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LawNow online web resource.

Whither the Web?

In June 1993, a little over six years ago, "there were but 130 WWW servers on-line world wide; a year and a half later there were over 10,000 WWW servers and [in October 1996] there were over 200,000 web servers", according to the online Journal of Mediated Communication 2:3. Associated Press told us in 1998, that "A computer search for a needle in the cyberstack now involves sorting through about 320 million Web pages, and even the best search agents index no more than 40 percent of them"

Speaking of the same study, Hyman Hirsh, a computer science professor at Rutgers University, said, "[e]verybody knows the Web is enormous and that finding things on it is very difficult," he said. "It is an unorganized, uncoordinated collection of information sources that is totally overwhelming."

We are now yet another year of web-building later, and it doesn't seem that the speed of growth is slowing. It is little wonder if classroom teachers, confronted by the very wealth of the internet--at the same time as ongoing cuts eat other resources including time--may wonder what on earth to do with it all.

How can the Web be used?

However, there are some ways to surf more fruitfully through the building electronic wave. In her article "Teaching and Learning on the World Wide Web", Shirley Alexander, from the Institute for Interactive Multimedia in Australia examines what to focus on in using the WWW. After a quick history of technology from Plato to Wired, she reports a study (Saljo 1979) which examined what individuals understood by learning. The study suggested five categories:

"1. Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge.

2. Learning as memorising... storing information that can be reproduced.

3. Learning as acquiring facts, skills and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.

4. Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning... involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.

5. Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way."

If we take those five categories, it is easy to see that there is a break after category three in the type of learning that is being described. Categories one to three involve something like the empty vessel theory of the student who arrives at school to be filled, generally with concrete information and skills, especially valuable in the earlier years.

The addition of content to a course of study is one of the areas where the WWW excels--perhaps over-excels as we see above. However, there are the problems of reliability of source information and of the duration of the search process to solve. Especially in lower grades, a teacher can't just send students out surfing without prescreening sites, unless a site is known to be reliable.

The learning described in categories four and five involve the student in acting on the information, by "making sense" "abstracting meaning" "relating" "interpreting". These activities can also be nicely supported by materials on the WWW when, for example, a teacher or students find a variety of information on similar subjects so that the students may begin the process of making sense by relating articles and viewpoints to one another, and to their own world.

There are many ways this can be done from building online learning communities, to home schooling, to using the WWW as the `text' for alternative schools. However, although Ronald Owston from York University notes a variety of these potential uses in his article "The World Wide Web: A Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning", he cautions that the more elaborate uses require time, money, and technology skills that are often not available in large supply. "Instead the Web is more likely to be used to bring into the classroom new learning resources and opportunities. There is a case to be made that for the relatively small investment of obtaining WWW access, significant value can be added to a school's resources" (Educational Researcher 26:2)

LawNow Online in the WWW Universe

LawNow Online (LNOL), the electronic outgrowth of LawNow Magazine, provides three separate services of value to the K-12 class-room: a searchable database of articles published since 1995, an online version of the current magazine (with back issues in .pdf format from V22:4 onward); and a twice-monthly email UPDATE about recent cases and statutes from right across the country.

We embarked on the process of developing LawNow Online for three main reasons. First, since many readers ask for reprints of past articles, we wanted an indexed archive of the wealth of information we had published over the years. Thus, we created the LawNow Online searchable database of our archives from Volume 20 onward. Not only can the archives be searched, but they can be downloaded and printed via Word for Windows 6 or 7, RTF, or HTML.

Second, we know that many of our print magazine subscribers want extra-easy accessibility to one or two articles per issue. For example, a teacher may find an article on human rights in the class-room that will fit perfectly with a lesson he or she is planning. To provide this kind of single article accessibility, we have created the LawNow Online Current Magazine. It contains all the articles contained in the print magazine; however, they are designed to suit both those who wish to read one article on screen and for those who want to hit their print key and print a classroom supply of a particular article.

