Law Schools Explore Distance Learning

Des Moines Register

Iowa City, Ia. - Changes in standards for future attorneys are making American law schools consider distance education, long associated with correspondence courses offered by fly-by-night institutions.

The University of Iowa and Drake University, Iowa's two law schools, are among more than 65 schools from five countries that will meet Feb. 13 at the University of Louisville to discuss the ways distance learning can be used in legal education.

Teaching students across state and international borders may be the future, but law professors say they want to make sure it's done right.

"Part of law school is spontaneous give-and-take. That Socratic teaching poses greater challenges for distance learning," said Eric Andersen, associate dean at the U of I College of Law.

The American Bar Association revised its standards in 2002 to allow law schools to honor up to 12 credits of distance education for each student. These credits can be earned through classes on the Internet, satellite broadcast, audio or computer conferencing, video or correspondence.

Andersen said the U of I could trade instruction through distance education to allow students to take courses not offered on campus. But there also is the danger of exporting a well-known professor who brings students to the Iowa City campus.

"No established law school would want to put their entire catalog online," said David McCord, associate dean of the Drake University Law School.

But improved technology has narrowed the gap between distance education and in-class learning, he said. "I see it as a curriculum enrichment."

Drake now lets students take six of 90 credits through distance education. The U of I does not allow distance education credits.