iPads in Legal Learning (iLEGALL): mobile devices in professional legal learning

iPads in Legal Learning (iLEGALL): mobile devices in professional legal learning

Jonathan Bainbridge [1], Karen Counsell [2], Freda Grealy [3], Paul Maharg [4], Joel Mills [5] and Rory O'Boyle [6]

Cite as: Bainbridge, J., Counsell, K., Grealy, F., Maharg, P., Mills, J., O'Boyle, R., ' iPads in Legal Learning (iLEGALL): mobile devices in professional legal learning', European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2013


By any measure, the statistics on the sale and use of mobile devices show their remarkably swift market penetration. While the global market for smartphones was expected to grow by only 1.4% year over year in 2012 (the lowest growth rate in three years), this still is substantial growth in a recessionary market. The figure represents annual sales of around 1.7B smartphones, rising to projected annual sales of 2.2B by 2016. [7] By the end of 2011 there were almost 6B mobile subscriptions according to The International Telecommunication Union - equivalent to around 87% of world population, and an increase from around 5.4B in 2010, and 4.7B in 2009. [8] But if mobile devices are becoming more common for personal and leisure use and in some areas of the workplace, their use within institutional curricula in Higher Education (HE) is still relatively uncommon. The 2011 Educause Report on mobile IT observed that while there was much discussion on the application of mobile technologies, there was as yet little institutional commitment (Dobbin et al). The Educause research team noted in their infographic at http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EIG1104.pdf that 38% of universities and college had mobile-enabled no services at all in the past 12 months; that 35% reported zero spending on mobile technologies, and 19% reported they had zero FTE students working with mobile technologies. [9]

If the infrastructural landscape is uneven, the recent literature on mobile use in curricula is also mixed. While there have been case studies of successful use, there have been some notable negative results. At Stanford University School of Medicine, for example, when iPads were issued to students to replace around 3,700 pages of printed materials per head, 'Stanford was forced to resume offering printed notes to those who wanted them. In most classes, half the students had stopped using their iPads only a few weeks into the term' (Keller, 2011). In spite of this, the Educause 2012 Horizon Report felt sufficiently confident about mobile usage to state that time to adoption for mobile apps and tablet computing was one year or less (Johnson et al, 2012).

There are no equivalent figures or overview reports for UK HE for a comparative period. However Traxler & Wishart have edited a valuable collection of case-studies across a range of other disciplines that illustrate how learning might successfully be enhanced by the use of mobile devices in UK HE. In his introduction Traxler describes the mobile domain as characterized by three traits, namely 'diversity, transience and incoherence', and he compares this to the relative stability of the PC environment (Traxler and Wishart, 2011, 5). Nevertheless he makes three claims for learning via mobile devices, namely that it supports:

  1. 'the possibility of contingent mobile learning and teaching, where learners can react and respond to their environment and their changing experiences'
  2. 'situated learning, where learning takes place in surroundings that make learning meaningful'
  3. 'authentic learning, where learning tasks are meaningfully related to immediate learning goals, for example doing drug calculations on hospital wards'. (Traxler and Wishart, 2011, 5-6)

In our conclusion we shall return to this list and evaluate whether or not our project demonstrated these traits.

Our project is unique: as far as we are aware, there are no equivalent legal educational projects in the mobile domain. The project began in Northumbria Law School, where the potential use of iPads on the professional curriculum of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) was first discussed among staff. The origin of our project lay in a number of related problems we faced at Northumbria Law School, some of them local to the institution, some of them generic to the type of programme where several project members worked. It also arose from our collective interest in the potentialities of mobile connectivity.

Three separate discussions converged. First, there were a number of frustrations arising from the institution's use of Blackboard, its web-based virtual learning environment (VLE). The interface was not particularly user-friendly, and the environment was highly constrained, with little opportunity to make use of the read-write web - for example wikis were poorly rendered and difficult to organize with students - while the interface between the password-protected environment of the VLE and sites beyond it was problematic. The VLE, because it was largely an information-push environment, socialized our students into thinking of digital learning technologies as simply a vehicle for institutional and programme information, and conventional learning methods in a new wrapper. In this sense while the VLE undoubtedly enabled more flexible access to digital resources, it did little to encourage innovation in the use of digital applications, either among staff or among students. Indeed one might go further, and say that the concept of enhancing literacies (for example Creme 2008; Gee 2004) or the constructivist possibilities inherent in simulations and games (Barton & McKellar 2011; de Freitas and Maharg, 2011) were approaches difficult to implement within the architecture of the VLE. By contrast, mobile connectivity gave us a new environment, one where we could circumvent the institutional restrictions of form, structure and content.

Second, the LPC itself constrained our educational ideas. The regulatory structure of the programme does little to encourage the flourishing of creativity or innovation in learning and assessment (Blakely 2006). Indeed as Maharg has pointed out on more than one occasion, the result of tight regulatory control of curriculum design has given staff little incentive to find and develop their own voices as teachers. Paradoxically, the freedom of a mobile environment became a way of escaping the prison of curriculum structure - a move that we hoped would enhance student learning. Third, a number of us were interested in exploring the theory and practice of mobile connectivity. The project was planned in early 2011 after students had reacted with some excitement to Bainbridge's use of his own iPad in teaching sessions. The reaction from students and his own use of the mobile device in the classroom convinced him that this could be a useful and popular learning resource for student. We were aware of the literature in the field (for example Traxler 2008; Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula 2007). What was of interest to us was how learning in the digital mobile domain might significantly alter theory and practice in legal education.

Project aims and objectives were therefore formed; but since we wanted to be able to compare use of mobile devices on different courses and in different jurisdictions, we formed partnerships with the Law Society of Ireland and Glamorgan Law School, both of whom were keen to participate in the joint project. Funding was obtained from BILETA (British and Irish Law Education & Technology Association), matching funding was secured from Northumbria Law School; and with a Teaching Development Grant provided by the Higher Education Academy giving us total funding of £14,000, we were in a position to employ a part-time researcher to help us solve some of the technical problems we would encounter in the project. Our project was always going to be a pilot project, particularly given the size of our funding; but it seemed important to us to engage in at least some investigation of the field for legal education.

