Law Technology Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3

Original publication date:
Oct 1994

Web publication date:
Nov 1997

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New Frontiers in Instructional Software
William E. Boyd, University of Arizona College of Law

This article is a condensed version of a paper presented to the Ninth British & Irish Legal Education Technology Association Conference in April, 1994. Much of the work discussed here, especially that of the author, was done with the support of the National Center for Automated Information Research (NCAIR). Copyright ©1994 William E. Boyd. All rights reserved.

A Promising Future

Concern has been expressed that computer-assisted instruction (CAI) or computer-assisted learning (CAL), as it is referred to in the United Kingdom, has not produced the returns expected of it. Thus, conventional CAI has been said to suffer from focusing too much on black letter law, being too linear and thereby denying learners the ability to develop their own analytical skills, and by being limited to multiple choice and other types of responses which fail to challenge the learner's intellectual or verbal skills (Allen & Robinson, 1992; Korn, 1983; Young, 1992; Teich, 1991). These are legitimate concerns, but I believe that much has happened in the last few years to blunt these criticisms and that instructional computing has a promising future.

In evaluating instructional computing today we must recognize that we have come a long way from the early model of a highly structured and restricted interaction between a student and a main or mini mainframe computer. Powerful desktop and notebook computers running equally powerful software have changed all that. Moreover, it is wrong to think of CAI as being limited to the rigid, and sometimes unimaginative and occasionally boring, drills of the past. As with computing generally, computing and communications technology are converging and instructional computing now may be seen as information processing in aid of learning. When examined under this broadened conception of instructional computing it is clear that great progress has been made of late and the future is bright indeed.

A Continuum of Instructional Computing Activity

It is convenient to divide instructional computing into several broad categories and discuss recent efforts as they tend to fit into and represent those categories. There are overlaps, and, more importantly, at some point the various projects converge, or should converge, to produce a coherent body of programs or systems that make use of a wide range of technology to enrich the learning experience. But, the categories are useful for discussion purposes.

Teaching Supplements

At one end of the continuum are materials designed to supplement conventional teaching. The primary representatives of this category of instructional computing are CAI exercises. These exercises are most effective at imparting information. There is a place for such exercises as information is at the core of learning. The majority of the lessons developed and distributed by the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) 1 (CALI, 1993) fall into the CAI category. CAI exercises probably are best utilized as a means of bringing students up to a minimum level of competency or familiarity with the subject matter so that classroom time is devoted to engaging students in a higher level dialogue. They should not be criticized for not doing more and the instructional computing enterprise generally should not be judged by what these exercises do not do.

In recent years many CAI exercises have broken out of the simple tutorial format that once characterized their form. Recent additions to the CALI library involve a degree and type of interaction that enriches the learning experience beyond that possible through the simple tutorial model. (CALI Catalogue) These more recent exercises tend to be built around a single problem situation and they try to put the learner into a problem solving mode 2. The importance of problem solving skills is not easily overstated (Anderson, 1990; Newell, 1990; Gleitman, 1991; Perritt, 1992).

The Ranch, an exercise I authored originally in a character-based, hypertext environment and recently began moving into Windows using Asymetrix Multimedia ToolBook, is illustrative. It began as part of a group of instructional software tools implemented in HyperPad including, in addition to the Ranch, a Book Pad (for putting conventional word perfect manuscripts into "hyperspace") an Exercise Builder (for developing CAI lessons) and a CaseBook Pad (for building electronic casebooks) which collectively were referred to as the HyperPak (Boyd, 1993). This exercise, added to the CALI library in 1994, poses for a student a relatively simple fact situation and then asks the student to advise his or her client on a matter involving a series of complicated sections of Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) that govern secured financing. Students are asked a series of probing questions that lead them through the maze of pertinent UCC sections and tests their answers by also asking for reasons. Their level of understanding is further tested by presenting several variations on the basic fact situation and re-asking the important questions. The process resembles what happens in many classrooms where Article 9 is being taught. The element of realism that some instructors attempt to add to classroom discussions is reinforced by assigning the student a role as a new associate in a law firm. This and other more recent exercises respond to such criticisms as that CAI simply drills earners on the "black letter" rules and attempt to engage learners in a meaningful dialogue.

