Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 3, 2020

Syracuse Illustrates The Many Possibilities For Online Legal Education

Following up on my previous posts:

Karen Sloan (, The Many Possibilities for Online Legal Education:

Back in December, I got an email from Syracuse University College of Law announcing the launch of a new hybrid J.D./MBA program. ...[T]he program was unveiled a mere year after Syracuse launched JDInteractive, the school’s online J.D. program. That struck me as a fairly rapid expansion of its online offerings.

Then this month, I heard from Syracuse again. It was touting the upcoming “Third Year Away” program, which will allow third-year law students in the traditional J.D. program to spend the year off-campus in externships, while taking online classes taught by regular faculty. ... Nina Kohn, the faculty director of online education at Syracuse, told me last week that the idea behind the new program is to allow third-year students to get some practical experience in the locations where they aspire to practice. (It will only become available to the new first-year students who start this fall.)

So each of these new offerings is leveraging the online course platform that Syracuse created for the core JDInteractive program, but for slightly different populations of students. That got me thinking about the idea of online JDs being, perhaps, more versatile than I had initially understood them to be. Once a school has invested the money necessary to develop online courses—and convinced faculty to teach those courses—it makes sense to figure out other ways to use that technology for all students.

Kohn told me she didn’t have a game plan for additional online programs when she was launching JDInteractive, but it quickly became apparent to her once that program was underway of the other possibilities. ...

The key to fully leveraging online courses, though, is for those classes to be just as good as the ones offered to the residential law students, Kohn said. That’s the primary reason that Syracuse has opted to make its online classes at least 50% live and synchronous, meaning professors and students interact in real time for at least half of their course. That format limits class sizes in a way that fully asynchronous classes don’t, Kohn noted, but she believes that the interaction provides a richer educational experience than simply allowing students to watch lecture videos on their own.

Another benefit to expanding online course offerings is that it creates opportunities for students in the online and residential programs to take classes together and create a law school-wide community, Kohn noted. For now, the online classes will only be open to residential students in the Third Year Away program, but that could expand over time.

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