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Developing a HyperCard training package: Legal Systems

Anne Sparks and Neil Hall
University of Wollongong

INFO-ONE International is a company involved in electronic publishing. Prior to 1988 the company was called CLIRS (Computerised Legal Information Retrieval Systems), and provided online legal databases. INFO-ONE still maintains a number of databases (the majority being of a legal nature) but has diversified into other online services as well as other forms of electronic publication, particularly optical storage.

The online databases are divided into pacs. There is Lawpac (legal), Landpac (NSW Land Titles and conveyancing), Busipac (business and tax), Finpac (financial), Geopac (mineral resources), Mediapac (directory of performers and shot library) and Worldpac (providing gateways to several international databases). The majority of clients subscribe to Lawpac.

The training program that formed the basis of this present work relates to the Lawpac Introductory course which is regularly presented on a face to face basis. The training program receives excellent feedback from its participants, both in the short term and in the longer term. Questions asked through the Help Desk and other data gained less officially indicated to the trainer that users of the system, especially if they were irregular users, needed some way of refreshing the content of the introductory training course.

Lawpac uses the STATUS software, produced in the UK specifically for database applications. Some Lawpac databases are available as CD-ROM products. CD-ROM technology is an efficient and cost effective method of information retrieval, but it is still a new technology, and until it becomes widespread the online system will continue to be used extensively. Even for people using CD-ROM technology, it is necessary to be familiar with online systems because unreported judgments are not available on CD-ROM and they are updated regularly on the system. There are also many secondary databases which are updated regularly that are only available online. Thus, the online system is complementary to CD-ROM technology.

There is a wide range of users of Lawpac. Large law firms have their own legal librarians who search on behalf of the partners, solicitors in government departments either have librarians to conduct their research, or they do it themselves, there are many barristers who conduct their own research and of course there are smaller legal practices where the end user of the information actually carries out the search.

In order to assist clients to use the online services effectively and efficiently, several training courses are offered. The most popular is the Introductory Course which deals with the basic STATUS commands and techniques needed to search the databases. Courses are offered in all capital cities and most users are able to attend one of these. However there is a problem with users who live outside the metropolitan area who find it difficult to attend. Barristers in the CBD also have trouble attending courses at set times because of the nature of their work, when they can often have to attend court at short notice. Special after hours training in their chambers can be arranged, but it may be to their advantage to have access to disk based training. Because of this, it was decided to produce a computer based training package which could be sold to country users, to subscribers who wish training in this form and as an optional backup for clients who attended courses.

Many of the users of these particular legal databases have Macintosh computers in their offices. The widespread availability and simplicity of use of HyperCard software, together with this computer access, provided a good combination on which to base a training package.

Computer based training: An introduction

According to Dean and Whitlock (1989) computer based training (CBT) is a generic term that covers both computer assisted training (CAT) and computer managed learning (CML). Computer assisted learning involves using the computer as an interactive training medium through tutorials, simulations and drill and practice. Computer managed learning involves using the computer to direct the learner through a course which may or may not be computer based. In CML the path the learner takes is dependent on the results and measures of performance taken during the course.

CBT must take into account three fundamentals of effective learning. Firstly, the learners must be active, so there should be frequent questions and problems testing understandings at successive stages of learning. Secondly, the learners should be able to check the correctness and relevance of their responses to questions and solutions to problems. Thirdly, the scheme of learning should be arranged so that solutions to questions, calculations, discriminations and other problem solving activities, tend towards correctness or mastery (Dean and Whitlock, 1989).

CBT offers advantages over training in print form in three areas:

  1. The process by which the learner is routed through the lesson is flexible. Branching is an integral part of CBT, something which is not feasible with printed matter.