Instructional Computing in the Classroom

Ron Staudt at Chicago-Kent has developed an electronic casebook for use in his computer law class. All of Ron's students were given notebook computers on which his casebook, LEXIS and WESTLAW, and also remote and local network access and word processing software had been installed. During class the students could obtain and share information using their notebooks. Ron's copy of the electronic casebook was projected on a large screen to provide a common focus for discussion.

The electronic casebook, as employed by Ron Staudt, adds a degree of interactivity that simply is not possible using hard copy materials. Students interact with the course materials individually. They can browse, reorganize and amplify the materials using its hypertext capability and their ability to connect to other materials, including the notes and references that supplement principal cases and problems, but that we suspect students rarely ever investigate. The students can also interact with each other and with the instructor electronically, in and out of class. Ron's goal has been to enable students to better see connections between various concepts and, using the linking capabilities of the computer software, to synthesize the concepts into the broader principles that emerge as the course progresses. Ron Staudt's electronic casebook and his experiences using it were the subject of an American Association of Law Schools Law and Computer Section program in January of 1993 (Boyd, 1993; Staudt, 1992; Staud 1993).

Ron's efforts are a provocative example of what may be done when the mechanical problems are overcome. Not only were Ron's students engaged from the outset, rather than only just before exam time, but for many, synthesis as a central operation in the legal process took on a new meaning. For his efforts, Ron Staudt received a 1993 Educom Software and Curriculum Innovation award. Electronic course materials may be placed at the other end of the continuum from CAI because they involve using technology to transform what happens in the classroom and not just to supplement conventional teaching.

One use of the technology that could be seen as either supplementing a conventional classroom experience or as replacing that experience, is the creation of simulations. The Debtor-Creditor Game developed by Lynn LoPucki of Washington University at St. Louis (CALI catalog, 1993-4) is a good example. This clever simulation, which assigns students to act as attorneys who represent the various "players" in a computer monitored business failure drama, is amongst the earliest illustrations of the great potential for enriching law school education through technology. The program manages the simulated events, including the "moves" players make, such as filing law suits and entering into new agreements, and also keeps track of the income and expenses of the business. The game does much to make meaningful esoteric legal concepts that are encountered only as abstractions in the classroom (Boyd, 1985).

Information Processing as a Learning Experience

Much instructional computing activity falls on the continuum somewhere between the fully electronic course and computerized exercises. A number of law faculty are using the technology to facilitate making assignments and encouraging communication that may not take place in the classroom because of time constraints or student inhibitions. The technological vehicle supporting these activities is electronic mail. Some may view extensive use of e-mail as a means of reducing personal contact between students and faculty, but it rather is a way of extending class time, encouraging students to raise questions without fear of embarrassment, and making the most of the personal contact that does occur.

Peter Martin at Cornell has argued that because of the lack of suitable infrastructure and a continuing, albeit decreasing, resistance of at least some students to truly ambitious uses of the technology, our efforts should be directed to essentially voluntary and supplemental electronic materials (Martin, 1992). It may be important that the subject of Ron Staudt's course was computer law and the students were a self-selected group that had an interest in the technology going in. Attempting to teach a basic law course, exclusively or substantially with computers, might produce different and less happy results. As Henry Perritt has wisely observed, as promoters of the technology, we must be ever conscious of consumer preferences and not push (too hard) for use of technology in ways that satisfy us but cause anxiety and antagonism among students and faculty (Boyd, 1993). Peter practices what he preaches. He too has an electronic casebook which, however, is available in addition to the hard copy version. He posts assignments and makes various materials available electronically, including even his classnotes, which, once again, are also distributed as hard copy.

Of greater longer term interest, perhaps, is the Legal Information Institute (LII) established by Peter Martin and Tom Bruce under a grant from the National Center for Automated Information Research (NCAIR). As Henry Perrit of Villanova has so aptly observed, lawyers, and necessarily, law students and law faculty, are producers, users and managers of information (Perritt, 1992). 3 The stated mission of the LII is to enrich the law schools' educational and research programs by making available electronically a range of legal materials to law schools, the legal profession and the public. Its principal activities are distributing course supplements, including statutory materials, on disk, and providing a gateway to various Internet resources especially through the use of the Cello browser authored by Tom Bruce.

