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JILT 2009 (3) - Special Issue Editorial

Editorial - Special Edition on Legal Education

Karen Barton, University of Strathclyde
Sefton Bloxham, University of Cumbria
Patricia McKellar, UK Centre for Legal Education

As the first decade of the second millennium draws to a close, we can reflect on a period of almost unprecedented change in legal education. The arrival of Web 2.0 technologies, coupled with wide-ranging reviews of the legal profession across the UK culminating in the advent of alternative business structures and new models of education and training for professional qualification, have made a significant impact on legal education at its very core. As legal scholars wrestle with the challenges posed by these changes, it is apt that this final and special edition of JILT focuses on the academy and takes both a reflective and forward looking view of technology-enhanced legal education.

This volume draws its content primarily from the UK Centre for Legal Education's (UKCLE) innovative E-Learning Seminar series which ran throughout 2008 and also from the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA) Conference in 2009. The UKCLE's workshop series on e-learning brought together a number of leading names in the legal education field who delivered stimulating and challenging presentations and encouraged dialogue on four key themes: Collaborative & Distributive learning, E-Assessment, Mobile Learning and Simulation Learning. The focus was on emerging technologies and how e-learning can be embedded and integrated into modules within the law curriculum. As well as keynote addresses on the main theme, the sessions involved practical hands on activities in addition to a more academic paper in each event.

From the e-learning seminar series we publish here Michael Bromby's paper discussing the use of asynchronous discussion boards which replaced traditional seminars in a medical legal module and allowed students to consider ethical issues with a range of outcomes. Through robust evaluation and feedback the paper explores how students gained a deeper understanding of the subject and a 'transformation in their existing knowledge'. Caroline Coles continues the theme of Web 2.0 technology with a paper reviewing the pedagogic benefits of the wiki and the recorded lecture with additional functionality taking it beyond the 'talking head' approach to education and learning. She includes a review of the literature together with a discussion of the student feedback which concludes that although students value the flexibility there are still gaps in their technical abilities which restrict ability to learn. This is an issue which is also discussed in the article by Helen James and Simon Ball who maintain that academics need not be experts in technology- rather that they should be aware of how their learners interact with technology and that any technological barriers should be overcome with expert assistance. This is especially true for students who may require special consideration in their interaction with technology-enhanced learning and this paper is a timely round up of the main legislative provisions together with ways of ensuring our learning and teaching materials comply.

We also publish two papers from the Education and Pedagogy stream of the 2009 BILETA Conference, which took place at the University of Winchester. As with the E-Learning Seminar series, the papers both focus on the innovative use of technologies to support and enhance the student learning experience. Catherine Easton's paper draws on a wide range of literature on the use of clicker technology in the classroom to promote greater student engagement and interaction in the context of large lectures. The paper describes a case study on a first year Public Law course of over 200 students and presents an evaluation of the feedback obtained from both students and tutors. The paper demonstrates how the technology can be adapted to identify the level of student engagement with prior reading, to provide timely formative feedback, to promote peer learning and to engender a sense of community amongst students, which in turn contributes to greater engagement. This theme of student engagement is also addressed by Sefton Bloxham, Fiona Boyle and Ann Thanaraj in their paper on embedding e-portfolios within the law curriculum. This paper described a pilot study of the use of e-portfolios, using PebblePad software, to support personal development planning and reflective learning amongst a small cohort of first year students on a Legal Skills and Method course. An evaluation of student feedback on the experience provides valuable data for future developments. The paper draws on some of the extensive literature on the subject and demonstrates how the use of e-portfolios can be utilised to develop employability skills by linking this with specific topics within the curriculum and by encouraging students to engage in reflection on a range of academic tasks and extra curricular activities in order to inform their learning.

The last paper covers a topical issue in light of the current proposals for reform of the banking and financial sector. Clare Chambers explores the correlation between financial exclusion and financial education. She considers whether it can be better tackled through online provision which could offer a solution to the educational gap that is often found by those involved in teaching financial literacy.

Finally, we have included a slightly different type of article for JILT which we hope rounds up this special edition in appropriate style. As a means of both reflecting back on the origins of 21st century legal education, as well as providing an interesting glimpse of a possible future, we feature a summary of arguably the most inspirational book on technology-enhanced legal education to be published to date. Paul Maharg, one of the UK's most influential writers on legal education, provides us with a brief summary of his work and ideas spanning the last decade and, in typical style, holds nothing back in his radical yet entirely feasible view of the future. Alongside his own reflections, we offer critiques of his work from two other influential figures in Legal Education: John Mayer, Chief Executive of the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), Abdul Paliwala, University of Warwick and Julian Webb, Director of UKCLE. Like these writers we encourage you to stretch your minds, learn from what has gone before and embrace an exciting future.