Project methodology

There were three issues that arose early in our project. First, given the modest size of our project and the research dataset that would emerge, it was clear that a phenomenographic approach to data collection would probably be most appropriate (Booth & Marton 1997). We wanted to focus on the experiences of students and staff in particular locales, noting how the relatively new device was used by both students and staff. Following Geertz (1989) we wanted to investigate the local context and local use of the device, and develop ideas about how that might be generalised to other classes and other programmes. Second, given our preferences and prior experiences as academics, we were drawn to constructivist learning designs. We wanted to investigate the use of experiential learning where appropriate, but within the context of situated learning resources and affordances on a range of professional programmes. However we were also aware that openness to alternatives in theory and practices was essential. Sfard put it well:

'When a theory is translated in an instructional prescription, exclusivity becomes the worst enemy of success. Educational practices have an overpowering propensity for extreme, one-for-all practical recipes. A trendy mixture of constructivist, social-interactionist, and situationist approaches […] is often translated into a total banishment of 'teaching by telling'. What is true about educational practice also holds for theories of learning.' (Sfard, 1998, 10-11)

Third, we wanted our pilot study to scope out areas for further work and research, by us and others, and to note this.

Local choices and contexts determined our methodology. The platform of choice was the iPad, at the start of the project the market leader with a reputation for accessibility and ease of use. There were of course issues with use of proprietary hardware, when almost all the project personnel were committed to some degree to the concept of open educational resources; but given the closeness of proprietary hardware to operating systems and our modest budget, we were constrained to adopt one platform and work to that, rather than design cross-platform.

Whilst Northumbria Law School did support the idea of mobile learning in principle, there was some resistance to the use of mobile devices in the classroom both from law school staff and more particular from the university's IT Services. It soon became clear that an initial task for the project personnel at Northumbria would be the creation and dissemination of specific user guides for students and for staff, guidance on how best to deploy the iPads with students. [10] We therefore planned carefully how the project would be introduced, which applications would be the most appropriate for students (see the Appendix for a timeline of these decisions), particularly given the range of different project sites - in Glamorgan, a different module on their LPC to that of Northumbria, in the Law Society of Ireland, a CPD course for solicitors. Each institution was free to decide how the iPads would be deployed to the students whether on a loan basis or through student ownership, with each centre addressing the issues that they faced independently. The partnership provided context for the pilot and mitigated against any particular issue from a single institution from skewing our investigation into the validity of mobile learning. All institutions had to liaise with different curricular frameworks, IT infrastructures and VLEs. While these made cross-site data comparisons problematic, it had the pragmatic advantage of giving us a robust and varied backdrop against which to test mobile learning.

As part of our initial investigation we considered the use of a simulation engine called SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Learning Environment) on the iPad platform (Gould et al 2008). Tests revealed that it did not work well on touch screens. It was a web-based tool using Java and Javascript, and rendered poorly on the smaller mobile screen compared to a desktop or laptop screen. Alternatives were sought and outlined in an Internal Working Paper, 'Using iPads in Legal Education'. [11] The paper explored the concept of using different third-party tools to achieve the same end result as a SIMPLE simulation, and we took that route in the project infrastructure. This decision allowed us swiftly to focus on how the device would be used with students, and gave us the time to develop customized content for the uses to which both staff and students would put the device.

We therefore used the iPad as a portal that supported legal research, drafting and collaboration as well as the dissemination of learning materials. We achieved this through the creation of workflows using third-party apps. The project researched suitable apps that would communicate with one another through DropBox, a collaborative 'cloud-based' solution. The project has developed the iPad as a PIM solution with the design and implementation of specific workflows that would support legal learning. We believe that this approach enabled us to escape from a number of institutional constraints that hinder approaches to mobile learning; but it was not without its weaknesses. The success of our approach can be gauged in the following accounts from our three project centres - Northumbria Law School, Glamorgan Law School and the Law Society of Ireland. [12]

Northumbria University Law School: iPads and the Legal Practice Course


In England and Wales the LPC is intended to bridge the gap between the academic stages of legal education, i.e. the undergraduate law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), and the work-based period of legal training that follows. At Northumbria each LPC student beginning the course either in September 2011 or 2012 was equipped with an iPad2 (a 16G, wifi-only model). There were just over a hundred students in each cohort. Students were given complete ownership of the iPad (in effect the price was bundled into the resource costings) so that they could use it as they wanted. The use of the device on the course was not compulsory and the students could take part in the course with or without the iPad. This was important to the Northumbria study: we wanted students to take ownership of their own learning, not to lock them into something they were uncomfortable with. Students were given an hour long initial hands-on training about some of the features of the iPad and further information was placed on the University VLE on how to link the iPad to a Dropbox and QuickOffice Pro HD (students were provided with Apple Store vouchers so they could purchase the apps that staff recommended they use). The profile of the students enrolling onto the Northumbria LPC is mixed. They are predominantly in their early twenties and postgraduates, having finished their LLB or having completed the GDL. We had assumed that most students would have a basic level of understanding of iPads because of the growth in the smartphone usage in this age group and that, as they were a generation that had grown up with technology, they would be generally more technically-aware. Given this assumption, we were interested to see how students would use the device in a classroom setting.

One of the core modules on the LPC is Business Law and Practice (BLP), and it was decided to use this module to pilot the integration of the iPad into the LPC teaching programme. The module is taught in the first semester, from September to January, with an examination at the end of January. It is taught by way of a one-hour lecture, one two-hour workshop and one-hour small group sessions each week. Part of the aims of the LPC is to teach students the practical skills they will require as a practising lawyer and they are therefore assessed in drafting legal documents, letter writing and legal research. As part of the preparation for the teaching sessions students would be asked to draft documents, undertake legal research or carry out letter writing tasks. The instructions given to the students suggested that they brought their drafts or findings on their iPad to the teaching session, but this was not compulsory. It was felt that some students would prefer to use paper copies or to use another device, such as a laptop. We fully supported the concept of bring your own device - BYOD, as it has become known.

Students were encouraged to bring iPads to each teaching session. From classroom observation many students used their iPads from the start and were comfortable with the technologies behind it. Others brought the device to sessions but it would not be relatively unused. As the course progressed, again from classrooms observation, usage from the students who had not been using the iPad initially started to increase. Students found the iPad particularly helpful when undertaking practical legal research. Access to legal databases through the web browser was one of the major attractions of the device. One student who commented to staff at the beginning of the course that he was thinking of selling the device because he did not think he would use it at all, was using it constantly by the second month, and declared that he would not be without it.

