Teaching the law with technology

Teaching the law with technology

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College of Law now offers online class, course sharing with Ohio State

The College of Law is venturing into new forms of electronic legal education for the first time this year, with two professors teaching classes that expand the college’s educational reach and experiments that include joint distance education with Ohio State University.

Marcella David
Marcella David

Professor Marcella David is teaching the class “The Legal Profession” online this summer to University of Iowa law students. Then this fall, professor Herb Hovenkamp will open his antitrust law class to students at the Moritz College of Law at OSU, which will participate remotely in a pilot project that may expand to other law schools in the Big Ten. In return, UI law students will participate remotely in an election law class offered at OSU in spring 2014.

Online education is becoming increasingly common in higher education as universities broaden their scope to provide valuable educational opportunities to people who can’t get to their campus. According to a survey by The College Board and Babson Survey Research Group, nearly 7 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in the fall 2011 semester.

At the UI, 7,303 students took 13,439 courses online in the 2011-12 year. Accredited law schools, however, have been slow to adopt online technology largely because American Bar Association (ABA) rules cap the number of credit hours law students can take online to 12. The ABA still requires that the vast majority of credits be from classes offered in a classroom with a faculty member present.

Law schools are now starting to offer a few classes so students have the option, though, and David’s and Hovenkamp’s are the first two offered by the UI College of Law.

David’s class is being taught in two 1-credit hour blocks offered two evenings a week in the May and July summer sessions. She says she’s taking advantage of the medium to incorporate audio and video into her syllabus. For instance, one part of her class tells students what it’s like to work as a lawyer in different settings. To help make her points, she’s shooting video of interviews with practicing attorneys, judges, corporate counsel, and others who will tell students about how they do their jobs.

Herb Hovenkamp
Herbert Hovenkamp

Hovenkamp says he is preparing for his annual antitrust class differently than he had in the past, practicing with the online blackboard technology so that OSU students can read the same things he’s writing down for his Iowa students.

“Traditionally, I just used the blackboard or whiteboard, so I’ll be using more PowerPoint and electronic slides for the class,” he says.

David is teaching her class in the evening from her office with a camera mounted atop her computer monitor, while Hovenkamp is teaching in a traditional classroom setting with a camera in the room to provide a video and audio feed to OSU. A monitor will also be set up in his classroom so he can see and hear the students in Columbus.

Hovenkamp says the idea of teaching online didn’t concern him as he’s comfortable with technology as an educational tool (he wrote a casebook for his Innovation Law class last year and gave it to students for free via the Web). His only worry is that the technology proves to be so touchy that it slows down the teaching process for students at both schools. He’s been assured, though, that won’t be an issue.

If the UI-OSU partnership is successful, it may be expanded to include other law schools in the Big Ten and the Council of Institutional Cooperation.


Tom Snee, University Communication and Marketing, office: 319-384-0010; cell: 319-541-8434


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