Thursday, May 28, 2015

ABA Approved Online JD Programs Have Arrived

It feels like we are on the cusp of a real revolution in JD programs offering online options. Law schools first started dabbling in online LL.M. programs because LL.M. programs are outside of the auspices of ABA oversight and do not have to comply with the ABA limit dealing with online hours.

But that limit seems to be loosening. In January 2015, William Mitchell started the first hybrid JD program that the ABA conceptually approved in 2013. From WM's website: Each semester has a clear and carefully designed curricular focus. Students spend 11 or 12 weeks a semester completing online coursework that culminates in a week-long, on-campus Capstone week focused on experiential learning.

This new hybrid-degree program requires only 2 weeks on campus for the academic year. It is, in effect, an online, ABA-approved JD degree.

At this point, it's either move forward with the trend or get left behind. Law school, in its current form, is well suited for online education. Generally, the professor lectures for 3 hours per week with a comprehensive exam at the end of the term. This can easily be facilitated through online-education software. 

Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Collaborate, among other platforms, allow for lecture capture (with closed captioning). The instructor can interact with the students synchronously or record a lecture for asynchronous viewing. The instructor can require participation through things like discussion board posts from each student. If an instructor requires participation like this each week, it may be even better than only calling on a student once or twice in a live course throughout semester. If the instructor strategically uses the discussion boards, the students will have to digest and apply the material regularly. 

I have taught an online LL.M. writing course for a couple of years using the Blackboard platforms mentioned above, and it's easy to interact with the students. We hold class synchronously and have numerous one-on-one draft conferences throughout the course of the term where we utilize screen sharing to discuss drafts. The quality of the papers submitted through the online program is of the same caliber as those submitted at the end of a face-to-face class. 

As mentioned above, the time is now for law schools to really start developing these programs or risk losing out on a valuable student base.

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