Materials were made available both from Dropbox and the VLE, from where students could retrieve programme files to work upon, and within which they saved and edited their own work. The lecture materials were made available in Word, Pages and ePub format. We recorded all the lectures in BLP and all other LPC subjects, and these were available to students as podcasts for use on their iPads or other mobile devices. In the workshops and small teaching sessions students were encouraged to review each other's work and had to undertake some collaborative drafting exercises where the students would, for example, be told to amend a partnership agreement. Students would then be asked, in their groups, to show a piece of drafting or written research to the class, thus encouraging reflection and peer-review amongst the group.

Students were surveyed at three stages in the BLP course to see how they were using the technologies in their work, not just in BLP but also in other modules on the course (see Appendix). The vast majority of students liked using the device. There were positive comments in each survey on its quickness and portability, good web browsing, and especially on the experience of browsing legal databases, with Lexis Library and Westlaw high on the list of databases visited. They liked the fact they could pick up their University emails on the iPad. Students were also encouraged to share good practice with everyone: if students found particular apps they thought were useful to their learning, then they were encouraged to inform the module tutor who then disseminated the information to the rest of the cohort. One student drafted some study guides for the other students to use if they wished; again these were made available to the students via Dropbox and the University VLE.

On the negative side the device's use on drafting activities showed its limitations as a text editor. This was mostly due to the on-screen keyboard which was not conducive to drafting much more than a few lines of text. Others did not like the touch screen interface. Typical comments:

  • 'Not all documents can be opened and amended, which means that I can't use the iPad for everything, and I still have to use paper-based resources from time to time.'
  • 'It is sometimes difficult to copy text or amend text as quickly as you would on a laptop.'
  • 'Too hard to use in preparing/writing documents. Takes longer to correct mistakes (if made in writing [a] documents) than on a computer.'
  • 'It's unnecessary, not user friendly for drafting documents, far easier to use a small laptop.'
  • 'It's good for reading information, but not so good for writing. Mostly because of the keyboard - it's not so quick typing on an on-screen keyboard. I also find it difficult to access any of the functions I would usually use a mouse right-click for - e.g. cutting, pasting, etc.'

The major problem for students was its use as a word processor. There seemed to be a gap between what the students believe the machine should be capable of and of the limitations of the hardware in its early years. It has to be said, of course, that wireless keyboards, both Apple and third-party versions, make a considerable difference, and combined with touchscreen functionality can enhance keyboard activity over notebook activity. Users, however, were not supplied with keyboards in our project.

One of the more interesting aspects of the feedback from the 2011 intake of students was their general lack of understanding of the technologies they used every day. So whilst 79% of those who answered the initial survey stated that they owned or had used a smartphone or iPad before joining the course, an equivalent number had never used any form of cloud-based storage before and very few had downloaded an app, or were aware of whether they had or not. Again when asked in classroom whether they had heard of cloud-based computing many students admitted that they had not. At the beginning of the course staff observed that students asked basic questions of iPad functionality, noting that after several weeks this lessened. Most students in the 2012 cohort had heard of cloud computing, probably a reflection of corporate marketing of the space by the likes of Apple's iCloud, Google Drive and Amazon Cloud Drive.

There is already a developing literature on the use of iPads in graduate and professional education. [13] While it is clear that much research remains to be carried out on educational use of the device, from these and our own project at Northumbria, use of the devices includes the following benefits:

  • teaching and learning can be more engaging for the students
  • there is enhanced learning through well-designed use of the technology
  • there has been a reduction in print costs, both environmental and financial
  • potential use of mobile devices as e-book platforms for core texts
  • Easy access to apps that are designed for the environment, e.g. flash cards, calendar-based learning, intuitive use of device to support client-based activities, and the like.

As a summary of their experiences, Northumbria staff produced a report on implementation of the iPad proposal. [14] The curriculum team found that there was minimal re-design of learning material required as the majority of material adhered to the 'write once, publish many times' model of delivery. The materials could easily be re-purposed and published as ePub format and uploaded to iPads as iBook-formatted documents. The team produced a number of user guides to help others who want to introduce similar technologies into their teaching and learning strategies on the following subjects:

  • Connecting iPad to DropBox
  • Collaboration tools
  • Using Quick Office on iPad
  • Timeline Document
  • Quick Office for iPad

Glamorgan Law School: perspectives on mobile professional learning


At Glamorgan it was clear from staff observations pre-pilot that students were increasingly accessing information using mobile devices, and their comfort and confidence using these sources within a social context was evident in the classroom. Students were not necessarily engaging with mobile technology in terms of their own learning at a more complex level, however: they were using them mainly for retrieval of messages and documentation. An interesting question to be posed therefore concerns the contribution that mobile devices can make to learning and teaching (Peters 2007).

As Boyle observed, many staff in Higher Education are resistant to the presence of mobile technologies within the classroom, fearing them to be a distraction from study rather than working with the benefits that come with their adoption (Boyle 2011). Some institutions have developed policies in order to insist that staff do not bar students using mobile devices in class. Should law tutors need persuasion regarding the value of mobile technology? Law tutors can be experienced practitioners within the context of authentic learning e.g. simulations, moots, role-plays, taking the opportunity to develop a real-world approach to legal education. But they are not necessarily embracing the opportunities provided by mobile technology preferring to work with rather static VLEs such as Blackboard. This was certainly an issue for the Glamorgan project. An approach made to other LPC staff by the researcher did not result in collaboration, as they were reluctant to engage with iPads, fearing they would require them to completely re-write and rethink their module delivery. However, the researcher found this to be a mistaken view, for it was not necessary to make substantial changes to the delivery/materials of the elective module that were used - a point we shall enlarge on later.

Using the LPC to explore the outcomes of using mobile technology, both in terms of student interaction and classroom design, was partly a development of the uses made by such technology within the legal profession. Private practices are making more use of mobile technology in order to liaise with clients and run their offices; legal professionals are able to work more flexibly away from their offices in terms of answering e-mails, consuming content, communicating with clients and working with mobile-specific applications. Leading firms locally in Cardiff are phasing out the use of laptops and moving over to iPads as standard, for instance. Mobile environments, in other words, are beginning to be part of the professional technological environment where students are expected to continue their legal education and development. Sharples (2005) suggested that mobile learning could provide a bridge between formal and experiential learning. If the iLEGALL project sought to bring these two contexts together in order to explore how authentic learning could be developed through the use of mobile technology, then the question for us was: can the iPad be used to integrate legal study in the classroom with the demands of students' future careers within professional legal practice?

