USC's new online LL.M. allows students to study from anywhere

Students in the inaugural class at University of Southern California Gould School of Law’s online LL.M. in American Law program completed their first semester, and reviews are positive for the asynchronous set up.

Asynchronous means that students can access class materials at any time. Most students work full-time as practicing lawyers in their home countries and many have family obligations, said Anne Marlenga, director of student affairs for graduate and international programs.

“It’s been really great so far,” Marlenga said. “The instructors hired to develop the courses spent six months before the semester to build the courses and develop the material.”

Marlenga said asynchronous technology provides flexibility for those seeking the graduate degree in addition to their busy lives. Students hail from Brazil, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Italy, Kuwait, New Zealand, Nigeria and the Philippines. 

“Our residential program is two semesters and there’s no way around it. Online students can work around their schedule,” she said. “It’s easier to work around their lives whereas residentially, you come to USC full time for a year or you don’t come at all.”

In addition to asynchronous course materials, one live class session is held a week. Course offerings include an introduction to the U.S. legal system, legal research, Constitutional law and topics in American law.

“Students have chosen the online program because it allows flexibility to be asynchronous,” she said. “But they have all remarked in the fall [semester] about the live conference session being the most interesting, helpful and enjoyable for them,”

Timing can be tricky, she said, which is why the majority of the program is offered asynchronously, but students have been willing to stay up late or access the live class from their desks at work.

“We found that [the live class] is really important and that’s why we have tried hard to make sure the schedule works for all different times zones,” she said.

The program utilizes Moodle, a software program designed for open-source learning.

“The Moodle platform seems to have so many functionalities where professors can do interactive quizzes, PowerPoints, discussion boards, videos and live sessions,” Marlenga said. “There’s variety of things they’re doing.”

Classes may be easily accessible, but the rigor expected of a law school like USC, which is ranked no. 20 best law school by U.S. News & World Report, is not scarified.

“Students were a little surprised at how difficult courses were because they’re not sitting in a classroom,” she said. “They have to spend time preparing whether that’s reading, taking practice quizzes or posting on the discussion board. The amount of work is a lot more than people expect of online education.”

Though some schools are turning to online programs to combat decreasing enrollment, Marlenga says USC’s approach is more focused on progressing online education on the graduate level. 

“USC has really put forward an initiative to create online programs in all of our graduate schools,” she said. “We have a plethora of online programs. This is really more about following the vision of the university and less about enrollment numbers.”

Students also have the option to earn an LL.M. certificate in business law in conjunction with their regular studies.

The National Jurist is covering the technology of online LL.M. programs in its February issue. Sign up for the digital magazine here to read the story.

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