  2. The use of CML allows the computer to serve a wide range of purposes in course management.

  3. The training designer can vary teaching strategy and integrate different methods with the use of a computer.

Study on the effectiveness of CBT with legal databases

It has been shown that lawyers spend 20-30% of their time searching for information. Automating information storage and retrieval through the use of computers is seen as a means to reduce time on task and increase the quality of the search result. Van Beek, Been and Hurts (1989) carried out an experiment which tested the effectiveness of computer based training for use in an automated system for retrieving legal information. They contrasted computer based with traditional (textbook) instruction, computer based with traditional (paper and pencil) practice tasks and easy versus difficult problems.

Since 1983, students at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, were offered a course on legal information systems. In this course students were introduced to the command language of a frequently used legal database (Kluwer Datalex). This database contains the full text of twenty three Law journals. Search assignments were completed manually, after which students could try out their searches online. Search costs, however, restricted these sessions to fifteen minutes per student. In addition, the database was not always 'up'. These factors resulted in students frequently being unable to complete their searches in the allotted time nor did they have the chance to learn from their mistakes.

A computer based instruction and practice program was developed by the Law School faculty to provide the students with a low cost alternative for the online database. In this program, students were allowed to obtain hands on experience with online information. In preparation for this program, students learned to search for information in the library and then given five legal cases to solve by searching for relevant information in the library.

After some general information about computers, students entered the instructional phase of the computer based program. This phase lasted two hours and introduced the students to the command language, search strategies and general aspects of database search. In the practice phase, also lasting two hours, students were given the same five cases to solve by means of an emulated database. It was implemented on a microcomputer and was accessible through a program emulating the interface of the real database.

Earlier studies had shown that computer based tutorials have been demonstrated to be more effective than their traditional counterparts: more was learnt in less time. Van Beek et al. (1989) assumed that the quality of online searching could be measured by two sets of indicators: command language mastery level and search performance. Command language mastery referred to the proficiency of using the command language (irrespective of the results). Search performance referred to the amount of total relevant information that was retrieved (recall), the amount of total retrieved information that was relevant (precision) and the time on task.

The tutorial part of the computer based program was intended as a replacement for the former introduction to online searching which consisted of some lectures and students reading the database manual. The emulation part of the program replaced the manual search assignments and the fifteen minute practice session.

Van Beek et al. (1989) formed three hypotheses:

  1. Training with the computer based tutorial would bring about a superior command language mastery level and a higher search performance level.

  2. Training with the emulation would be better in terms of search performance and command language mastery level than training without the emulation.

  3. Interaction of instruction and practice will allow declarative and procedural knowledge to be developed.
According to Anderson (1983) cognitive skills are acquired in a two stage process, the first being the declarative stage and the second being the procedural stage. Instructions play a major role in the declarative stage and practice becomes important in the procedural stage. Anderson argued that without the declarative stage there is no proceduralisation.

The researchers found subjects receiving computer based instruction out performed their traditionally instructed peers in terms of recall (relating to the fraction of relevant documents that were found) and in terms of efficiency and speed of using the command language. However, no difference was apparent between these two groups regarding precision (relating to the fraction of found documents that were relevant), nor regarding time on task.

They conclude that this research provided evidence for the usefulness of computer based tutorials for teaching certain types of knowledge (concepts and skills relating to online retrieval) and that computer based practice sessions were not necessarily better than traditionally organised practice sessions (using pen and paper). They argued too that computer based instruction seemed to enable law students to become more proficient in search performance and command language usage, and helped them achieve low time on task and high speed of using the command language.

Characteristics of a good authoring system

Authoring systems provide means for experienced computer users to create training packages without actually coding the computer. In the case of CBT an authoring system helps in the final production of the software but the specifications for the software have to be set by instructional designers, teachers of the course and professionals familiar with the authoring system: it is possible that this is the one person. Crowell (1988) outlined ten characteristics a good authoring system should possess.
  1. It must be easy to use, yet allow creative flexibility. He points out though that a system that takes a little while to learn may have greater ease of use in the long run for the more experienced author than one a novice can pick up instantly.

  2. It must utilise interactivity in its own design. The process of creating, testing, revising and retesting a new idea must be efficient.