What did we do?

Students taking the elective Employment Law during the second part of their Legal Practice Course were selected for the pilot. At Glamorgan the LPC is taught on three separate locations. At this stage, rather than all three locations adopting the use of the devices within the same type of module, it was felt more useful to work with a small-scale class run by a single LPC tutor who was supportive of the use of iPads. The tutor had anticipated issuing each student with an iPad that they could keep for the duration of the module. However, the institution would provide no support for mobile technology (a point that was evidenced in the Educause research cited earlier in this article). Past experience with audio devices gave rise to problems with the physical issue and recovery of technology, from staff as well as students. No insurance mechanism was in place in order support such a practice. This had an impact on what the tutor could actually put in place in terms of design of the learning activity, for the iPad had to be retrieved from students at the end of each class. It should also be noted that there was no institutionally-led staff development relating to developing learning with mobile devices, a common experience noted by Lefoe (2009) who commented that the support of pedagogies and aspects of staff development within this area is often left to chance.

As there was no institutional support for the iPad, members of staff were unable to access assistance in terms of setting up each iPad or even in charging them up. The tutor could not download the apps required because the financial mechanism was not in place to provide an iTunes account. The lack of support meant that mechanisms had to be developed in order to work around these restrictions. It was decided set up an email account on each iPad together with a Facebook identity so that students could communicate with whichever iPad/character they wished via their contacts list. Use had to be made of freely-available apps and then to design delivery around them. These are practical issues that staff need to consider when using these devices; and we would suggest that this is a fairly common experience for many law schools throughout the UK and Eire.)

The students

There is a substantial volume of work on user interaction and the design of educational resources, but as Kukulska-Hulme (2007) notes, a surprisingly large proportion of it ignores the user of the technology, in this case the students. At Glamorgan we therefore developed questionnaires in order to gain as much information regarding the student experience as possible and active observation was also carried out throughout the project. Students completed a questionnaire at the start of the module in order to gauge their experience and expectations regarding the use of the iPads. From this the tutor learned that students were well aware that professional practice would expect them to be skilled with such devices; they appreciated that iPads were being integrated in to the professional office. They were generally enthusiastic embracers of new technology in their private and educational lives though the tutor found that students aged 30+ were not so keen. Students noted the overlap with iPhones and availability of legal resources. Indeed in an article in Student Law one of Glamorgan's students was quoted supporting the use of LEXIS/NEXIS iPhone apps (Student Law 2012). Training was straightforward and was conducted in an ordinary classroom rather than a specialist Information Technology lab. Students were provided with a practical 'sand-box' activity, which required them to write documents, use contacts, email them to clients, set up diaries and retrieve documents. All these exercises allowed the students to interact with the apps within a legal context. These proved to be straightforward: even new iPad users found the interface to be intuitive and were relaxed about interacting with the tablets. Staff members found it easy to provide the training given the number of 'support' manuals available, many of them free of charge.

Collaborative learning was improved by the use of iPads. One exercise we ran was to arrange a videoconference between two 'firms' of students using Facetime. Students were able to contact each other because an address system was set up in order to conduct a negotiated settlement for their 'client'. The students quickly adapted to the technology. Staff observed that the authenticity of the simulation was enhanced in comparison to the situation where both parties were seated in the same classroom, and students agreed with this observation. They had to adapt to this environment, adopting a more professional stance in terms of interaction which improved the quality of their negotiation. The technology, which is highly personal in many ways, thus had a paradoxical and beneficial distancing effect when used in this way.

Student perspectives

As noted above, older students, i.e. those aged around 30+, were relatively uninterested in using an iPad, but the majority of the class was enthusiastic and found them to be beneficial. They identified a number of human-computer interface benefits:

  • Small, light and easy to carry around.
  • Quieter than a lap top (no fan noise) or a phone (no ringing/texting beeps).
  • No need to have a hard surface to run a mouse around (useful for lectures)
  • Easy to swap around a group, like a book.
  • Physically very like a book rather than a computer.
  • They could access hyperlinks/linked documents in notes immediately so they could follow references made by the tutor.
  • Using the Notes app, they could easily send on an email to a missing classmate later on.
  • The touchscreen was intuitive and useful for students with restricted workspace: they could scroll pages and open, save and delete documents and insert a cursor without a mouse.

Students also noted a number of negative practical issues with using iPads:

  • Battery life issues. This made them unwilling to completely substitute iPad for books: they found the physical presence of books to be reassuring.
  • They wanted the ability to annotate notes/books. There are apps available to provide this facility but this raises issues about institutional and technical support.

Students raised more contextual concerns regarding the use of iPads:

  • They feared the consequence of iPads being used instead of traditional class-based learning approaches; but they welcomed iPads being used within conventional class delivery structures. Students did not appear to support the idea of a totally distance learning experience - they appeared to want a combination of approaches.
  • One student noted that she preferred a more physical 'abstract' in front of her in terms of notebooks, textbooks and the like, which she felt absent from the iPad interface.

Students were asked how iPads changed their study patterns inside the classroom. The most interesting aspect of this was observing them become more comfortable and informal with the iPad, picking it up, interacting with the content and also with each other - it seemed to encourage group interaction much more than did the printed materials. From the survey students:

  • Valued the ability to instantly follow up hyperlinks, access Westlaw inside the classroom rather than interrupt the study session by having to go to the LPC resource room - interaction was seamless.
  • Believed it would increase research capability - thus improving their employability skills and readiness for legal practice.
  • Suggested that group work seemed more natural because of the aid the device provide in terms of simulation e.g. virtual firms, conducting negotiation appointments. They were more easily able to collaborate.
  • Suggested tutors could make use of iPads for delivering videos, memos, calendars etc (and in doing so building on the SIMPLE virtual firm environment).

They were asked how iPads could change their study outside the classroom, and they responded that:

  • It was easier to study on the move in terms of place and time, e.g. on the train, in lunch hours.
  • It made research outside of the classroom much easier - they didn't need to spend so much time in LPC Resource Rooms.
  • Much of their work was the result of collation of information and linking associated notes.
  • They could use the iPad instead of physically printing out their notes.

