Tuesday, July 19, 2005
This would never have worked for me . . .
Online Law School at Abraham Lincoln University.
I went to the University of Oklahoma. There is nothing to compare with sitting in the forum between classes, talking with other students, and listening to everyone else's answer to the ubiquitous first-year law student's question: "what the heck did he/she just say about that case?"
I also gained a lot from the semi-Socratic method used by many of my professors. For those of you unfamiliar with this procedure, it is a traditional teaching method practiced largely on first year students and involves interrogation techniques that would be banned from Gitmo. The professor calls on you, asks you a question about an assigned case you either didn't read, read while drunk, or glanced at (along with two other cases) in the five minutes immediately preceding class. You are then required to answer the professor's questions, which often amount to very absurd and/or abstract arguments, until the professor feels that you have had enough.
Picture a cat toying with a mouse, and you get the idea. For many law students, these techniques are embarassing and humbling. They also tend to teach you how to think like a lawyer (which is the point, after all).
I don't understand how this can be accomplished in an on-line or correspondence setting. Much of the art of teaching otherwise normal, mentally healthy human beings to think like lawyers is by placing the students under the pressure of thinking quickly and speaking before one's peers. How do you get that from a correspondence school?
This is not to disparage all correspondence schools. My lovely and talented wife is currently pursuing her Master's degree in education from the University of Phoenix. I have seen the work she is performing, and seen her participate in what boils down to a USENET style discussion board involving various issues and problems for her classes. She is learning, and will come out of her Master's program better equipped to do her job.
But even in that environment, I see some shortcomings. For example, her classes often require group projects. Several students from different locales scattered across the country have to come together to develop a project. The inability to physically meet, divvy up the work, give immediate feedback, brainstorm, read body language, etc., makes this a more tedious undertaking than it would be if the students could physically meet. The end product suffers somewhat (IMHO) as a result, and the entire process is inefficient.
The same would be true, but more so, for a long-distance legal education. It wouldn't teach me as much as I learned in traditional law school -- but more power to those who can do it and succeed.