On Tuesday, I told you about a criminal law MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that I signed up for as my first venture into the online course world. I enrolled through Canvas Network, a Utah-based MOOC provider.
The criminal law course description was as follows: “Course content includes an exploration of criminal defenses, including self-defense, consent, and insanity.” The course evaluation consisted of “participation in quizzes and discussions and a passing grade on the final” after which the successful students would receive a certificate of completion.
The professor was Lisa Storm, Esq., a member of the California Bar and a faculty member at Hartnell College, a California community college. The optional assigned textbook, Criminal Law, v. 1.0, was an e-book that could be adopted by other teachers or instructors around the country or world. The starting cost of the e-book? $19.95. Quick comparison – the criminal law casebook that I used in law school now costs over $100.
Enrolling in the course was as simple as entering my email address and name. Done.
I listened to Professor Storm on a streaming video as she explained the basics of the course.
I learned that every week there would be a textbook reading assignment, a PowerPoint presentation, a quiz and a discussion. None of these is graded however. What counts for course completion is scoring 67% or higher on a final exam.
I clicked on Week 1 and started my course. I listened to a bit of the lecture but decided not to purchase the book just yet. I wanted to see how far my bar prep knowledge would carry me. I started with the quiz.
Seven out of ten, ouch. I confused federal supremacy and federalism, missed the 2nd Amendment entirely, and thought that the juvenile death penalty violated the 14th Amendment rather than the 8th. In my defense, I completed the test in precisely one minute.
I also snuck on over to the Discussion Group and met 25 other people taking my criminal law course. Who were they? Foreigners interested in the American criminal system; mid-career persons striking out in different directions; retirees learning about something new, and even a U.S. college student taking the LSAT next winter. That, in a nutshell, is the audience for this MOOC.
I haven’t completed the course yet, or else I would have included a picture of my certificate. But far from being skeptical about the utility of MOOCs, I am beginning to understand their appeal.
MOOCs appeal to people who want to learn more about a subject and don’t have the time or resources to do it. In other words, they appeal to every last one of us. And that’s the genius of them.
Can degree-granting MOOC programs succeed? The recent lesson of San Jose State and Udacity suggest that there are problems to overcome and discussions to be had. But my experience convinces me that the concept can succeed and can apply to legal education.
Law school is an expensive, time-consuming venture. And the reasons for it being so expensive and so time-consuming have gotten far less compelling in recent years. MOOCs could offer a way for the academic establishment to rejigger how they offer lectures and classes, making them both more affordable and more accessible. Perhaps the future will be a few hundred law professors lecturing on legal topics, and several thousand more leading clinics and seminars.
But, “Tradition!” I hear the traditionalists cry. Some decry the decline of in-person classes. They claim that nothing can replace the academic community. I understand tradition and the value of community. However, we are in an era where many are demanding dramatic change in legal education. That “many” includes the American Bar Association, responsible for the accreditation of law schools, whose Task Force on the Future of Legal Education recently issued a working paper as we wrote about earlier this month.
Look at the world from the perspective of the 22 to 25 year olds heading to law school. They text instead of call, Facebook instead of meet, email instead of chat. And look at us. We all spend hours on our computers, browsing websites, posting on forums, and spending more time with our online community than our office one.
The future is here, and if MOOC programs succeed, it will be because our present world is more than ready for them. We’re already at “here” and “there” with MOOCs. In a few years, just maybe, MOOCs will be “everywhere.”
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