

'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 ... 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.'

With the prospect of thirty-plus students for Year One of the 2000/2001 course, it has been decided to be more pro-active in promoting use of the discussion boards and chat rooms. In some subjects, students will be required to make a number of contributions, rather than submitting a tutorial. The 'reward' for making contributions will be the provision of an outline tutorial answer prepared by the tutor. The tutor will also direct the dialogue and review student contributions, as appropriate.

Already this is proving successful. While studying the first Public Law unit, students were requested to make a contribution to the discussion board on issues relating to the Home Secretary's tariff setting powers in relation to criminals sentenced to life imprisonment, whether this conflicted with the doctrine of the separation of powers and what impact, if any, the Human Rights Act 1998 might have on such powers. Nearly all students made a contribution, and the academic level of the discussion was high.

4. Tutors' delivery time - 1999/2000

During the 1998/99 academic year, the Contract Law and Criminal Law tutors observed that the time they were engaged marking tutorials and providing students with feedback was quite extensive when compared to the delivery time associated with the conventional part-time course.

However, it has to be recognised that the incorporation of electronic delivery should not be linked to cost-saving. The University of Illinois Report (1999, pp.50-51) states that:

'The scenario of hundreds of thousands of students enrolling in a well developed, essentially instructor-free online course does not appear realistic, and efforts to do so will result in wasted time, effort, and expense ... Online teaching has said to be a shift from 'efficiency' to 'quality', and quality usually doesn't come cheaply. Sound online instruction is not likely to cost less than traditional instruction.'

During the 1999/2000 academic year the tutors for Criminal Law and Land Law provided students with outline tutorial answers; this was also undertaken selectively for EC Law and Public Law. Where outline answers had been provided the experience of tutors was that this significantly reduced the requirement for extensive individual feedback, with a resultant decrease in time expended on course delivery.

The provision of outline answers was received favourably by students. From their end-of-year questionnaires the following comments were made:

Land Law (Year Two subject):

'The model answers were excellent.'

'Model answers sent in response to tutorials were very helpful and comprehensive.'

'Excellent suggested solutions given for each tutorial - really comprehensive and helpful.'

'The suggested answers were very useful - good for aiding revision as well.'

This can be compared with one student's observation in relation to Equity and Trusts (also a Year Two subject), where outline tutorial answers were not provided:

'Feedback was patchy: often very good but often not sufficiently comprehensive (a 'model' answer to each question would have been useful).'

Similar comments were received from students in relation to those Year One subjects where outline answers were provided. However, one student complained that he:

'Only received outline answers for around half the tutorials [for Public Law]'

The experience of providing students with outline answers has been positive for both tutor and student; it undoubtedly should be extended to the other subjects.

5. Face-to-face tuition 1999-2000

Students on the first year of the course in 1998/99 almost unanimously recorded the view that the face-to-face sessions should remain as a compulsory element of the course, and that even if they were optional they would have attended. The opinion of this cohort of students had not changed at the end of their second year (and completion of the course).

However the views of the 1999/2000 Year One intake were divided equally between those who thought they should be compulsory from those who thought they should be optional. Of those who thought they should be compulsory, all agreed that even if they had been optional they would have attended every session. Of those who thought they should be optional, only one student stated that he would have attended all the sessions had they been optional. Nevertheless, all the students were satisfied with the study sessions; a majority rated them as 'very good'.

Although the sessions proved educationally rewarding for students, it has to be questioned whether they should be a compulsory feature of the course. As stated previously (section 1.1.4 above), the compulsory nature of the tuition deters the recruitment of overseas students. It is also at odds with the Department's rationale for introducing this mode in the first place: flexibility for those in full-time employment; with family commitments; with a disability etc.

The rationale for the CPE Board's requirement that distance learning students attend the providing institution for twelve days of face-to-face tuition each year is three-fold:

  • Development of interpersonal skills;

  • Library access;

  • Pedagogical considerations

5.1 Development of interpersonal skills

The CPE Board acknowledges that the aim of the CPE is to satisfy the academic stage of training, which includes the development of legal research skills; the development of interpersonal skills are incorporated within the vocational stage of training (i.e. Legal Practice Course or Bar Vocational Course).

The professional bodies do not have a blanket policy requiring compulsory attendance for undergraduate law programmes. CPE students are either graduates from the UK or Ireland, or have satisfied the professional bodies as to their academic ability at graduate level, and could therefore be presumed to have a more developed level of interpersonal skills than their undergraduate counterparts.

