Emerging Paradigms in Legal Education: A Learning Environment to Teach Law through Online Role Playing Games

Emerging Paradigms in Legal Education: A Learning Environment to Teach Law through Online Role Playing Games

Nicola Lettieri, Ernesto Fabiani, Antonella Tartaglia Polcini, Rosario De Chiara, Vittorio Scarano
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch047
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Over the last years, despite few exceptions, legal education has dropped behind in the use of digital game-based learning methods. Law schools essentially still resort to traditional lectures even though there are evidences that computer gaming simulations can represent an effective practice for both teaching theoretical concepts of law and for training students in acquiring legal skills. This chapter presents a research that is aimed at developing/trying out a new method for legal education based on the use of SGs. Simulex, a learning environment for the creation of on line role playing games simulating trials, will be presented. The main focus of the chapter will be on the analysis of the specific needs of legal education and on describing how these needs have been matched by the development of the project, from the design to the testing phase. Some user testing has been carried out in the specific case of an experimental class of civil procedure law, for undergraduate students. The second part of the work will describe the results of the testing from a didactical, methodological, and technical point of view, also sketching future developments of the experimentation.
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To which extent legal education can benefit from digital technologies? What is the role, in legal training, of the teaching methodologies inspired by videogames?

The research described here tries to give an answer to these questions by focusing on Serious Games (SGs), probably one of the most promising paradigms in supporting the teaching by using new technologies (Aldrich, 2009; Gee, 2007). SGs are now used worldwide in a very heterogeneous set of learning contexts running from business management to military training. Experiential learning provided by the interaction with the wide range of scenarios that is possible to simulate by using computers, together with the appeal of videogame, is showing a remarkable ability to motivate learning processes (Michael & Chen; 2005; Annetta, 2008).

Even if with some delay, legal education is showing a growing interest towards the use of SGs. As confirmed by several studies and existing software, the simulation of real activities enabled by computer games is a powerful method for both training students in acquiring legal skills and for teaching legal concepts (principles of law and legal ethics, legal institutions).

This chapter illustrates the design, the development and the implementation of Simulex, together with a short analysis of the context of law teaching. Furthermore we report an encouraging experience of use of Simulex, our with university students.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Legal Clinic: Learning method adopted in many American Law Schools based on learning programs providing hands-on legal experiences. Students are asked to offer pro bono legal services to real clients. Their services consist in researching materials, drafting legal arguments and meeting clients. All the activities are carried out, in different fields of law, under the direction of one or more professors. The main goal is to complete the theoretical qualification of students through practical activities.

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment: Set of techniques used in videogame to change game parameters (Non Player Character’s behaviors, scenarios etc) according to the player’s ability. The goal is to avoid players becoming bored (when the game is too easy) or frustrated (when it is too hard): DDA systems aim to keep the user interested from the beginning to the end of the game providing him a good level of challenge.

Moot Courts: Extracurricular learning programs in which law students take part in simulated trials competing with other students. Moot court helps students to learn how to analyze legal issues; the goal is to teach students the practical side of practicing law. Participants are usually divided in two or more teams. Each team receives a detailed description of an hypothetical fact scenario that raises one or more legal issues. Teams have to face off issues as if they were lawyers or advocates for one or sometimes both of the parties submitting written briefs, participating in oral argument or both.

Experiential Learning: Educational method based on the teaching role of experience and aiming at fostering new skills, attitudes or even new ways of thinking through the reflection on concrete activities.

Civil Procedure Law: Body of methods, procedures, and practices followed by courts and parties when adjudicating and participating in civil lawsuits.

Common Law: The expression “common law” is used to point out legal systems in which law is developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals (also called case law), rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action.

Civil Law: The expression “civil law” is used to point out legal systems inspired by Roman law in which legal norms are written into laws collected into codes and not determined by judges.

Casebook: Teaching technique based on the analysis and the discussion of legal cases described in special textbooks, the casebooks. Students are presented with cases concerning a particular area of law and are requested to face to all legal issues related with it: they have to analyze, understand and explain to the teacher the legal reasons of the facts described in the book. The basic idea is that rather than studying highly abstract legal rules, the best way to learn law is to read judicial opinions which become the law under the rule of stare decisis.

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