We investigated these issues further with students, for we wanted to gain some understanding of their approaches to study. We asked them to compare the changes brought about by their own learning experience in the digital domain to that of a generation of students, say, 25 years ago. They agreed that their own experience was very different because of the widespread availability of computing devices and the internet. They felt it was much quicker and easier for them to access information through the internet than books, and they could combine the use of books and online learning. This allowed them the opportunity for deeper exploration of their knowledge, not being limited by the physical context of the library. Students were able to study at any time of the day or night (evidenced by tracking the times they access VLEs or sent e-mails to tutors). Educational researchers in this area have noted this development, with younger students being continuously on the move and needing to be able to access materials in a manner suited to their needs (Ally 2007). Our students seemed to be conducting their legal study in 'bites': rather than spending long, fixed periods in the physical environment of the library, they could read more widely and access material instantly. Staff perceptions of mobile technologies as a threat to education and learning, and their consequent attempts to ban mobile use in the classroom, miss the benefits that such devices actually provide. These perceptions also underestimate how different is learning experience enjoyed by students working in the digital domain.

Staff perspectives

The benefits for staff were substantial. The use of mobile technology freed staff from the fixed constraints of the classroom so that they could engage with wider resources. This enriched pedagogic possibilities such as foregrounding transactional learning, where the progress of students' group/individual learning was at the centre of learning, not top-down, teacher-managed processes. Transactional learning in this sense is different from Moore's version of the term - transactional distance theory (2007). To some teachers, transactional distance theory implies the separation of teachers and learners, but it could be argued that using mobile technology in a truly professional and transactional context actually brings both teachers and learners closer together, allowing staff to interact with their students in a more realistic setting, and deepening the provision of authentic learning experiences. An obvious benefit would be to develop distance learning within the UK and Eire in order to encourage collaborative learning and skills valued by employers who wish to see more attention paid to evaluation not just based on project/assessment outcome but also on the success of group work and relationships (Horizon 2012). Students could represent 'clients' based in their own locality who need to engage with 'firms' based geographically far away in order to develop a working legal relationship. The use of mobile technology could encourage students to develop pervasive skills as required by professional regulators by using email, Facetime/video, simulations, calendars, notes, cloud computing so that they can work within a fully-developed authentic learning environment.

The module tutor for Employment Law was interviewed at the end of the pilot. She reflected on the experience and suggested that adoption of iPads did not require radical re-design of an LPC module or indeed the whole programme. The LPC at Glamorgan was already designed around a standard legal firm with fictional characters who would appear in various legal problems. The transactional nature of this module lent itself easily to adoption of the iPad with little disruption to existing learning opportunities. The mobile device facilitated the concept of the virtual office, in terms of notes, templates, and presentation of legal documents. This could be built on quite easily to the benefit of the programme in order to develop authentic learning (Barton, McKellar, Maharg 2007). For the purposes of this module, the tutor and researcher were able to identify natural points at which the iPad could be used effectively. If anything it was enhanced by the more authentic learning environment provided on the mobile device.

The future of mobile learning on the LPC

The module tutor agreed that actually having the device on a long-term basis as a personal device would provide her with huge teaching opportunities in other modules e.g. Civil Litigation wherein she could use the device to deliver a virtual office, providing a bridge between professional legal education and professional practice. Learning could take place over weeks with more realistic time frames experienced by the students, during which they would research and apply knowledge. This echoes the argument of Lefoe (2009) as regards authentic learning where the author argued that authentic activities are complex activities that are completed in days, weeks and months rather than 50 minutes in the classroom.

From our experience, iPads can encourage innovation in teaching and learning at LPC level, bringing education out of the textbook and into the real world, modelled by the student experience. The devices, properly used, can provide a more immersive context for students, who can work in different locations, even different jurisdictions. Mobile technology encourages users to conduct a more dynamic relationship between education, society and technology (Traxler (2007), allowing students to develop theoretical concepts and then to apply them and reflect on their use. The development of mobile technology should prompt staff to consider adapting their delivery in order to take advantage of these opportunities. It is estimated that by 2015 more users will access the Internet via tablets than PCs (Ireland and Weber 2012). How can staff be encouraged to engage with these opportunities? Will they be encouraged by their institutions to engage with mobile technology or will it be left to individual staff to push forward these opportunities?

The Law Society of Ireland: iPads, CPD and the legal profession


There is an increasing awareness that professionals are using a proliferation of mobile devices to integrate personal and professional information (Charles, & Killian, 2011; Leader 2010). This section outlines an initiative at the Law Society of Ireland that aimed to align the provision of higher legal professional development education with such developments in mobile technology. The Diploma Programme of the Law Society of Ireland initially designed a five-month Certificate in Commercial Contracts (the 'Certificate Course') using iPads as a means of course delivery to students. Following the implementation of the Certificate Course, a more substantive offering involving a Diploma in Insolvency & Corporate Restructuring (the 'Diploma Course') was designed for the iPad. The learner profile on both courses was predominantly solicitors in practice and, as such, considerably different to the other centres taking part in the iLEGALL pilot project. The cohort presented an opportunity to reflect on how the iPad might be used not only as a mobile learning device in CPD, but also as a means of influencing work practices.

Research has indicated how online learning can be framed to take account of the characteristics of lawyers and leverage the pedagogical strengths of the online context. Such research confirmed that lawyers are well placed to benefit from online learning provided that the course design takes account of how they are to be supported in the learning process (Grealy, 2008). Given this, a blended learning methodology was adopted, combining onsite lectures and workshops with online webcast lectures. Moodle was used as the learning management system. All lectures were webcast with existing recorded webcasts converted to iPad format (H.264, also known as MPEG-4 AVC). Price, O'Donavan and Rust (2007) have noted that 'it is generally accepted in the research literature that assessment is probably the single most powerful influence on student learning behaviour (143). For the Certificate Course, assessment was by way of a combination of continuous assessment together with a final written assignment. Rovai (2007) demonstrates that grading strategies influence the level of student online participation and that there is a concurrent increase in the sense of a classroom community for courses in which online participation accounted for 10-20% of the course grade. Following the guidelines from this research, continuous assessment was by way of completion of five individual iPad related activities, each carrying 10% of the final mark.

