An innovative didactic experiment in the context of the Jurisprudence
Faculty of the Milan University
Università degli Studi di Milano, Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Informazione
Via Comelico 39/41 - 20135 Milano
Abstract: In Italy Universities/Secondary schools are discovering new media channels as
tools to close students to traditional matters, using new approaches closer to their behaviors
renewing teaching methodologies. Moreover teaching systems seem to be still too
traditional, because they often suppose students as passive users of information.
Additionally, new technologies are used just to transpose traditional messages in a new
media and not rethinking the shape of the contents.
In our experiment we tried to directly involve students in the process of creating a University
course, applying the concept of “learn-by-doing”. In a context historically far from
technology, like the Faculty of Jurisprudence of the University of Milan, we obtained very
satisfactory results both from the viewpoint of the contents and from the viewpoint of the
technology application. This approach has been integrated into the learning process through
a teaching methodology with enhanced outcomes when compared with traditional classroom
As in many European Counties and worldwide, Italian students often suffer for the distance of the
educational approaches, too far from their new behaviors both because of the difficult to adapt some matters to
new technological e-learning supports and in many cases for the lack of suitable technological structures in
Universities or Schools in general.
By the way many efforts are made by teachers to overall these problems, looking for the best approach to
learn new and traditional school matters taking advantages by students’ interests and technology’s innovative
In the recent years many educational web sites and specific web-based support have been developed giving
to students the possibility to access to educational materials, to contact teachers to have home support, to test
own ability to front examination after studying the specific matters (Valle, G., & Folgieri, R. 2004). Moreover
students seem to be confused by the too many information on Internet and often still recur to private lessons or
to direct contact with teacher to obtain explanations. Another problem is represented by the contents of learning
materials: even if they are proposed to the students by new technologies, such as e-learning site, on-line tests,
video lessons, wiki spaces and so on, the contents are still too verbose and often appear as a simple transposition
of traditional learning material (Epifania, F. 2007).
The University of Milan is the third largest university in Italy, with a student population of around 75,000,
which grew steadily in the last decade. In the context of the Information Technology course of the Faculty of
Jurisprudence, we tried to face the underlined problem affecting students’ learning process, starting a project
innovative both for contents and for applied methodologies. (Valle G., Folgieri R. 2004).
Analysis and state of the art
The Recent research has highlighted that, students’ grades in the high schools of the Lombardy Region had
an average of 60 percent of sufficient marks in the first semester (January 2008), with major difficulties reported
particularly in scientific disciplines such as Mathematics and Physics. A recent E.C. study, comparing 40
nations, ranked the performance of the Italian high schools at 37th position, but the Italian State is in first
position in terms of the financial investment in education. It is clear therefore that there is an urgent need to
improve the learning experience – and hence the performance outcomes of Italian students.
The University of Milan is the third largest university in Italy, with a student population of around 75,000,
which grew steadily in the last decade. The Faculty of Mathematics, Physics, and Natural Sciences is the fourth
largest faculty of the University, after the faculties of Medicine, Literature, and Political Sciences. Finding a way
to enhance the “quality” of new students has become a top priority. In Italy, no University refuses new students,
since the main component of the state’s financial support to them is based on the number of enrolled students.
On the basis of these and of the considerations done in the previous paragraph, we performed a specific
study of our students’ behavior to understand how to answer to their specific needs and new approaches.
Particularly we proposed to students an on-line survey in which they could express their opinions and
By the on-line survey we investigated new trend, difficulties, the level of knowledge of ICT technologies,
the internet tools most used by students and the students’ perception of the need to enhance the level of
knowledge of ICT in general.
The results confirmed many of the considerations done in the first phase, but also surprised us with new
As first, students confirmed that the new technologies are often used without considering their behaviours,
for example, the simple transposition of traditional matters in video lessons or in general internet formats makes
the lessons boring. This kind of lessons is also considered by the students as a total replacement of books, with a
consequent wrong approach to study, because students tend to limit the study to slides or videos and they are not
stimulated to investigate other aspects of the considered subject of the study.
On the other hand, students also confirmed their difficulties to follow traditional books and this fact
suggests that the use of technology and new media is the right choice to match their needs, but, surprisingly, the
level of knowledge of ICT tools is not so enhanced as we could suppose, especially for students attending not
technological course of study, like the students of the Faculty of Jurisprudence. In fact, the most used Internet
tools or web sites used by students are simply search engine (but without a real ability to use them correctly),
YouTube, Internet email systems, instant messaging systems, social networks’ tools, chats, that is only the
common tools to keep in contact one each other. For about e-learning tools, they use these support occasionally,
if needed for an examination or if requested by the teacher. Students also admitted that just tried to use wiki
supports and web 2.0 cooperative systems only few times, but without a satisfactory experience.
The following pictures shows the graphic of the frequency of the access to different supports done by a
sample of 300 students of the Faculty of Jurisprudence.
