Online to the rescue III: Schools with the virtual advantage

Editor's note: this is the final of our three-part series.

 Some schools have a bit of an advantage in online. They already were online when the pandemic hit. American University Washington College of Law has a robust master of legal studies online program — created in conjunction with the business school — as well as online LL.M. and J.D. course offerings. 

Online offerings are important because they allow more diversity and inclusion. Some people can’t take traditional on-campus courses because they have jobs and/or family demands.

Still, the school had challenges in making the transition in wake of COVID-19. It had to move 200 course offerings and moot court training online. Additionally, the school has a part-time evening program, so those students had to switch to online learning as well.

In some ways, online learning can be more engaging than the classroom. Students can’t try and disappear into the back of the class. Everyone has to be engaged. 

Schools were able to make this transition for one simple reason, said Gregory Duhl, faculty director of blended learning at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, a pioneer in online learning.

“They were in survival mode.”

Mitchell Hamline, located in St. Paul, Minn., was the first school to get an ABA variance to create a hybrid J.D. program that was mostly online. A couple dozen schools reached out to him for advice in offering online courses, he said.

Technology wasn’t the issue, he said. That’s readily available. However, creating an online education that’s most effective and realizes its fullest potential are the biggest challenges. 

For instance, there are two primary methods of online leaning. One is called asynchronous, in which students listen to pre-recorded lectures at their convenience. The advantage is that they can listen when they have the time and can do so over and over again until they grasp it.

The other is synchronous, which is taught in real-time. A professor leads a class and students take part together. This allows for the kind of interaction that takes place in the classroom.

Both methods should be used, Duhl said. However, instructors who are new to it may not know which method works best for which type of classes. 

“Some had a pretty good idea, some didn’t.”

He believes that a number of schools saw the value in online education and now want to learn to use it better — particularly if online learning will be necessary in the fall. 

“I think schools will embrace it more and more and learn how to do so strategically.”

While other schools scrambled to get their online programs up and running, Mitchell Hamline didn’t have such obstacles, given its history. 

“It was just another day in the office,” Duhl said. “We know how to do this.”

Related stories:

How online edication has come to the rescue

Online to the rescue II: Moot Court and other extracurricular offerrings


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