Student profile & influencing work practices while using the iPad as a mobile learning device

The profile of attendees on both courses was very mixed, in terms of type of legal practice, level of legal experience and level of IT experience. For example, on the Certificate Course, many of the participants were experienced practitioners, 11 were over 10 years qualified as solicitors and 25% of the class were practitioners aged over 50. Lawyers have been described as independent and autonomous learners (Childs 2004), but they are also 'time-poor' and, as such, it was not surprising that one barrier cited to gaining an understanding of how to use the device was a lack of time. However, a more general perception amongst learners was that the iPad was primarily for personal use. To emphasis the mobile learning possibilities of the device, we concluded that it would be more advantageous to implement the mobile learning project in a pre-existing course with a pre-existing set of materials that could be customised for iPad delivery. As such, following the initial Certificate Course, we began delivery of the Diploma Course using iPads, since that was a pre-existing course where materials could be adapted for iPad use. The course involved a much bigger cohort of learners, with approximately 68 participants attending. All lecture paper resources were delivered to learners in eBook format, with links to external materials embedded in the notes. Learners brought the device to lectures and were encouraged to 'personalise' the materials, for example highlighting, bookmarking and adding notes. The authors conducted an online interim evaluation of the Diploma Course to which 26 learners responded. The majority of respondents indicated that they were to some extent personalising the materials, most usually by highlighting text (63%), adding electronic notes (21%) and bookmarking (15%).

In general there was a very positive response to the eBook format, with learners providing the following comments:

'In a word - Fabulous'
'I believe that I am looking at the way education will be delivered in the future'

However, even when learners provided positive comments about the eBook format, there was still an underlying anxiety about having access to hard copies, particularly closer to exams:

'When it comes to studying for the course, I prefer to be able to physically highlight sections'

Because both courses were delivered to solicitors in practice, an ancillary aim was to emphasis the potential impact or 'spill-over' that using the iPad for educational purposes might have on the solicitors' work practices from a time management and organisational perspective. In respect of the Certificate Course, one third of learners indicated that they were using the device in work. On the first day of the Diploma Course, a practitioner who was also an iPad enthusiast provided a lecture to students highlighting the various potential uses of the device, such as advice on 'how to run a business on the go', court uses of the iPad and using the device to facilitate accident site visits. Following this presentation, 31% of respondents to the interim evaluation indicated that using the iPad on the Diploma Course had a related impact on their work practices. Comments included:

'I have been able to integrate the Calendar, Dropbox and Office in what I am doing in the office. My work can now be made mobile and I can do it at any time.'

Level of IT assistance required

All learners completed a pre-course questionnaire and this assisted to some extent in guiding us to provide a high level of IT support. For initial sessions, an 'iPad Clinic' was provided one hour before each onsite lecture evening with additional 20 minute individual iPad tutorial slots also offered to all learners. Whilst it was felt that the level of support offered was high, the feedback on the Certificate Course rated IT support as only 'average', an issue that was addressed for the subsequent iterations of the course. The Certificate Course demonstrated the need to build-up some sort of rapport with students to increase 'buy-in' and foster a sense of common purpose and to encourage peer-to-peer learning. A proactive approach was required in relation to any student queries. The focus on improving IT support worked, with 72% of respondents to the interim evaluation on the Diploma Course indicating that the support for using the iPad was 'Good', with a further 24% indicating that the support was 'Excellent'.

According to Fullan (1993) organisations must be 'actively plugged into their environments', i.e. actively engaged with technological developments, in order to prosper. The Law Society of Ireland initiative aimed to 'plug in' to such developments so as to align the provision of higher legal professional development education with developments in mobile technology. Following the Certificate Course and the Diploma Course, an online survey was issued to all practitioners in the jurisdiction, requesting practitioner feedback on the value of using the iPad as an educational device. 80% of respondents approved of the idea of using a tablet device such as the iPad as a means of facilitating mobile learning, with respondents also identifying potential work-related improvements. Comments received included:

  • '…it makes you feel like you`ve moved with the times. It also makes it more fun.'
  • 'Incorporating technology into learning and work environment helps us to work smarter.'


With modest funding, iLEGALL was a pilot project that investigated a number of aspects of mobile learning in legal education. What we discovered was in many respects confirmed by the research literature, but not all. The following are some key findings from the early phases of our project.

Ownership matters

Ownership is fundamental to all educational activity: 'owning' in the sense of being committed to, but also having ownership of one's learning resources. At the Northumbria and Law Society of Ireland sites, ownership of the mobile device enhanced learning; at Glamorgan, lack of ownership caused problems. One solution is to adopt a BYOD as far as possible, given the varieties of operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, etc) available on the market. Such matters, however, require the active participation of IT Services and perhaps other service units, along with academics, and decisions will require to be made at Senior Management level in institutions. In at least two of the three centres there was a lack of vision and certainly a lack of policy on the subject of mobile devices for teaching and learning - and it is significant that the centres were universities. Higher Education needs to be more agile and respond quicker to developments in digital learning technologies, and adapt their physical and policy infrastructures to take advantage of new technologies and new ways of learning and teaching (Scagnoli & Hong 2012).

Who owns what, though is an issue that is exacerbated in the digital mobile domain. It is not restricted to ownership of the devices but extends to other aspects of learning and teaching. Building on Benkler's (2006a, 186) ironic reading of virtual worlds as 'only social relations mediated by richly rendered communications platforms', it is helpful to regard curriculum not as a unitary construct, not even as a collection of classes or teaching or learning practices, but as technology in itself. On a reading of its history (not necessarily reductionist, either) it is constructed of multiple distributed technologies and practices. Examples are timetables, course teams, notepads, learning spaces, forms of knowledge transmission, discussion, seminar discourse, lab tools, computers, forms of speech, writing, software - rich technologies that crowd our curricula and are the basis of much of what we do as HE teachers. [15] Mobile learning, it was plain to all of us in this project, increased the multiplicity and the distributed nature of the curriculum. It was disruptive and centrifugal.

Seen thus, the question of who owns a mobile curriculum becomes essential. Legally, of course - and pace specific contractual arrangements to the contrary - institutions own them (JISClegal & Pinsent Masons 2005). But if legal education really is a gateway to a profession in a society that declares the rule of law to be an essential component of our democratic polity, then ownership in an ethical sense must surely play a role in this transaction, and reach beyond the legalities of copyrighted ownership, to staff, to students, and to others involved in the public interest, not least the public at large. This is particularly so in a mobile curriculum because that curriculum by its very nature leaches virally beyond the institutional classroom into other institutions, other places and times, and into society at large. Mobile learning raises significant issues about owning as commitment, and the precise nature of the boundaries of owning-for-oneself (which we saw was important to staff at Glamorgan precisely because they did not own the hardware) and owning-with-others, i.e. sophisticated collaborative activities. [16] These issues were not resolved in our modest pilot; and they remain to be investigated in greater depth in other research projects.


