Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Using Distance Learning to Enhance Cross-Listed Interdisciplinary Law School Courses

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Using Distance Learning to Enhance Cross-Listed Interdisciplinary Law School Courses

Article excerpt


Courses that are interdisciplinary in their approach to teaching substance and skills and that include graduate students from other disciplines can be a valuable addition to legal education. (1) In addition to enabling students to share different perspectives, such courses provide an ideal environment for teaching law students to collaborate with other types of professionals. This is increasingly essential to the effective practice of law? (2) Cross-listed courses can also provide access to classes on subjects that are not otherwise offered and to the expertise of faculty members from other parts of an academic institution. Not surprisingly, such courses receive high ratings from law students. (3)

Notwithstanding these benefits, the capacity of law schools to offer cross-listed courses is constrained by numerous logistical and administrative challenges. (4) Distance learning, or distance education--the use of computers, telecommunications, and digital networking to permit learning outside the boundaries of the classroom--holds the potential to expand the availability of cross-listed courses by reducing these barriers. (5) Equally important, distance learning can provide professors of cross-listed courses with pedagogical tools for enhancing interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and circumventing some of the problems inherent in teaching students from different disciplines.

Since many law schools are physically separate from other parts of the university, it can be difficult to find a convenient location to hold cross-listed classes. (6) Similarly, it is often difficult to find a suitable class time because the semester calendars and course schedules of law schools are frequently different from other university divisions. (7)

For law professors specifically, cross-listed courses present unique pedagogical challenges stemming from the difficulty of teaching a class comprised of students who are near-experts in legal analysis, the language of the law, and the legal system, and students who are novices. Moreover, it is crucial but extremely difficult to create an environment in which these two groups of students, coming from different backgrounds, professional cultures, and knowledge bases, are not mutually intimidated. (8) Indeed, one commentator has argued that impediments to cross-professional communication are so great that "English-speaking members of a particular profession may in fact communicate more clearly with non-English-speaking members of their profession from other cultures than they do with English-speaking persons who are not part of the profession." (9)

In a class I recently taught on public health law, I used distance learning and evaluated its ability to: (1) facilitate teaching at different levels to students from two disciplines; (2) enhance interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration; and (3) reduce the barriers associated with time and place constraints. (10)

The course, offered to law students and graduate students in public health, presented the usual problems. The public health students, on the one hand, had considerable academic training and employment experience in their field, but most had never read a statute, regulation, or judicial opinion. The law students, on the other hand, had extensive training in legal analysis, legal process, and many relevant areas of law, but most knew nothing about the theory, methods, and practice of public health.

Additionally, the law and public health schools are located miles apart and the difference between the two schools' schedules was substantial. The law school's classes meet during the day and the public health school holds classes at night. As a consequence, it was impossible to schedule more than one "live" two-hour class each week, which did not provide sufficient time to accomplish the course's substantive and skills objectives.

The purpose of this Article is to evaluate the capacity of distance education technology to enhance the effectiveness of cross-listed interdisciplinary courses. …

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