There would not appear to be a clear link between the requirement for compulsory attendance and the development of interpersonal skills.

5.2 Library access

In order to encourage a deeper understanding of the core subjects, and to develop their legal research skills, it is essential that students have access to primary and secondary sources of law. However, it is becoming increasingly rare nowadays for distance learning students to use the on-campus library of the providing institution.

Three recent developments militate against the necessity to use the providing institution's on-campus library:

5.2.1 UK Library Plus Scheme

At the start of the 1999/2000 academic year, 58 higher education institutions in the UK participated in a new initiative enabling, inter alia, distance learning students to borrow from on-campus libraries in close proximity from where they live or work; as previously they can also gain admission for research purposes.

Users of the scheme apply to their home library for up to three vouchers which can be exchanged for a borrower's card from participating libraries.

5.2.2 Online libraries

The vast majority of CPE course providers have developed online libraries which students can access over the Internet from anywhere in the world. The list of resources currently available online is endless, but could include:

In addition, there is a large volume of legal resources freely available on the Internet: e.g. House of Lords, Court of Appeal and Employment Tribunal judgments; Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments; ECJ judgments and Advocate General opinions; Journal of Current Legal Issues.

A press release on 16 March 2000[ 1], by David Lock MP, LCD Minister with responsibility for IT issues, stated:

'There is a powerful case for making basic raw materials of the law, legislation and case law, much more widely and easily accessible to the public and legal professions, through the use of information technology.'

He was speaking after viewing a pilot website BAILII(British and Irish Legal Information Institute), following its launch in March 2000. BAILII offers free Internet access to primary legal materials. Having viewed the site, Mr Lock stated:

'The Government strongly endorses the pilot website which will provide a valuable opportunity to test how this kind of service should be developed and maintained in the future. I hope that those who use it will take the opportunity to provide as much feedback as possible. In the longer term I anticipate that the development of a requirement for the future delivery of online legal sources will be undertaken as part of the programme of work under our civil justice initiative, which will be announced in the summer [2000].'

There could be no clearer signal of the Government's commitment to free online legal resources. The LCD's strategy paper civil.justice.2000: 'A vision of the Civil Justice System in the Information Age', was subsequently published on 27 June 2000 and explores how the enormous potential offered by developing technologies can be harnessed for the benefit of users of the civil justice system[ 2]. Albeit, we have a long way to go before being anywhere near equal to the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII),which operates one of the largest free law sites on the web, but it is a start in the right direction[ 3].

The necessity for a student having access to legal resources cannot be underestimated, but requiring students to attend twelve days of tuition at the providing institution, in order that they might avail themselves of the on-campus library facilities, might not be appropriate in the electronic age. The number of persons with access to the Internet is growing daily; no longer do the vast majority of Internet Service Providers charge a monthly fee for using their service. The financial cost for students in accessing the Internet will therefore be limited to the cost of a local telephone call; some providers now offer all-in packages, which includes the cost of telephone calls.

5.2.3 Pedagogical considerations

Pedagogy - taxonomy of teaching activities

In designing and delivering a distance learning programme, the relevant pedagogical issues centre around categories of teaching activity[ 4]. On a conventional course, academics are familiar with dividing their teaching into lectures, tutorials, seminars, workshops etc. However, lectures, tutorials etc. are not categories of teaching activity and it is necessary to break them down into such categories.

There are many different taxonomies of educational objectives which are used to distinguish categories of teaching activity. There is no such thing as a correct taxonomy; no taxonomy could truthfully claim to cover everything. A taxonomy might include the following (but not necessarily in this order):

  • Orientation - providing a structure for learning

  • Delivery - presentation of materials

  • Elaboration - clarification based on student needs

  • Feedback - individual assessment and elaboration

  • Diagnosis - assessment for grading

  • Evaluation - assessment for remediation

  • Motivation - justification of the activity

  • Pedagogy - electronic delivery.

This section seeks to illustrate how these teaching activities can be incorporated into an electronically-delivered distance learning PgDL (CPE) course, without the necessity of face-to-face tuition; the discussion is not specific to Huddersfield's course. This could also apply to a hybrid model of delivery (i.e. traditional and electronic combined).

Structure

A user-friendly electronic learning environment, and a clearly structured programme (e.g. each substantive subject divided into study Units with start and end dates for the completion of each Unit) will provide students with the necessary orientation to complete the course to the best of their ability and retain their motivation. Motivation is a recurring theme throughout this section.

