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Touro Law Offers Online Courses that Rival the Traditional Classroom Setting
It’s 1:58 pm. Class starts in two minutes. You’re home. You’re in sweatpants. You’re ready.
Online law school courses are being offered every semester at Touro Law, but they are not like the online classes most students are familiar with from their undergraduate days. It is not enough to have a student log in to a virtual class at their convenience and view a video lecture at his or her own pace. Law school demands much more.
Online classes at Touro Law involve the professor and students all logging in to the virtual classroom during a designated class time. This classroom comes with many built-in benefits. The professor can see the face of every student on the screen in front of him/her while teaching, not just the students sitting in the front row of class. The same is true for the students. Additionally, students can participate by either raising their hand and waiting to be called on or using the chat function, enabling students who might not raise their hand in an actual classroom to candidly ask questions and comment on the material being taught. The technology allows for real-time quizzes and polls throughout class which help the professor gauge students’ understanding of the material instantly. Every class is recorded and posted for those who either missed class or want to go back and review something in particular. And, every class happens on time - regardless of traffic or weather or other conditions.
Jack Graves is one of the professors at Touro Law offering these classes, and he sees a growing trend in student demand for online courses. To meet this demand he says professors need some additional training and practice using the technology. “It’s definitely a transition to go from lecturing in a classroom to engaging students through a computer screen,” stated Professor Graves. “But once you adapt your teaching methods to ensure you engage the students, online learning is beneficial for both the professor and the students.” As Director of Digital Legal Education, Graves is charged with ongoing development of the Law Center’s online educational offerings.
Professor Tracy Norton teaches legal writing and enjoys teaching classes online. “I teach skills courses, which many professors and students assume wouldn't work online. Nothing could be further from the truth. Advanced Persuasive Writing and Judicial Writing are both discussion-intensive courses. The online platform helps me regulate the discussion better so the conversation isn't dominated by just a handful of students.”
Currently, Touro Law has ten courses that it offers entirely online and plans to continue to expand the offerings. “There is great potential for this technology, including collaborations with other law schools and involving legal experts from around the world. Online classes make geography irrelevant and open the doors for learning.” Under current ABA and New York Court of Appeals rules applicable to “distance learning,” students may take up to fifteen credits of their total required credit load in online courses.
Additionally, some faculty use the technology to supplement their traditional class for weather related closings, special review courses, etc. The applicable rules state that up to one third of any course can be delivered online without counting towards the fifteen credit limit on distance learning courses. While first year courses may not be delivered entirely online, even these may include distance learning components.
Professor Eileen Kaufman has been teaching law for more than 30 years. She is a well-respected, well-regarded professor whose classes are always popular. While she teaches standard classes, she has embraced online technology and its implicit benefits. She stated, “I started out as a real naysayer. I couldn't imagine an online substitute for live, in person instruction. But, I must say, I've become something of a convert. Certainly in cases of snow days, holding class online at the regular time is a fabulous option, and certainly better than trying to schedule a makeup class for people with widely divergent schedules. Even for large classes, I can meet with them online, actually see all of them, and have a truly interactive classroom experience, including calling on students and having them answer questions.”
Touro Law students are embracing the technology and telling their peers about their experience. Louis Collins, a part-time evening student in his second year at Touro Law, states, “The online class experience was absolutely incredible and I would recommend it. The format is wonderful, as you are able to see everyone and interact as though you're in a classroom. In fact, I enjoy it more than a classroom setting because I can see every student not just the professor and that, for me, made it much more enjoyable. My professor shares materials in real time and the atmosphere is more relaxed and conducive to learning as students made themselves comfortable in their living room, office, hotel rooms, and had spirited conversations. I was able to go on vacation in south Florida and still did not miss a class. The experience was awesome.”
Part-time, third year student Mila Benzon stated, "“I find online classes both effective and efficient. I travel a significant distance to school and online courses allow me more time in the day to study rather than travel. Additionally, I find the classes to be interactive and engaging.”
Students are embracing online courses and new technology because it’s convenient and there are benefits to the online classroom but also because it provides exposure to the technology they will use when practicing law in the real world. Already, traditional law practices are moving to online versions. Depositions no longer require people from all over to be in one room at one time if they are done virtually. Conferencing with other attorneys and clients is more cost effective from your home office than flying to meet at a mutual location. Technology is a growing movement in providing legal services and students need to bel able to adapt to new developments and be prepared for changes in law practice.
Touro Law is one of a handful of law schools throughout the country offering a substantial number of online courses for students, with plans to expand the offerings each semester. This emerging trend in legal education is gaining ground – requiring law schools, professors and students to adapt to new technology and new ways of both teaching and learning.
Dean Patricia Salkin stated, “As a legal education provider, we are responsible for providing students with the tools and the technology they will need to be prepared to practice law in today’s world. Online learning and new technologies offer our students the ability to not only become familiar with platforms they will encounter in practice, but also teaches them to be ready to adapt and be willing to think and learn in new ways that will suit them well in the future.”
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