  3. It must be good at creating both simple and complex interactive systems. A good authoring system will be just as fast and easy to use whether designing a simple or complex system.

  4. It must support any learning theory and should be capable of using a variety of approaches to promote effective learning.

  5. It must be able to call and utilise other, outside subroutines. While it is important for an author to be able to access other software from within an authoring system, it is even more important to be able to include such an ability in the interactive system being authored.

  6. It must be hardware independent, not limited to only one hardware configuration.

  7. It must be improved and updated constantly, to keep on top of a developing and expanding industry.

  8. It should be useful at all stages of application development. The authoring systems should provide flowcharting, project management, script development and other resources.

  9. It should be able to incorporate higher level systems such as AI and expert systems, for example, to evaluate student responses much more effectively than most presently available authoring systems permit.

  10. It should be able to accept new hardware as it is developed.
There are many authoring systems available, those that are powerful are generally expensive, the less powerful are often not worth their lower price, and in any case the development time is often long. In contrast to this HyperCard is standard software on Macintosh computers, no additional hardware or software is necessary, and powerful packages can be developed relatively easy and quickly.

HyperCard: An introduction

HyperCard is a Macintosh application that can be used at various levels of operation. At its basic level users can browse through information stored in a HyperCard stack. Other users may wish to enter their own data onto some of the cards contained in a stack, or may wish to create a stack from scratch. Stacks can be very simple or can be complex data manipulation systems. HyperCard was created by Bill Atkinson (cited in HyperCard Course Manual, 1988, p1.6) who described HyperCard as:
an authoring tool and an information organiser. You can use it to create stacks of information to share with other people or to read stacks of information made by other people. So it's both an authoring tool and a sort of cassette player for information.
The HyperCard Course Manual (1988, p2.1) describes HyperCard as
a personal toolkit that gives users the power to use, customise and create new information using... text, graphics, video, music, voice and animation. In addition it offers an easy to use English language based scripting language (called Hypertext) that gives users an opportunity to write their own programs.
HyperCard can be thought of in terms of index cards. A collection of cards is called a stack. A stack consists of a number of cards that can contain all kinds of information. The information does not have to be related, although it generally is. Stacks that are sold commercially are referred to as stackware. The cards in a stack can contain a mixture of information media, in the form of graphics, text or sound.

HyperCard provides a unique information environment. It can be used to look for or store information in the form of words, charts, pictures, digitised photographs about any subject. Any piece of information in HyperCard can connect you to any other piece of information, so that you can find as little or much detail as you want. Refer to Table 1 for HyperCard terminology.

CardA card is HyperCard's basic unit of information. Each card can contain information that is different to any other card.
StackA stack is simply a collection of cards.
BackgroundThe physical appearance of a blank card is called its background. It is usual to have one style of background in any one stack.
FieldA card can have a number of fields. When HyperCard is asked to find a particular piece of information, it looks in each field during its search.
ButtonButtons are the devices that allow you to move from one card to another, they are the key to intelligent use of stacks; the key to the versatility and power of HyperCard.
Home CardThe home card is the management card, and contains a menu of stacks.
HelpHyperCard offers an online help facility: a stack which explains how to use aspects of HyperCard.

Table 1: Important HyperCard Terminology

HyperCard fulfils the definition given by Crowell (1988) for an authoring system. For example, in HyperCard it is simple to create, test and revise cards and stacks, but complex and sophisticated packages can be created. It has its own authoring language (Hypertext) as well as other authoring aids which make the creation and revision of packages easy. HyperCard allows the user a great deal of flexibility including the possibility of being able to be incorporated with other technology, for example CD-ROMs.

Specifying the learning sequence for the HyperCard version of the introductory LAWPAC Course

The Introductory Lawpac course is designed for new users of Lawpac. The knowledge and skills of Lawpac users covers a wide range. There are users who have had little contact with computers, online databases and legal information, and there are users who are very computer literate, are familiar with the techniques of searching online databases and have a good legal knowledge.

