For the last two years, it’s seemed as if someone changed my job description without telling me. I work in the same office. The faculty composition is mostly the same. But the discussion about legal and online education changed. It’s easy to find articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Huffington Post describing the apparent problems of legal education and arguing for remedies. Taken on its own, this trend may not be that notable. After all, there have been calls for reform of legal education for years. But the calls for change in legal education are part of a larger discussion about higher education now. And as everyone who spends time following educational technology blogs knows, the articles about MOOCs are everywhere. And the MOOC phenomenon seems to have changed the course of public discussion about higher education’s future.
So how has this discussion changed my job? Simply put, I’m spending a lot more time talking with faculty than ever before. We’ve always been contacted frequently because our instructional technology staff has had a good reputation for providing timely support. But faculty want to talk about blended learning now. They want to talk about flipped classrooms. They want to get together and talk about MOOCs and online learning. As a result I spend much more of my time meeting with faculty individually, corresponding with them at length, and holding workshops and lunches to discuss these topics. I do not see these discussions ending anytime soon. No single initiative or project will address this need adequately. Our faculty see innovative teaching as a theme that is here to stay. Consequently, it’s not hard to envision a time when my primary role as manager of support services will be equalled or maybe eclipsed by a comparable demand for instructional design and faculty development to support more innovation in our J.D. curriculum and our broader educational offerings.
This kind of change excites me as some with a background in learning theory. I’m eager to work with faculty who want to take an innovative and discerning approach to new technologies in their teaching. But as a person in particular job at a particular time it also concerns me. I coordinate our instructional technology and audiovisual support services. The demand for these services will continue to grow even as new roles emerge for instructional design, faculty development, and online courses. What do I really need to know to be effective in these new areas? Here are some of the questions that I’ve been struggling with:
- What kind of experimentation was taking place with online learning in law schools? Who is driving that experimentation?
- What do faculty considering an online course need to know? How can they be prepared to think through the difficult issues involved?
- What must an institution consider as it begins to develop online courses?
- What about intellectual property and copyright for courses?
- How to keep abreast of the changes in accreditation and regulation of distance learning in legal education?
One terrific resource I’ve found in the last year to help me think about these questions is the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education. This group is mainly composed of faculty who teach and develop blended and fully online courses. Since 2011, they have convened three times a year to work on three priorities:
- Developing model policies and information for law schools engaged in distance learning programs.
- Developing best practices and standards for distance learning programs.
- Providing comments and policy recommendations for accreditation bodies that regulate distance learning in legal education.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few meetings of the Working Group in the last year. I’ve become acquainted with some friendly and helpful people who are eager to share their experiences developing and teaching courses. I’ve become much more aware of the issues for faculty, support staff, and institutions. And I now feel comfortable talking about the changing landscape of accreditation and regulation of distance learning in legal education. Most importantly, I am pretty confident that if I had a question about online learning in legal education, I know I could get an answer from the most experienced people on the planet.
I’m eager to hear from those of you who perceive similar changes in your work. What’s changed? How are you coping? What gets you excited about this period of rapid and unpredictable development in higher education?