Occasionally, when our print magazine is stuffed full to bursting, we put extras such as long lists of references, or even an extra article online. (This is always mentioned in the print magazine.) In the future, we hope to add other features to the online magazine, such as interviews with the writers--although teachers and their classes can now dialogue with the Editor through email, and could on occasion be put in touch with article writers on an informal basis.

Third--and one of my personal favourite parts of LNOL--we wanted to have a more timely column for our subscribers than we are able to supply in the bi-monthly magazine. Thus, my Associate Editor, Teresa Mitchell, now writes an electronic version of her popular Update column. This column UPDATE goes out to LNOL subscribers twice each month and provides them with concise summaries of important and interesting cases and legislation which have been decided in the preceding period. This supplies each subscriber--classroom teacher, for example--with new Canadian material that can be used to support existing curriculum materials. For example, a teacher working through a unit on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms might find the latest human rights case arriving by email through the latest UPDATE. All of the electronic UPDATES are saved in the UPDATE archives on the LNOL web site.

Using LawNow Online in the Classroom

LawNow Online is the kind of resource which Owston and Alexander might contemplate as a low cost, high content WWW resource for the classroom. It has these specific advantages: it is current, Canadian, and credible--but doesn't involve you in searching all over the WWW for the relevant materials. Because of its thematic approach, it usually includes several articles, often from different viewpoints, on each topic from the family business to writing a will.

Like any web site, there may be several ways to use LNOL depending on the students and online equipment you have. Those who have the luxury of a classroom filled with web access work stations, or a school with computer labs where students can research, may wish to use LNOL as a research site for students. However, because many don't have such luxuriously equipped situations, let's look at the use teachers with access to one online computer could make of LNOL.

While it should perhaps go without saying that LNOL has a wealth of material for teachers of law, what is less obvious is that there is much useful material to support curricula in other subject areas. Let's look at some examples:


Suppose a business teacher wanted to teach a unit about working in a family business. With a quick search of the LNOL Archives for key words such as family business or small business, the teacher would find the following, among many other articles:

Ablett, John. One in Five: are you going to be the one who succeeds? LawNow 20(2) - discussing the need to do a business plan

Mildon, Marsha. Family as risky business: working with a net. LawNow 22(1) - describing how the Canadian Association of Family Entrepreneurs helps family businesses avoid legal and business risks.

McCracken, Gerry. A Family affair: financing the next generation. LawNow 22(1) - describing the problems of passing a business from one generation on to another.

Jaglal, Rana. Estate planning for farmers. LawNow 22(1) - discussing the issues in passing on a family farm to the children.

This teacher could take any one of these articles as supplemental reading for the students -- thus adding real life content to the unit. Alternatively, students could be given the question "If I owned a business and wanted to pass it on to my children, what issues would I need to deal with?" They could be asked to answer with an essay, or better yet, a business plan which pinpointed legal as well as other issues.

Further, the teacher could then search the archives under human rights in the workplace and find several articles which deal with the rights which must be respected in the hiring, termination, and ongoing working relationship including the School's In section on Children, Work, and the Law which deals with termination and wrongful dismissal.

Other subject areas:

There are many other subject areas which could similarly use material from the LNOL archives.

Language Arts classes where students are required to read and write essays would find many resources in the archives. Searching under `plain language' would turn up several articles on planning and refining articles for readability. Searching under `law and literature' would find not only several columns -- such as `A lawyer turned novelist', but a School's In section detailing specifics about teaching law using literature and vice versa. There's even a School's In section looking at the use of language in the legal world including writing legal poetry and a legal jigsaw puzzle.

Social Studies will find a rich vein of material here to mine from human rights issues to the history of governments from Athens, Rome, to speculations on the future of Canada in the 21st century. Let's examine one set of activities which might be developed for Grade 7 Junior High Social Studies.
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Author:Mildon, Marsha
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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