The objectives for the introductory Lawpac course are for the user to be able to:

Several of these objectives can be grouped together into a single module, with each module a separate HyperCard stack. The names of the stacks are:
  1. Introduction
  2. General Information
  3. Conducting the Search
  4. Operators
  5. Named Sections
  6. Status Commands
Each stack contains a number of cards with each card connected to other cards in the stack, or to cards in other stacks, and to the home card. More detail about these stacks is given in Table 2.

Stack 1: Introduction
Introduction to HyperCard
How to use package
1.3 Handy hints
Stack 2: General information
Lawpac contents
Computerised information retrieval
Areas of information retrieval
Accessing INFO-ONE
Logging on
Logging off
Database structure
Common words
The MORE? prompt
Help Desk facility
Stack 3: Conducting a search
Problem stated
Using the menus
Selecting a database
Looking at the contents
Specifying particular chapter/s
Asking a question
Swap retrieved list
Displaying titles
Displaying full text
Displaying in context
Stack 4: Operators
Logical operator +
Logical operator ,
Logical operator -
Notes on logical operators
Positional operator //
Positional operator /n/
Brackets ( )
Stack 5: Named sections
Searching at named sections
5.3 Displaying named sections
Stack 6: Status commands

Table 2: Stacks and Cards in the Training Package

Three different backgrounds were used in the stacks: the first for information, the second for detailed command information and the third for command overview. Fields and standard buttons were designed for each of these backgrounds. General information cards have only two fields (title and information); command information cards have four fields (title, command name and function search example and additional notes), command overview cards have five fields (command and function, explanation, syntax, when to use and several types of examples).

Individual cards that needed to be linked to other cards were given buttons as required. Each card has a Home, next card in stack, previous card in stack, previous card and goback-to-the-start-of-this-stack button. A flow chart of all stacks and cards was made and additional relevant linkings indicated on it. Once the fields had been set up, it was simply a matter of typing in the appropriate information in the correct field and adding buttons where required.

A final feature of this HyperCard package is that at times users are asked to go online to complete a number of hands on activities (for which answers are provided). This was designed to give immediate practice and feedback for the material just covered in the tutorial.


This HyperCard package has not been widely tested at this stage because system refinements were only completed in May, 1990. However it is possible to draw the following conclusions from personal observation and discussion with those who have used the package.

From the authoring point of view, HyperCard is simple to use in creating training materials. The instructional design can be time consuming and involved, but the conversion to HyperCard is a simple task. HyperCard is interactive and allows for user flexibility in designing and learning. One card can be linked to several related cards to provide further information on a particular topic which the user can access easily by selecting the appropriate button. Buttons give users the ability to refresh their memories on specific aspects of the online system without having to go through the entire tutorial by allowing for a variety of entry points into the training package. HyperCard allows for complex branching in training materials: each learner could complete the training materials in a unique sequence.

From the users point of view, the training package is easy to use because it contains features common to all Macintosh applications, and because HyperCard software is easily understood. So learning takes place in a familiar environment without the imposition of learning new commands before being able to access information from the package. HyperCard offers a high level of flexibility, allowing the user to follow the tutorial as is, backtracking if necessary, or going directly to a specific section and finding information as required.


Anderson, J. R. (1983). The Architecture of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Crowell, P. (1988). Authoring Systems. London: Meckler.

Dean, C. and Whitlock, Q. (1989). A Handbook of Computer Based Training. London: Kogan Page.

Van Beek J., Been, P. and Hurts, K. (1989). Computer Based Learning for On-Line Data Base Search. Computers Educational, 13(4), 327-336.

HyperCard Course Manual (1988). MTE Management Technology Education, Sydney.

Please cite as: Sparks, A. and Hall, N. (1990). Developing a HyperCard training package: Legal Systems. In J. G. Hedberg, J. Steele and M. Mooney (Eds), Converging Technologies: Selected papers from EdTech'90, 72-80. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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