Fig. 1: summary graphic of the frequency of the access to different supports done by a sample of 300
students of the Faculty of Jurisprudence.
On this basis we conducted an analysis of the “state of the art” of on-line e-learning support provided by
teachers, Universities and schools for Italian students (Epifania, F. 2007). A part from some interesting
exceptions, effectively in many cases the analyzed supports are really far from current trends.
As first, they don’t consider that a podcast, webcast, slide presentation or video can’t substitute totally
books and can’t satisfy the need of knowledge of the students and so the material is too long, boring and low
exiting and stimulating. The second, but not less important consideration, concern the involvement of the
students in the learning process: actually they are passive users of most of the e-learning supports and they are
not stimulated or requested to interact with other students or with the teacher to refine arguments or discuss
The analysis represented the starting point of our experiment involving new ICT and mobile technologies,
new approaches, and students.
Loevinger was a precursor underlining the need of a deep knowledge (Loevinger L., Jurimetrics 1949) of
Information Technology for Jurisprudence professionals, to better understand legal implications. Moreover, in
last years many new job positions, linked to ICT and telecommunications, born answering to the request of
knowledge of these subjects in the legal sector. The sphere of major interest concerns the storing and
management of the knowledge and so, not only the cooperative instruments and the sharing of the information
(such as Internet and email systems), but especially the learning of the mechanism of expert systems and
databases, arguments of the Information Technology course of the Faculty of Jurisprudence of the University of
Even if the cited arguments are interesting for the students by the legal point of view, the technological
aspects for the use of the instruments is considered difficult by students, used to study humanistic arguments.
The quick evolution of ICT (web 2.0, social networking, wiki, RSS feed, streaming, and so on) represents
another obstacle, because makes more complex the process of knowledge updating.
New generations of students are subjected to more and quicker stimulations and so the learning process has
to be adapted to new fruition modalities, possibly quick, immediate and characterized by a “spot” format
(Downes S. 2002).
For these reasons we transformed the course in a real project, involving directly the students in the
composition of the didactic material and in the application of the studied tools to the students’ life.
The idea born by previous experiences in other courses, such as the VGG (Video Giornale Giovanile)
(Valle, G. & Epifania, F. 2008), that is an on-line Video Magazine managed by young people with the aim of
treating various arguments such as school, social life, politics, sciences, etc, exploring new technology and new
We presented to the students the project to create a Jurisprudence Video Journal, treating subjects like
university’s problem, students’ social life, Law, University’s courses, using mobile phone or digital cameras as
acquisition instruments, PCs and specific software systems, with suitable performance, for the video elaboration
and web for the publication of the video (podcast) and to manage the project.
Obviously, students were not able to manage a project on their own without basic knowledge. They were,
moreover, really motivated to learn technology instruments and take part to the project, so initially they were
well-disposed to follow lessons on hardware and performances, database and images or videos storage, web
languages, digitalization software, blogs, wiki, web 2.0 tools and principles, and also direction, production, post-
production and video publication.
They worked hard but, at the end of the project, they not only learned all the technologies taught during the
lessons, but they developed a Video Journal on line targeted on Jurisprudence and University students that
currently represents a community constantly updated with new textual and video news and comments.
Background and technologies
The JVJ (Jurisprudence Video Journal) uses different technologies to target different communication
platforms, such as any typical feed reader (in particular, iGoogle) – this provides extra visibility and useful links
to the project's site, increasing both traffic and visits. It is possible to receive site feeds through the aggregator
provided by the Google feed application, providing a quick way to stay up-to-date with the site contents. It is
hosted by the web site http://vgg.usr.dsi.unimi.it/giurisprudenza/ and shows both video and text articles provided
The JVK content is structured using a tree scheme, following the structure of the more general VGG
(Video Giornale Giovanile), developed in previous experiences. The information is saved using a mySQL
database located on the server. The whole content is divided in sections and categories, containing articles and
videos. Students gave particular attention to the interface, making it easy to use and designing the navigation
such as it is always possible to reach the category and the section index from any point of the structure,
providing good access to information and a quick way to browse for the relevant content.
Maintenance and backup is provided following the standard mySQL tools, and database exports is
regularly perfomed to provide an efficient way to save all the content.
At this time the upload of videos directly on the server is not supported (even though it is indeed possible),
to control the content of information stored by students. However, different media players are provided within a
plugin, so that the author is able to link and display a clip from one of many different video hosting services,
including YouTube, GoogleVideos or YahooVideos.
The web site can be displayed both using a web browser and a mobile phone or device. The setup of this
multi-platform environment can be easily customized to differentiate the presentation of the information
according to the request type (multi-client approach), or to branch the interfaces through multiple versions
(usually implemented within sub-domains), each of them specialized to communicate with a single client type
(multi-site approach). The site currently implements a multi-client technique (picture 2), delegating a mambot to
the extrapolation of the client type, and the presentation of the correct content in a transparent way.
Fig.3: how the site handles different client requests.