That the Internet can be an important support tool for legal educators is also seen in the efforts of Trotter Hardy at William and Mary. Trotter has tested limited subscription listserves as a means of supporting discourse on substantive legal topics. 4 These forums may of course be open to students as well as faculty. John Barkai at Hawaii and Andrew Clark at Warwick (Clarke, 1992), have experimented with using the Internet as a means of supporting negotiation practice sessions between students who are at widely physically separated schools and who, consequently, must deal with one another as unknown quantities. More open listservs, such as the LawProf monitored by Ed Richards at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, are proving to be valuable forums for discussion of a range of topics of interest to legal educators. The Counsel Connect project master minded by David Johnson of CALI and the Wilmer, Cutler law firm, potentially can bring law students and faculty and law practitioners together in ways that rich the experiences of each. The various uses of the Internet were the subject of an American Association of Law Schools' Law and Computer Section program in January of 1994. The transcript of this program, which included participation by "virtual" panel members and some audio tapes of Karl Llewellyn, can be reviewed and downloaded from the LII anonymous FTP site.

Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems

One area of investigation that continues to be beyond the competence of most law faculty is the application of artificial intelligence to legal reasoning and law study and practice. Thorne McCarty at Rutgers, has spent most of his academic life attempting to understand and, to some extent, emulate legal reasoning using artificial intelligence techniques (McCarty, 1990; 1989). There are others who have persisted in the view that AI has much to offer. For example, Kevin Ashley and Vincent Aleven at Pittsburgh are making progress in developing an intelligent legal analytical skills tutor called CATO. 5 This research has the potential for enriching law teaching by helping us to better understand the reasoning process and thereby use the technology to assist that process (Perritt, 1992; Staudt, 1991; Gleitman, 1991).

Artificial intelligence research influences investigation into instructional computing even for those not immersed in the research itself. Use of expert systems, systems that work in a relatively limited legal domain, could have an earlier payoff for legal education than the more ambitious full blown AI research from which it springs. I have developed a program for drafting security agreements under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (Boyd & Saxon, 1981) and a system for assisting attorneys to make the important decision of whether to put an individual client into a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (Boyd, 1985). Both of these systems could be reworked to the end of putting law students into the role of an attorney engaged in either of the tasks that are their focus.

New Frontiers - Multimedia and Hypermedia

Some of the criticism of CAI to date focuses on what is perceived to be its relative inability to keep a learner's attention. It seems clear that learning requires getting and holding the learner's attention (Anderson, 1990; Salomon & Globerson, 1987). 6 It is also the case that CAI carries with it the risks more often associated with conventional teaching methods (Rains, 1993), namely, of losing a learner's attention or even being downright boring (Young, 1992).

In my judgment, emerging multimedia and hyper-media capabilities, supported by the graphical user interface (GUI), can alleviate such concerns and, therefore, could be the technological advance that contributes the most to assure that instructional computing realizes its promise. Justifiable concerns have been expressed about the misuse of the newer technology. We should not indulge the instinct of students to be passive participants by dressing up old technology with entertaining interfaces - what some have referred to as "eye candy." This danger can be avoided if careful thought is given to using the technology to actually enrich the learning experience. Among the pioneers in using multimedia is Bill Andersen of the University of Washington who has added "on demand" video segments of himself to a substantively excellent set of presentation programs that set out three different models of agency decision making. The video segments are intended to amplify the basic material, both in content and in the manner which the learner interacts with it.

Robert Garcia of UCLA is going the interactive video route. He has been developing a video of expert testimony in the context of a battered spouse trial. The great potential of this technology for lending realism to the learning experience is well known. Its interactive quality makes such a video a wonderful environment within which to assist students to develop their evidentiary and litigation skills. A current downside of this technology is its cost, but the costs associated with video technology may be expected to decrease along with other computing technology. Another limitation is that digitalized video is even more memory intensive than multimedia generally. However, improved hardware and software compression technology should help to obviate this problem.

I too have gotten on the multimedia/hypermedia bandwagon. Taking a cue from the fields of cognitive neuroscience and learning theory (Kosslyn, 1992) I have devoted the past year to attempting to exploit the potential of multimedia technology to break out of the text-based communication mode that characterizes both conventional law teaching and most CAI to date. Most of that research has involved an attempt to develop a rich learning experience in a game setting, on the assumption that many better computer games are rich in educational content. 7 This game, which I call "Sleuthing Article 9," will put a learner into a virtual law office setting and assign to the learner the task of solving various "mysteries" associated with Article 9 practice. The learner will have at his or her disposal a set of resources ranging from the Uniform Commercial Code itself to the student's law school notes.