One of the critical issues arising from this modest pilot project is the place of professionalism in mobile learning. Glamorgan reported on the way that mobile learning could, paradoxically for such an intimate medium, create a distancing effect that was useful in developing professional attitude and values. The Law Society of Ireland reported on the porous boundaries that mobile learning created between CPD learning and teaching and work.

Does this matter to the formation of professionalism? We would argue that it is one of the strengths of mobile devices that they can contribute to this. Much research points to the importance of the formation of professional values and attitudes, the place of cultural capital in this, and the development of a professionalism that is broader and more ethical than merely technocratic professionalism (Maharg 2013). Reid & Petocz (2005) for example, demonstrate how students seeking professional careers describe their work in distinct ways that they conceptualized as the 'Professional Entity'. According to them this construct has three layers: an 'extrinsic technical level', an 'extrinsic meaning level', and an 'intrinsic meaning level', where students 'perceive that their professional work is related to their own personal and professional being' (Reid, Nagarajan & Dortins 2006, 86). Mobile devices, such intimate communicational devices and yet professionalized contexts for learning at one and the same time, present challenges to all professionals using them. In using the device we would argue that our students are beginning to learn, through the use of the device and in the use of apps that professionals use, the intrinsic meaning level that will help them understand, in situated learning, what being a professional actually can entail.

Mobile, situated, authentic?

But this raises other questions. Did iPads enable Traxler's characteristics of mobile learning, set out in our introduction? You will recall that these were defined as the 'possibility of contingent mobile learning and teaching', 'situated learning', and 'authentic learning.' It should be stated of course that these characteristics are not unique to mobile learning in the sense that only mobile learning stimulates these characteristics. Nor do these characteristics need mobile devices: it is perfectly possible to create learning environments that have these characteristics without using mobile devices.

One of the clear successes was the extent to which a mobile device such as an iPad can encourage more legal research by students. Recent literature in the US (e.g. Guyer 2012) and in the UK (BIALL 2012) has emphasised the role that active learning and habit plays in developing effective online legal research. All three centres found that this was the case, and that mobile devices helped to enable active learning amongst students - not merely in terms of situated learning, but also with regard to collaboration amongst device users. This is a hopeful start, but it scarcely acknowledges the complexity of the process of research and the necessary integration of that research into the process of writing, thinking, drafting and redrafting that constitutes the academic and professional work. At Stanford University, for example, the iPad Anatomy app was popular among medical students. But it was significant that one of the barriers to uptake by medical students was the challenge the device presented to students' established psychology of self-mentoring:

'Among the users is Abdullah Fenze, who balked at using the iPad in most other classes. 'I just wasn't seeing the stacks of paper piling up on my desk to raise the red flag that I was two inches behind,' he explains.' (Keller 2011)

The comment is almost identical to that of the Glamorgan student who preferred a more physical 'abstract' in front of her in terms of notebooks, textbooks and the like, for which she felt the iPad substituted but did not replace. It is an acute point (and the student's metaphor of an 'abstract' or summa of knowledge is perfect - how a medieval student would have understood the phrase). It points to the in-depth research that is needed on the educational psychology of the processes by which students of all disciplines negotiate the interface of mobile devices, and how that interface can be improved to address their needs as learners. This was replicated in Law Society of Ireland's staff experiences. The Certificate Course demonstrated the need to build-up some sort of rapport with students to increase 'buy-in' and foster a sense of common purpose and to encourage peer-to-peer learning. Socialization, in other words, was crucial and until it happened the mobile devices were less successful. Use of the mobile device in this social environment was clearly successful because, in Jerome Bruner's terms, it facilitated the bridge from CPD as being learning about to CPD as being learning to become (Bruner 1972).

In all three project centres the device changed study patterns inside the classroom, where students gradually became more comfortable with the device, and used it to interact more with content and with each other. Brown & Duguid's celebrated example of Orr's research into the practices of Xerox Parc photocopier reps, emphasising the place that socialized knowledge played in their problem-solving, is a typical example from the literature (Brown and Duguid 2000, chapter 4). In our studies, it is clear that peer-support & collaboration needed to be consciously developed in the way that this might not otherwise have been done on the modules - an example of a technology changing educational practices.

360° Collaboration

All three project centres reported greater collaboration between students. Though we all designed this to be so, it should hardly surprise us that students should want to collaborate with each other. The importance of such sharing relationships for learning is crucial. In the literature of shared learning we have Mercer's work on dialogue amongst children learning (2000), Wells' studies of dialogic learning (1999), Edwards (2005) on communities, Edwards & Mackenzie on social context and its relation to identity shifts (2005; 2006), and much else, reaching back to the work of Leont'ev earlier in the century on how collective activity shapes material and conceptual objects. This substantial body of work proves the power of collaboration in learning, and the conditions under which it can be best achieved. If collaboration was much more important to student learning with mobile devices in the iLEGALL project, it was so for staff, too. The initial resources developed at Northumbria were made freely available to partners in the project (and now free to all); we developed by learning from our own experiences; and it is fair to say that the project would have been much poorer, for students as well as staff, had staff not collaborated with each other, both within and between institutions.

This is significant for the future of not just mobile learning, but all learning. Others have noted it. Garrison & Anderson (2003, 19) observed that in the development of distance learning theory and practice the focus has shifted from 'organizational and structural constraints' (geography, time, etc) to 'transactional issues and assumptions' that teachers make of teaching processes and practices. Garrison observed that the shift is equivalent to moving from an industrial and analogue era's conceptions of learning to post-industrial and digital learning, where peer collaboration and dialogue lie at the heart of teaching theory and practice, and of students' educative experiences (Garrison & Archer, 2000). Mobile learning theorists such as Traxler and Sharples have emphasized the necessity for this within the mobile digital domain.