The standard contribute is composed of one or more videos, a short description to complement it and
quickly summarize the content, and a feed which is automatically generated and made available to the web. To
create content, the author works with a text editor fully integrated with the site, and easily performs the common
tasks associated with the development of multimedia content, such as video embedding, text editing, and
hypertext linking. This allows the inclusion of those user interface forms that differentiate the online experience
from the traditional techniques used to present information.
Students used Internet and systems learned during the lessons also to organize themselves and to manage
the project. As first they create a forum to cooperate and share information (http://polymatrix.forumfree.net/)
and after they performed individual software test to select the best tools and systems for the aims of the project.
The Jurisprudence Video Journal is hosted on the UnimiTube more general website.
The UnimiTube http://video.dsi.unimi.it is a portal free accessible that allows to share multimedia video
and audio files, like on YouTube but specifically targeted to University students.
1. Main Menu
2. Search bar for video, audio and group
3. Registration new user and Login
4. Last visited Video
5. Random Video
6. Last inserted Video
Fig 4 http://video.dsi.unimi.it
Technically speaking, the project has been developed using the free Media Sharing CMS (Content
Management System) PHPmotion ( http://www.phpmotion.com ) representing the kernel of the website.
The platform has been realized with a Linux (Ubuntu) distribution for server “LAMP” (Linux – Apache –
MySqll – Php) providing apache2 web server, PHP 5 (with CLI support), MySQL database server 5, LAME
MP3 encoder, Libogg and Libvorbis, Mencoder and Mplayer, FFMpeg, GD Library, CGI-BIN, w32codecs.
The website is divided into two main areas: the public one (at disposition of each user, bot for registered
ones and for not registered) and the administrative section.
In the public area, the user, once registered, has the possibility to directly upload videos from own
computer. The uploaded video can be of different formats (mpg, avi, divx and many others) after converted in
flash video (flv estension). This choice allows user to see all video with the unique requirement of the
installation of the flash player software, free and downloadable for all the Operative Systems. The user can
modify the title, the description and the tags of the video. Moreover he/she can delete own video, make them
private or public, enable or disable comments and embedding of the video on other websites. The user can also
add video to own favourites, change the information related to the user profile and link to other users, creating a
thematic social network.
The UnimiTube’s Administrators can see video, delete them, make them “featured” and approve them,
control statistics concerning videos, users, groups and comments. An Administrator can also exclude a user who
doesn’t follow the ethic and privacy rules and guidelines.
Similar projects and developments elsewhere in the world
Similar projects have been undertaken by numerous universities throughout the world, such as the
International BBS and Internet Video Conferencing between Universities (Jost, N. Nakanishi, Y. Tatsuta, L. &
Gunji, 2004) project of the Dokkyo University in Japan, which aims to develop a collaborative learning project
using internet video technologies. The project allowed the students of Dokkyo University to collaborate with the
students of the University of Illinois in the United States through the use of a database of video files as well as
live online video conferencing and (Ministry of Education Culture Sports Science and Technology 2005) e-
learning applications. Similarly, the Nagaoka University of Technology in Japan developed the Webcam-Based
Knowledge Management System for Special Needs Education (Muranishi, A., Shintani, K., Kono, A., Haga, H.,
& Kaneda, S. 2006) project in order to create a powerful knowledge management system that archives teaching
strategies and solutions for dealing with student-related issues in the classroom. The project permits the sharing
of information among widely dispersed schools and other educational institutions, and supports the collaborative
development of effective teaching plans( Nagamori, M., Ando, M., Nagasawa, M., Songmuang, P., & Ueno, M.
With the support of the LCAD lab, we explored the potentiality of the video and multimedia platforms
extending the experiments also to field different from the University one. For example, the potential of Digital
Video Interaction in the Tradeshow business is investigated in cooperation with UCIMU, the Italian Association
of Mechanical Tool Machinery. Speeches presenting International research in LAMBDA session at LAMIERA
TradeShow, BolognaFiere 14-17 May 2008, are accessible at http://vgg.usr.dsi.unimi.it/lambda ( Fig. 5).
FIG.5 VG LAMIERA http://vgg.usr.dsi.unimi.it/lambda
While the Video-Journal of PIANETA GIOVANI session at BI-MU, 3-7 October 2008 at MilanoFiera,
produced together with organizer Probest SpA.is available at website
If you consider that at the beginning of the course the students did not know almost all the technologies we
teached them, you will understand our pride for the good work performed. It is also important to underline the
effort done by the students in managing the project, especially if we consider the large number of students
participating to the course of this academic year (about 70 students).
Through this experience the students of the course of Legal Sciences have been able to apply what they
learned during the lessons on the databases, on the manipulation and management of the data and on the use of
web 2.0 technologies. Of course they had to face also legal arguments linked to the publication of their works
and consequently they had the possibility to explore also themes linked to their studies.
In the complex, the experimentation gave really good results, involving also the performances of the
students in the final examination.
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