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New online textbooks target students raised in the computer age

4/1/2008

Michael Murray
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Michael Murray is co-writing three new law textbooks that blend conventional print with an online version, creating a new-age hybrid that he says targets students who learned counting and the alphabet on computers, not flash cards.

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor
217-333-0568; jdennis@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —Textbooks have helped turn out job-ready graduates for years, but might not be the best way to connect with a new generation of tech-savvy students who carry laptop computers to class instead of pen and paper, a University of Illinois law professor says.

Michael Murray is co-writing three new law textbooks that blend conventional print with an online version, creating a new-age hybrid that he says targets students who learned counting and the alphabet on computers, not flash cards.

“The truth is, for 150 years we’ve been teaching law without much technology, so there isn’t really any requirement to teach it with technology,” Murray said. “But this project has the potential to produce a much better resource for students who have learned to access information through computers and online resources.”

“These books will engage those learners with its Web 2.0 interactive experience,” he said. “The changes may look like eye candy to the average professor, but to the students the books should look like a much better resource for the kind of learning experience they are used to outside of academia.”

He says students will still get a standard textbook, upgraded with diagrams, charts, tables and references to additional scholarly data that will make the books more useful and visually friendly.

But the new book series also will include an online version that can be loaded into laptops or home computers, offering searchable text and extensive hyperlinks providing nearly boundless information at the click of a mouse.

“It gives you an expandable file cabinet that’s attached to the book. But it’s a virtual file cabinet, with no limits on what it can hold,” Murray said.

“As a professor, I can get students to understand the process of law better if they have these resources,” he said. “When they read something, I can also give them hyperlinks to expand on it, and students who want to learn are going to take advantage of them.”

The first-year law books, co-written by George Washington University law professor Christy DeSanctis, are expected to debut by fall 2009. Covering legal writing, legal research and advocacy, the books will be the latest titles in the new “Interactive Casebook Series” by West Publishing and Foundation Press.

The series was launched last fall with an interactive book on civil procedure written by University of Richmond law professor A. Benjamin Spencer. The book was adopted by 16 law professors in its first year, Murray said, signaling a strong market for high-tech texts.

“That’s at least three times more than the average success story for a new course book. That’s just never heard of,” said Murray, who will be a visiting associate professor of law at Valparaiso University next year.

He predicts the interactive books will be more than a novelty, and could ultimately spread to all law courses.

“It’s not about the fun of it. The fun will wear off the second week of class after students have read the first 200 pages,” Murray said. “Eventually, the new-car smell wears off, but what remains is a solid, substantive product for learning that better meets the pedagogical goals of the course.”

Editor’s note: To contact Michael Murray, call 217-333-0930; e-mail murraymd@law.uiuc.edu.