BILETA Conference, Legal Education 1

by Paul Maharg on 29/03/2012

Live-blogging of our conference has begun!  Dean Kerrigan of NU Law School opened the conference — Gavin Sutter is our new Chair and we’ll be breaking out into small groups.  I’m going to join the legal education session for most of the day.

Sefton Bloxham is in the Chair, and announced that HEA is offering a prize for the best paper…  So no pressure there…

We started with Patricia McKellar & Steve Warburton on e-readers and e-publishing in legal education.  Patricia set out the context of the extensive UL programme: c.50,000 students, a global market (190 countries), 75 recognised teaching institutions, etc.  Her students are very print-based: they receive boxes of materials — not much has changed there over the last century (see, eg Columbia U’s experiments in DL in the 1920s).  So print driven model — is it sustainable?  There’s a lack of flexibility in outputs and lack of flexibility for students.  Other issues are costs, logistics, leanness, and waste (they over-publish because they don’t know how many students exactly they have).

So if this is the problem space, what is the solution?  Possibly e-readers…?  The literature tended to go out of date quickly, and discipline-specificity seemed to be important — eg integration of e-readers within English Language (California Lutheran University pilot project).  Another is the Worldreader project —  Digital rights management was a key issue, obviously.

So what did they do?  They considered epublishing formats (.epub & .mobi); they liaised with Palgrave & OUP.  Kobo was the device they chose, and worked with UL and the publishers to protect publishers’ DRM. Five pilot groups — two in UK, Kenya, Singapore, Germany.  They designed activities for the students based on the online books.

Steve then described the pilot.  Pilot was chosen geographically to compare different bandwidths.  Stakeholder impact — primary: for students, UoLIP, publishers, device manufacturer, HEA & UKCLE; secondary impact — tutors, institutions.  The scheme is device agnostic, since the published resources are downloaded from the Cloud.

Impact?  Analysed in four areas: device usability, user context, epub content, learning & teaching impact.  Best aspects?  Convenience & portability; able to study in more bit size chunks; students cd optimize time; annotations, bookmarking, highlighting.

Worst aspects?  Functionality, sufficient light, annotations, bookmarking, highlighting, battery life, search facility, slow loading, no hyperlinks, touch screen not always effective; bit too 1-D.

Is it working overall?  Yes, overall.  Students are using it in their varied study lives.  Some evidence of attention and retention improvement.  ROI: cost benefit analysis based on edcuational and or business processes — depends on your context!  Nice slide at the end putting the e-reader project into the wider electronic project.  Good paper, very good project, giving an honest appraisal of use of e-readers in legal education.  It’s a fast-moving field.  The positive angle was the liaison with publishers, clearly,  but there was a lot of DRM talk too, as you might expect 🙁  What I liked was the attempt to make the project device-agnostic.

Next up in this session was Philip Leith, discussing the BAILII survey findings — getting students reading cases.  As he pointed out, BAILII was a solution to a practitioner-based problem — access to law — since most university had some form of access to Lexis & Westlaw.  Set up in 2000 with no access to historica materials due to copyright problems, BAILII was not the ideal teaching resource.  It now has 11 gig of legal resources and around 200,000 searchable documents.  JISC funded the Open Law project sought to provide core teaching materials for law students — the problem being that of students reading cases.  As of Sept 2008, the Open Law Project offered 16 subject lists of Leading Cases and 2119 of these judgments are available on BAILII.  Part of the goal of this survey was to see whether the OpenLaw project had effected a long term, higher usage of BAILII by law students.

Philip gave us the data — respondents, etc.  Interesting findings?  Staff did seem to make links to the resources, though some of the reasons for not doing this were interesting — eg prefer for students to do that for themselves…  Really?  In every case?  As to what resources were used in BAILII, case law was dominant, and there was much less use for legislation.  Perhaps surprising was the continued use of court & tribunal websites.

Do students go to BAILII if they are not directed there?  64% of students went to it themselves.  38% of the students said that BAILII was not mentioned on their course — pretty poor!  General use of BAILII for home study — it worked well for that.  Part of the reason was the big improvement brought about in the interface by the OpenLaw project.  Students generally liked it, but had grumbles about the interface.

What next?  Integration of BAILII with other educational materials eg integration with other citators, building community, etc.  And reading cases?  BAILII has no headnotes, so Philip presumes that students are actually reading the full case.  He said that result should be viewed positively.  I agree.

Last paper in this session — Martin Jones on using Twitter in legal education.  What’s so controversial, he asked?  The motive was to promote student engagement with EU law.  Module structure — core LLB module, level 2, part-time evening & full-time day, current one semester delivery.  64% non-Twitter users, over 25% aged 36 and above, 70% female, of the Twitter users, none held account for over a year, and only one heavy user.

The practicalities involved in upskilling students via a legal IT module.  This was a useful dedicated space that avoided exclusion, with ground rules.  Planned uses — picking up queries pre and post educational sessions — so basically using it as a complementary heuristic.  Also came up with the idea of Tweetcases — a case summarised in 140 characters.  Showed us examples eg ‘Van Gend gave you rights A new order of EU rights Domestically’.  Reminded me of Woody Allen: I did a course in speed reading.  I read War and Peace.  It’s about Russia.

But Martin’s reflections…?  Good take up of followers, but interactivity was minimal.  It generated some degree of discussion, but at a level that was quite low.  There was Tweet pressure on staff; and tweeting often was a window into student lives.  Student reflections?  Re access, 7% versus 68% email and the rest word of mouth.  Students used mobiles and laptops predominantly.  Students used it in other courses, the students were also unconcerned that Martin cd see the rest of their Tweeting life, but some wanted protected space.  Usefulness?  Dissemination of weblinks, interaction between students, queries from students to staff, bite-sized information chunks in Tweetcases.  The future?  Focus on novel use, tie down interactivity, students creating Tweetcases.  Alternatively, promote engagement through a Textwall solution.



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