Many CAI exercises continue to be essentially linear in structure and tie the learner to a path through an exercise that is largely dictated by the author. I am not alone in believing that if active learning is the goal, there is a need to transfer greater navigational control to the learner, while not allowing him or her to become completely lost (Allen & Robinson, 1992; Kibby & Mayes, 1992; Mayes, Kibby & Watson, 1988). One of the most ambitious features of the Sleuthing game is that it will attempt to allow a learner to define his or her own path to a solution for the mysteries that are presented. Giving learners this kind of freedom, while at the same time giving them the feedback necessary to keep them from getting lost and otherwise failing to benefit from the experience, presents formidable technological problems, not the least of which involves overcoming natural language processing limitations. I have had some success with carefully designed language parsing routines that are extremely time and lab intensive, but do work. Most recently, I have been investigating a neural network approach to the problem and that may yet prove to be a productive avenue (Lawrence, 1993). Obviously, the Sleuthing game is a long term project at best.

Along the way I have developed an Article 9 Perfection exercise, which like the Sleuthing game, relies heavily on visualization and kinesthetic learning activity, but which does not require the elaborate staging and dramatization programming that has made that game a long term enterprise to say the least. This exercise, which was implemented in Multimedia ToolBook 3.0, requires a learner to arrange objects representing Article 9 concepts and events on the screen and then test a chosen configuration, leads to perfection of a security interest using a rule-based "examiner" that resides in the exercise.

The results to date of my recent work were the subject of a presentation made at the Third International Conference on Substantive Technology in the Law School held in Paris (Boyd, 1994). The favorable reception my report received, indicates that making extensive use of visualization and game technology are directions in which learning software development should be going.

Some Thoughts about Process

It seems clear that we must be concerned with more than the content and form of computerized learning materials. Delivery systems are changing as well, especially as the World Wide Web and sophisticated browsers, such as Cello and Mosaic make remote access and use of such materials across the Internet more of a reality every day. One of my recent projects anticipates this need. It is a bankruptcy law learning system that resides on a URL site and can be used by anyone, anywhere, who has access to the Internet and browser software. The bankruptcy learning system was presented at a program sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Networked Information. This "New Learning Communities" program identified projects that use the Internet in innovative ways and placed a premium on collaborative activity.

The importance of collaboration is an appropriate point upon which to close. There is little question that the technology is advancing rapidly and eventually will accommodate even the most imaginative of instructional designs. But, exploiting the technology to its fullest will require that subject matter experts make full use of computer professionals and others, such as librarians, whose firmly entrenched hierarchical organizational structures have often prevented production of contributions that are essential if instructional computing is to realize its full potential (Boyd, 1993).


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1 CALI is a consortium of some 135 law schools which was founded in 1982. By recent count, the CALI library of exercises contains more than seventy interactive, computer-based lessons covering twenty subject areas.

2 Buffalo Creek: A Game of Discovery, by Owen Fiss, of Yale & Ronald Wright of Wake Forest; Ferdinand and the Lobster Trap, by David Shapiro of Harvard.

3 That all thinking is information processing is the view of at least one leading cognitive psychologist. See H. Gleitman, (1991) at 307-08.

4 Presentation of Trotter Hardy entitled 'The Internet' at the Ninth British & Irish Legal Education Technology Association Conference, (BILETA), April 1994.

5 These researchers have identified a set of Dialectical Examples, standard ways of using a comparison of cases to justify an assertion about a problem situation. They believe that these Dialectical Examples are useful argumentation strategies for students to master. Electronic Mail from Vincent Aleven, February 10, 1994. For an exposition of the project in its formative stages, see Ashley, 1989.

6 Arguing that the differences between what learners are capable of learning and what they do learn, may be explained by the mid-level construct of "mindfulness" which reflects voluntariness and connects motivation, cognition and learning.

7 Among the better known of these games are S. Meier's Civilization (MicroProse) and SimCity 2000 (Maxis). As to the educational value of games generally, see Lipton, R. (1992).