In Videodisc Veritas: Interactive Video at Harvard Law School

By Miller, Ellen J. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), March 1990 | Go to article overview

In Videodisc Veritas: Interactive Video at Harvard Law School


Miller, Ellen J., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


In Videodisc Veritas: Interactive Video at Harvard Law School

Two law students are watching a drug bust on a TV monitor. A police officer holds a gun on a woman who's screaming. "You can't hold me! I don't even live here!" Suddenly, the TV screen freezes when one of the students punches a key on an adjoining computer to object to the police officer's action. The computer's screen then springs to life with text that reads: "The officer's detention of the woman is legal. The police need not make a particular determination of any kind in order to justify the detention." After they read a screenful of text elaborating on the rule governing detention, a keypress returns students to the video drug bust.

This is interactive video, adapting the action and realism of a drug bust to teach the Constitutional implications of search and seizure. Law students traditionally learn the law of search and seizure and the Fourth Amendment in a large lecture hall dominated by a professor of criminal law. The search-and-seizure videodisc, a friendly, graphic electronic tutor that is also informative, challenging and entertaining, has begun to supplement many criminal-law lectures.

Search and Seizure is the latest title in the growing library of videodiscs for law students and practicing lawyers. Now being used to over 70 law schools and increasing number of law firms, most of the lessons are produced by the Harvard Law School Interactive Video Project, while others are in production at Wake Forest and Stanford law schools. Videodiscs on the law are distributed commercially by Veralex, an affiliate of the Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company in Rochester, N.Y.

In the age of information technology, the law remains faithful to the printed word, harnessing the computer primarily for its prodigious word processing and database capabilities. Because print-bound lawyers lack experience with computer-generated graphics and other visual information which they consider frivolous, interactive video in legal education has been slower to develop than in such inherently visual disciplines as medicine, the sciences, and mathematics.

If words are to lawyers as blueprints are to architects, how, then, can the medium of interactive video contribute to legal educational and training? "This stuff teaches skills," explains attorney Tim Hallahan, founder to the Harvard Law School Interactive Video Project and now videodisc producer for Stanford Law School. "Most of what is taught in law school and outside is the substance of law: what is negligence, what is medical malpractice, what is burglary? You can read about them, you can hear a lecture on them, but to learn how to conduct a trial, argue a motion, negotiate a settlement or interview a client, requires seeing others performing those skills, and then you have to do it yourself. What we're trying to do with [interactive video] is provide the next best thing to doing it yourself."

Introducing Interactive Video

Introducing interactive video at Harvard Law School has been a six-year process. The Harvard Law School Interactive Video Project evolved from a visionary single lawyer (Hallahan) experimenting with interactive videotape, to a small team of creative professionals and students producing for commercial distribution.

The first eight lessons pressed to videodisc taught basic evidence by asking students to place themselves in the courtroom and press a key to raise an objection. A judge appeared on the video screen and asked, "What is the basic of your objection, counsel?" whereupon the computer screen offered several choices, followed by detailed explanations of both the correct and incorrect answers. At the end of the lesson, students have the opportunity to view missed objections. Recently, the relevant Federal Rules of Evidence were added in hypertext to further enhance the lessons. New lessons employ new design configurations to compare negotiation strategies, teach client interviewing skills, and modify a search warrant. …

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