There are wider issues here for legal education, and we would suggest that further research is needed in three areas: research directions in mobile legal learning, the place of collaboration in institutions and the role of regulators in encouraging such collaboration. On the subject of research directions, Maharg (2007, 217) pointed out one lacuna on collaboration:

'On the subject of legal education and teamworking we do not need grands récits but petits récits, narratives of experience and the types of experiences that arise from situational and temporal actions, the recording and analysis of which can create meaning while avoiding the homogeneity of the grands récits .'

Our project resources went largely into the development of basic resources required for both staff and students. Future projects might focus more on understanding in detail what happens to sharing and collaboration in the mobile domain, and how that domain shapes what we already know of good collaborative practices. Second, when one considers the role of collaboration between staff in different institutions, there is clearly a role for policy and strategy here, in encouraging open access initiatives, the sharing of resources, the forming of partnerships with other institutions and bodies within and beyond HE. We have shown in the iLEGALL that staff from three quite different institutions in three jurisdictions can share and enhance their teaching practices.

Finally, regulators too have an important role. The highly competitive marketplace of the LPC and the BPTC for example has grown to be so precisely because regulation allows it to be thus. In turn, law schools themselves often cite market competition as reason for retaining strict copyright and control over resources, and for not collaborating. But as commentators have shown, the digital economy that underlies the use of mobile devices and software need not adopt this approach. To be sure, there is no market as viciously competitive as the mobile device market. But it need not be the only way we can approach the problem of sharing. Analysts such as Benkler have shown the massive changes wrought in our society by the falling prices of computation, communications and storage, as well as the exponential increase in the access speeds of all three (Benkler 2006b). In this economic context he argues for peer production as a new mode of collaboration, one where individual entities participate in joint production in return for status within or beyond the team. As Bowrey observes, 'law creates and denies possibilities of community' (2005, 199); and it should therefore be a key concern for the regulators of legal education that such community-based initiatives have the regulatory infrastructure in which they can thrive. After all, while providers may own a mobile curriculum, it is surely in the interests not just of students but of the public in general that the costs of production are as low as possible and experiences of what works and why are shared as quickly and openly as possible.


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Appendix: Project Timeline

The iLEGALL project was set out on the following timeline. All project materials created as part of the training and development of staff and students were shared via DropBox with the project partners. Each team had a shared folder within DropBox to allow the dissemination of best practice, the strategy employed by each institution to distribute the iPads and the data gathered from each pilot.

  1. February - March 2011
    1. Tested and reviewed the use of SIMPLE tools on the iPad. Analysis of the SIMPLE workflow revealed 3 distinct processes that needed to be replicated on the iPad; communication between student/client and student/tutor; collaboration between students for drafting/amending contracts; delivery of materials/templates from the tutor to the students.
    2. Decided that SIMPLE was unsuitable for use in the pilot without extensive development as an app. The iPad's strengths come from blending the native interface and apps. Alternatives were considered to bring functionality and usability to the iPad for drafting and researching.
  2. March 2011
    1. Investigated cost of producing app that would allow connection to legal databases, drafting on the iPad, collaborative work and reviewing capabilities.
    2. Approached app production companies for quote and timeline
    3. Developing own app considered too costly and beyond the timeline of the project at this stage. Alternative solution sought
  3. April 2011
    1. Reviewed the possibilities of using the ipad as a single portal. We wrote an Internal Working Paper: 'iPads in Law, Phase 1.2'.
    2. The paper investigated collecting a series of third party apps to create a workflow allowing research, drafting, collaborative writing and reviewing.
  4. May - June 2011
    1. Creation of a PLP workflow to support the drafting and collaboration processes
    2. Published workflows as PDF files to be installed on iPads
  5. June - Sept 2011
    1. Purchased iPads for students and installed appropriate apps to match the workflows.
    2. Installed PDF files for support
  6. September 2011
    1. Created first pilot survey to gain data on iPad use for research tasks
    2. Distributed iPads to students
    3. Students given iTunes vouchers to allow them to purchase required apps
  7. October 2011
    1. Released first survey, 'iPads'. This was created to ascertain students prior knowledge of using iPads.
  8. November 2011
    1. Survey 1 closed

[1] Jonathan Bainbridge is Senior Lecturer, Northumbria Law School. The authors gratefully acknowledge project funding from the Higher Education Academy (Teaching Development Fund, £7,000), British & Irish Law Education Association (£3,000) and Northumbria Law School (£3,000). Lead author: Paul Maharg. Please address any queries regarding this article to: paul.maharg@anu.edu.au. For current information regarding the project in its three sites please contact the following: Glamorgan: Karen Counsell, kmcounse@glam.ac.uk; Law Society of Ireland, Freda Grealy, f.grealy@lawsociety.ie; Northumbria: Jonathan Bainbridge, jonathan.bainbridge@northumbria.ac.uk. We gratefully acknowledge comments from the anonymous reviewer of this article.

[2] Karen Counsell, Senior Lecturer, Glamorgan Law School

[3] Freda Grealy, Solicitor, Diploma Manager, Law Society of Ireland

[4] Paul Maharg, Professor, Australian National University College of Law

[5] Joel Mills, Northumbria University Law School

[6] Rory O'Boyle, Lecturer, Northumbria Law School

[7] See http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS23818212#.UPE4W6WTTad . For analyses of market share trends within the global mobile device market, see http://www.netmarketshare.com.

[9] N=209, largely colleges and universities in the US. Educause members constituted approximately half the membership, and were selected via a stratified random sampling design.

[10] Papers and guides are freely available from http://ilearninguk.com.

[11] This paper is available from http://ilearninguk.com.

[12] The authors were associated with each project centre as follows: Northumbria Law School (Bainbridge, Maharg, Mills), Glamorgan (Counsell), Law Society of Ireland (Grealy, O'Boyle). O'Boyle has since joined Northumbria Law School.

[13] For some examples of the literature on the subject see Johnson, Adams & Cummings (2012), Hahn & Bussell (2012), Marmarelli & Ringle (2012), Scagnoli & Hong (2012).

[15] Curriculum as a concept has been under interrogation at least since the 1970s. A useful guide to recent pressures on the formal curriculum is given by Randy Bass, who defines these pressures as being those of informal learning, participatory culture, high-impact practices, and what he calls the experiential co-curriculum (Bass 2012).

[16] Others have come to similar conclusions. See for example the London Mobile Learning Group, which views mobile learning 'as part of a cultural and pedagogical context in transformation' ( http://www.londonmobilelearning.net).