Student materials

It is possible to incorporate a variety of different media into the delivery of student materials:

  • text (including HTML);

  • files (word-processing documents, slide presentations etc.);

  • audio;

  • video

Appropriate use of different media can have a positive impact upon a student's motivation, however bandwidth problems can make the incorporation of video problematic.

Online tests

Another motivational influence is to build in plenty of activities into the delivery of the student materials.

The incorporation of Multiple Choice Questions can provide students with more interactivity (and therefore aid their motivation), and current software packages provide the option of creating automatic student feedback whenever a wrong answer is selected.

Online library and weblinks

As discussed above (at section 5.2.2), online libraries and weblinks can add to the student's knowledge base, lead to a deeper learning of the subject matter and increase their motivation.

Tutor support and Tutor Marked Assessments

It is possible to incorporate a facility to enable students to email the tutor for individual guidance where they have problems with the student materials (which would include the online tests), thus providing the student with elaboration.

TMAs (i.e. Tutor Marked Assessments; a formative assessment) are the ideal way to provide students with individual feedback. The equivalence of a TMA is a one-to-one tutorial. This feedback will enable the student to know where they have gone wrong and what needs to be done to rectify the situation (evaluation). The TMA can be graded or ungraded; if it is graded then it satisfies the diagnosis activity, otherwise the formal coursework element (a summative assessment) would step into the breach.

Tutor support and TMAs are an important component in providing motivation. The Illinois Report (1995, pp.25-26) states that tutor 'attentiveness' plays a key role in motivating students:

'If a finger can be placed on the 'human touch' of teaching, the role of attentiveness in motivating the student could well be it. As we now consider the pedagogy of online instruction, this is a key element that must be kept in the translation, at least for the great many students who need motivation from the instructor. Not only must professors provide teaching over the Internet; they must also be in contact with students to assess learning.'

Collaborative student learning

Student interactivity can be incorporated using discussion board (asynchronous communication) and chat room (synchronous communication) features, both of which can promote collaborative student learning (as discussed in section 3 above).

Incorporating discussion board and/or chat room features will undoubtedly motivate students. If there is tutor participation this can satisfy the evaluation and feedback activities.

Some electronic learning environments enable students to work in groups, with their own private discussion boards and chat rooms. They could then work on individual tutorials in smaller groups and submit a joint effort for marking and feedback.

All of the teaching activities can be incorporated through a carefully planned electronically-delivered course, without it being essential (in pedagogical terms) that students attend the institution for face-to-face tuition. The same is undoubtedly true of a hybrid system. It is therefore questionable whether, in the electronic age, there are sound pedagogical reasons for retaining a blanket compulsory attendance requirement.

6. Conclusion

The second year of delivering the PgDL (CPE) course electronically was successful, as evidenced by the summative assessment performances of both Year One and Year Two students. This article has, however, highlighted a higher withdrawal rate of Year One distance learning students compared to those on the conventional part-time course. This could be due in part to the late recruitment of some students, coupled with the fact that the distance learning course starts at a fast, undiminishing, tempo. Late recruitment onto the course has been avoided for the 2000/01 academic year, and it will be interesting to see if this has any impact upon the withdrawal rate.

The 1999/2000 academic year saw the introduction of a new and sophisticated electronic learning environment, Blackboard CourseInfo, which incorporates discussion boards, chat rooms and group work facilities. Despite these interactive features, once again collaborative student learning was not achieved. The 2000/01 academic year will see an emphasis on tutor-directed use of these facilities with the aim of finally achieving collaborative learning. Once achieved, the time spent by tutors providing individual feedback to students' tutorial submissions may diminish. The provision of outline tutorial answers in some of the subjects has had a positive downward impact on tutors' delivery time.

The final issue considered in this article concerned the CPE Board's requirement that distance learning students attend the providing institution for twelve days of face-to-face tuition each year. The three-fold rationale for this policy was considered and it was concluded that in the electronic age a compulsory attendance requirement could not be justified.

With regard to library provision, distance learning students rarely use the providing institution's on-campus library. The UK Libraries Plus Scheme, and the provision of online libraries and Internet resources has diminished the necessity for students to have access to the institution's on-campus library. If students have access to a local law library and/or comprehensive online library, the link between compulsory attendance and library access is tenuous.

