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JILT 2007 (1) Special Issue on Law, Education and Technology - Guest Editorial

Special Issue on Law, Education and Technology

Guest Editors:
Sefton Bloxham
Edge Hill University and Lancaster University
Patricia McKellar
UK Centre for Legal Education, University of Warwick


This special edition of JILT contains six papers which were originally presented at the 21st Annual Conference of the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA) in April 2006 at the University of Malta. The papers focus on the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in legal education and demonstrate the increasingly diverse ways in which information technology is being developed and deployed to support creative learning environments designed to stimulate new forms of learning. Additionally, by way of introduction, Professor Abdul Paliwala presents a critical review of the historical development of ICT in legal education from a global perspective and as such, provides an appropriate context for the conference papers that reflect on contemporary developments . This edition also includes a report on a project jointly funded by the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) and BILETA, designed to investigate the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in UK law schools. Through a series of case studies, uploaded onto a webpage, the project aims to establish an online resource containing examples of good practice.

MOODLE is an open source Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which has grown in stature since its adoption by the Open University in 2006. At Oxford Institute for Legal Practice (OXILP) they have been using this application for some years and Liz Polding’s paper identifies some of the features they have adapted for use in their Legal Practice Course. Using a blended learning approach, which she defines as using e-learning to support traditional and interactive groupwork, OXILP have developed modules using webcasting, podcasting, chat rooms, discussions boards and mcqs. The paper also introduces how e-portfolios are currently being integrated at OXILP and, in view of the debate over work based learning led by the Law Society of England & Wales, this is an interesting development to watch.

On a related theme, Sefton Bloxham and Andrea Cerevkova’s paper describes and evaluates the use of an “off the shelf” VLE platform, WebCT, to support a blended learning environment designed to enable the embedding of personal development planning (PDP) and the development of reflective learning within the law curriculum on a first year undergraduate law module at Edge Hill University. The model adopted involved the re-design of the assessment tasks to ensure alignment with the learning activities and intended learning outcomes and the re-structuring of the personal tutor system to support the assessment process. The paper outlines the pedagogic rationale and underpinning methodology, presents the results of a student evaluation of their learning experience on the module, identifies challenges that emerged, and concludes with some critical reflections, drawing on both the student evaluation and on the tutors’ experiences.

Also connecting with Polding’s theme of interactive and collaborative learning, Esther Hoorn and Dore van Hoorn’s paper evaluates the use of a wiki-environment, described as a “hypertext system for storing and modifying information”, in legal education in the context of a class on Cybercrime in the Netherlands and explores the possibilities for international, networked, student collaboration. The paper argues that Wikis enable new forms of collaboration in structuring, representing and discussing knowledge and offer students the opportunity to use advanced communication methods to support collaboration in the process of reflecting on the use of legal resources. It also reaffirms the view that innovative use of wikis demands an appropriate pedagogic understanding of educational design and best practice if it is to provide an effective learning environment.

The Glasgow Graduate School of Law at Strathclyde University has been developing simulation learning within their Diploma in Legal Practice. Their virtual village of Ardcalloch provides the backdrop to what Professor Paul Maharg and Martin Owen have described as ‘ transactional learning’. This paper charts the progress of the development of this learning environment and sets it in the context of simulation learning in a broader field. It also introduces a significant cross disciplinary project to develop an open source application based on a pedagogical approach which is constructivist in nature, and situates learning tasks as far as possible within authentic professional environments.

Karen Barton and Patricia McKellar delve deeper into the virtual town of Ardcalloch. Their paper analyses a ‘work in progress’ within the evolving transactional learning environment where students are acting on behalf of virtual clients who are pursuing or defending a virtual court action. The pedagogic rationale and models on which their work is based are described and the practical implications of the implementation discussed. The paper explains how the integration of a transactional learning project involved the reconfiguration of the module from a traditional to a blended learning approach focusing on a technology-enabled curriculum re-design. This will provide an opportunity to integrate the theoretical and practical aspects of the course more closely.

Finally, the paper by Jeroen Keppen and Burkhard Schafer radically challenges a common assumption that legal expert systems are inflexible, rigid and restricted to repetitive tasks that require little in terms of imagination and which are, as a consequence, only suitable for basic training. The authors describe a system that, they argue, can foster rather than restrict imaginative problem solving and “out of the box” thinking. Drawing on ideas from the theory of science education, they develop an approach that helps law students to train their faculties for critical and original thinking, using as example reasoning about causal relations in crime scenarios.