Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Master of Legal Studies Program Creates Alternate Online Pathways

 

Innovations in legal education tend to be slow. Law schools have been some of the most hesitant participants in online education – if indeed they participate at all. But, slowly, and with the impact of COVID-19, some are coming to see the necessity – and even effectiveness – of the online format for legal learning. The S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah is at the forefront of these innovations with its Master of Legal Studies Program (MLS program) and attendant online offerings. Starting with the 2021-2022 school year, the MLS program will also be offering its programming to anyone anywhere with the development of a fully online version of its master’s degree. This is an exciting new development for online legal education and for those who would otherwise be unable to attend our in-person program.

 

The MLS program is a one-year executive, graduate degree program designed for working professionals and offers a broad-based education in legal concepts and practical applications for professionals who regularly interact with the law or lawyers in their work. The program itself is an exciting innovation in legal education as it offers important legal courses to non-lawyers – education that has previously only been available to students seeking a JD degree. As such, this program strives to expand meaningful legal education to anyone, not just lawyers.

 

Up until now, the MLS program has only been available as an in-person program, running on a weekend schedule to accommodate local students’ responsibilities in their careers and personal lives. However, online courses are now being developed to provide the content to a broader geographical audience. The online development has been aided by the instructional designers working for the university’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT). These designers sit down with the participating professor to map out how that professor will translate his or her live course into an engaging online format. This can be difficult, especially for faculty who are not tech-savvy, but TLT’s technological resources and expertise are helping immensely.

 

There have also been several challenging aspects to the online development of the MLS program. For instance, we have not yet determined whether or in what ways the in-person version of the degree and the online version should diverge. At present, the goal has been to have the online program mirror the in-person one, which means more development time and costs as we add new or different courses to our in-person program. In addition, COVID-19 has brought both a swift push to put courses online and in the process created strain on the university’s technological resources. The online MLS program was already in development when the pandemic hit. We were forced to delay our timeline by several months as the university struggled to help ALL faculty on campus adjust to teaching in distance formats.

 

Looking toward the future, the MLS program hopes to expand its online offerings, not just for its online and in-person students, but for others in the local, national, and global community with the creation of online skills badges, microcredentials, and certificates. The vision is to create small, bite-size, affordable courses that can be stacked to confer certificates or other credentials for individuals seeking to improve their work skills, or shift careers. These types of offerings would be ideal for someone who needs specific skills, but who does not have the time or monetary means to invest in a full degree. With these innovations, the S.J. Quinney College of Law is on the road to creating high quality legal education that is truly available online for anyone anywhere.

 

 

Guest blog author Carolynn Clark is the Director of the Master of Legal Studies program at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah. She also teaches conflict and legal crisis management in that program, and has worked extensively as an attorney-mediator.  Before joining the law school in 2020, she directed the University of Utah’s Conflict Resolution Graduate Certificate Program.

 

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