The discussion then moved on to a consideration of pedagogical issues. It was illustrated how the full range of teaching activities could be incorporated into an electronically-delivered course. It is therefore suggested that there is no pedagogically-based argument in support of the CPE Board's policy.

CPE course providers should be freed from the blanket CPE Board policy of compulsory attendance so that they can decide whether their course should incorporate:

  • no face-to-face tuition;

  • voluntary face-to-face tuition;

  • compulsory face-to-face tuition;

  • mixed compulsory (e.g. at the start of each academic year) and voluntary (e.g. at intervals throughout the academic year) face-to-face tuition.

At the validation or revalidation event, the CPE Board would be at liberty to decide whether or not a condition for compulsory and/or voluntary face-to-face tuition should be imposed where the course provider does not, for example, provide students with a comprehensive online library (or access to a local on-campus law library), and/or fails to demonstrate that the taxonomy of teaching activities are fully incorporated within their programme.

The future of the CPE Board's compulsory attendance policy is currently under review. As a member of the CPE Board's working group considering this issue, I am in a position to influence, but not determine, the outcome.

Footnotes

1. See herefor the full text of the press release from David Lock.

2. See herefor the full text of the LCD's strategy paper civil.justice.2000: 'A vision of the Civil Justice System in the Information Age'.

3. For a discussion of the AustLIIproject see the following articles:

Greenleaf G. et al (1997) ' The AustLII Papers - New Directions in Law via the Internet', Journal of Information, Law and Technology,1997 (2).

McMahon T, (1999) 'Access to the Law in the Land of Oz', Journal of Information, Law and Technology, 1999 (3).

Austin D, Chung P, and Mobray A, (2000) 'Scalability of Web Resources for Law: AustLII's Technical Roadmap: Past, Present and Future', Journal of Information, Law and Technology, 2000 (1).

4. The commentary in this section does not consider different learning styles of students. For a discussion of the pedagogical issues in relation to this see: Montgomery M, (1998) ' Addressing Diverse Learning Styles Through the Use of Multimedia'.

References

Articles

Austin D, Chung P, and Mobray A, (2000) 'Scalability of Web Resources for Law: AustLII's Technical Roadmap: Past, Present and Future', Journal of Information, Law and Technology, 2000 (1) <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2000_1/austin/>.

Chickering A W, and Gamson Z F, (1987) 'Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education' Faculty Inventory < www.byu.edu/fc/pages/tchlrnpages/7princip.html>.

Chickering A W, and Ehrman, S C, (1997) 'Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever' American Association for Higher Education
<www.aahe.org/technology/ehrmann.htm>.

Fairhurst J, (1999) 'Evaluation of an Internet-based PgDL (CPE) Course', The Journal of Information, Law and Technology 1999 (3)
<http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1999_3/fairhurst/>.

Feenberg A, (1999a) 'Distance Learning: promise or Threat?' Crosstalk
< http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/Distance>.

Feenberg A, (1999b) 'Whither Educational Technology', Volume 1 No. 4 Peer Review < http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/peer4.html>.

Grantham D, (2000) 'IOLISplus - The Second Chapter', The Journal of Information, Law and Technology 2000 (1)
<http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2000_1/grantham/>.

Greenleaf G et al (1997) 'The AustLII Papers - New Directions in Law via the Internet' ,Journal of Information, Law and Technology 1997 (2)
<http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1997_2/greenleaf/>

Herberger M, Scheuermann F and Kaufmann I (1998) 'Collaborative Learning via WWW in Legal Education' ,The Journal of Information, Law and Technology 1998 (2) <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1998_2/herberger/>.

Jones R and Scully J, (1998) 'Effective Teaching and Learning of Law on the Web' Web Journal of Current Legal Issues 1998 (2) < http://webjcli.ncl.ac.uk/1998/issue2/jones2.html>.

McMahon T, (1999) 'Access to the Law in the Land of Oz', Journal of Information, Law and Technology 1999 (3) <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1999_3/mcmahon/>.

Montgomery M, (1998) Addressing Diverse Learning Styles Through the Use of Multimedia < http://www.vpaa.uillinois.edu.tid/resources/montgomery.html>.

Books

Plato (1961) Collected Dialogues, New York: Pantheon Books

Reports

University of Illinois Report (1999) 'Teaching at an Internet Distance: the Pedagogy of Online Teaching and Learning' < http://www.vpaa.uillinois.edu/tid/report/tid_report.html>.

Appendix1(Screen shots 1-6)

Appendix2(Screen shots 7-11)

 

 

 

 

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