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Paliwala, A --- "E-learning and Culture Change: The Iolis Story" [2005] LegEdDig 49; (2005) 14(1) Legal Education Digest 22

E-learning and Culture Change: The Iolis Story

A Paliwala

[2005] LegEdDig 49; (2005) 14(1) Legal Education Digest 22

39 Law Teacher 1, 2005, pp 1–15

Iolis is an interactive multimedia study resource developed by the Law Courseware Consortium (LCC) with the co-operation of law schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is currently subscribed to by over 50 university law schools, which deliver it to students on their networks. A large number of law students also purchase individual copies and the University of London External Program provides copies to over 10,000 students worldwide. Iolis is also a useful resource for those wishing to acquire a common law background.

Iolis development commenced in 1992 as part of a three-year program funded by the national Teaching and Learning Technology Program (TLTP). It consists of interactive multimedia Workbooks with a variety of activity pages and hypertext and web links, including to a linked easily navigable Resourcebook of over 3,000 free text documents, as well as ancillary facilities such as notemaking, annotation, comment or conferencing, bookmarking, scoring and help.

Space precludes discussion of the development in detail, which has been described elsewhere. Several points, however, should be noted. First, credibility and sustainability required a substantial amount of material. This in turn required a large number of authors from a wide cross section of the academic community including a substantial number of leading academic authors. Second, courseware was to be a supplementary resource rather than entire replacement of personal contact teaching. Interactive classrooms normally involve some imparting of information, question-and-answer discussion and doing of exercises, with no formal separation between these processes. Yet, much then existing courseware divided lessons into lecture notes and exercises and much web material does the same today. Third, a proper independent learning resource required access to an e-library.

UK course teachers are used to traditional instructionist learning models with a balance between providing information and problem-solving. While the underlying basis of Iolis workbooks is expository text, followed by multiple-choice questions and feedback, sophisticated use of multiple choices enables complex pedagogical engagement.

Courseware should be seen as merely one resource in a plural learning environment with appropriate combination of personal contact teaching and electronic discussion. In addition, proper construction of courseware, the use of feedback loops to right as well as wrong answers, and proactive strategies to take into account responses of staff and students in preparation of revised editions can do much to take account of the perceptions of teachers, students and authors.

Iolis Author as developed was a major factor in the success of Iolis as authors needed very little technical training and the system evolved in accordance with their suggestions. Students find Iolis easy and attractive. Unlike CALI Courseware, Iolis continues to be delivered as a CD for the time being. This enables fast and efficient delivery for users in subscribing law schools as they deliver it on the university networks.

At the policy level, the LCC was established as a national body for England and Wales. There was a small but dedicated production team, including an academic as part-time Director, the Technical Director as the sole programmer, a part-time administrator, a part-time project assistant and (from the third year) a student graphic designer. Much courseware is developed and then subsides into non-use in spite of its quality as a teaching product. LCC aimed Iolis to be viable five years from the initial development. Sustainability was built into the production process from the very beginning. Iolis was seen as a resource developed by authors nationally to be adapted by institutions and individuals to meet their own teaching/learning needs rather than a top-down process.

The general finding of implementation research studies is that students find Iolis easy to use and an attractive educational resource if they are reasonably computer literate and have easy access to it, especially from their home machines. However, there are difficulties in effective access to Iolis in oversubscribed and often unattractive computer work areas in universities. It is also difficult for lecturers to organise Iolis training in these work areas for large groups of students.

Over more than a decade, Iolis has established itself as a general learning resource for law students and is a testament to the benefits of collaboration between law academics. It also has been a learning experience for many law academics in courseware authoring and stimulated a range of new activities, especially in the development and delivery of web-based e-learning. As legal education moves into a new era of managed and virtual learning environments, Iolis has to change gear to locate itself in the new context. Iolis provides, on the whole, a superior level of interaction and resources, but is currently delivered separately from the web and therefore integration with course web pages requires distinct procedures.

The earlier promise of successful collaborative development of ICT-based learning has been strongly affected recently by institutional individualisation as law schools develop their own intranet-based e-learning strategies. In this new era, there is a need for a re-conceptualisation of courseware in conjunction with the roles of all those concerned with promoting e-learning in the UK. Currently, Iolis performs the function mainly of being a published learning resource. After the early period of conscious pedagogical development, Iolis is concentrating on content. For this to be achieved, Iolis would come as two packages. It would be delivered as it is currently on law school intranets and for individual student purchase.

The LCC staff would develop an additional role of consultants and promoters of resource-based learning for law. At present this function is carried out by institution-based learning units. However, these have obvious limitations where subject expertise is concerned. The proposed scheme would enable collaboration involving the pooling of four types of resources — institutions have infrastructure expertise; the LCC has technical expertise; and subscription income from law schools and from students.

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