Friday, October 31, 2014

"MOOCs And The Rise Of Online Legal Education"

This is a new article from Professors Stephen Colbran (School of Business & Law at CQUniversity, Australia) and Anthony Gilding (Business Economics and Law, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia) and available at 63 J. Legal Educ. 405 (2014).  From the introduction:

Whereas the capacity to grow and distribute food defined the agrarian economy, and the capacity to manufacture and distribute goods defined the industrial economy, the capacity to create and apply knowledge defines the post-industrial digital economy. In this context, sustainable prosperity depends on a society's capacity to create and apply knowledge to solve problems.


Universities continually look at quality assurance processes and the use of new technologies to increase participation and improve student outcomes. The combination of traditional practice associated with aging legal academics, the demands of digital natives and the ability of new technologies to disrupt accepted practices suggests that new teaching modes are needed. The situation is no starker than that presented by the advent of MOOCs--Massive Open Online Courses.


While it is not suggested that legal education in general will be provided through open online courses with participants numbering in the hundreds of thousands, these courses provide an opportunity to explore how universities, law schools and academic staff may change the way they teach and relate to students. Similarly the learning relationships between students also may change as a consequence of the new paradigm.


The adoption of broad teaching standards as part of quality assurance processes will result in aspects of teaching practice, curriculum development and the student learning environment becoming increasingly more public and transparent. It is likely new teaching models will need to both inform and conform to any framework of teaching standards adopted across the sector.


Initially, beyond political and social reasons, MOOCs may not seem an attractive option, especially to members of law teaching staffs who face ever increasing demands on their time, not least of which is research. However, there are many reasons why those engaged in legal education may want to develop these online courses across the higher education sector including:


• Marketing to potential future students. MOOCs increase exposure to potential students because the resources of the courses are open to all who may want to register. There is no requirement to complete assessment tasks unless the student is enrolled in an accredited program associated with the online course.


• Community engagement and outreach programs. Such programs often are designed to increase participation in higher education, especially for designated equity groups. MOOCs may provide potential students with greater exposure to legal education. Rather than just being a simple marketing strategy, the support provided through these online classes may include strategies targeting groups of students with different motivations for participation.


• Reputation building. Successful MOOCs may build individual, school and university reputations for providing quality legal advice and criticism within supportive and effective learning environments that foster the development of ongoing professional networks.


• Alumni development. For alumni, MOOCs provide a way of mentoring students and maintaining professional connections with their university and its teaching staff. It can be an avenue for giving back.


• Interaction with professional continuing legal education. The online concept suits continuing education since learning resources may be provided in a setting in which participants assemble professional networks to provide a forum for discussion of contemporary issues in the law. There is potential for a credentialed online course to provide mandatory continuing legal education points and cross-credit for higher legal qualifications.


• Networking and profile building. A MOOC provides participants with an opportunity to build extensive professional networks and specialties. Through the quality of their contributions to the professional network, participants can build a profile of their own work and that of their organization.


• Developing foundational skills. The open resources available through the online course, built on Web 3.0 tools, provide an opportunity for participants to develop literacies and skills fundamental to success in accredited legal programs. Web 3.0, or the semantic web as it is also known, moves from current unstructured or partially structured content to automated location, sharing and combination of vast quantities of otherwise inaccessible data. Participants can use the learning resources repeatedly until they demonstrate the competencies underlying success in the conventional legal curriculum.


• Try before you buy. MOOCs provide potential students with an opportunity to experience a course about the law before paying for and attending an accredited course. Reputations will be on the line as the quality of teaching materials and staff expertise are plain for all to see.


• Internationalization. MOOCs have the potential to establish links between law schools nationally and internationally. Imagine online courses featuring international experts from diverse cultures.


• Promoting access to justice. Online courses on certain topics may encourage access to justice by providing skills and knowledge that otherwise could only be obtained from a lawyer for a fee.


• Demystifying the law. MOOCs' ability to reach a wide audience combined with topics in plain English will help expose laymen to the law, potentially peeling back millennia of legal jargon and practice. The potential for enhancing access to justice should not be ignored.


There is little doubt that modern learning models are challenging for both student and teacher. But this question remains: How will law schools adapt to these changes?


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