MOOCs, Legal Education, & What It Means For Law Librarians

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, are all the rage these days. Companies like edX, Udacity, and Coursera are offering free (for now) classes online that are taught by one professor (generally from a prestigious university) and have huge enrollment numbers. Many MOOC students take the classes for knowledge and the free certificate that comes with completion. And some universities are even starting to accept MOOC credits toward degree completion.

It definitely seems that MOOCs are here to stay, and there could be major ramifications to come. Take law school instruction, for example. At the height of the law school boom, you might have one professor lecturing in front of 100 students in a first year class. What if that one professor could be broadcast to all of the first year law school classes across the United States?

This would obviously presuppose a huge shift in ABA requirements, but, hypothetically, it could be done. "In legal education, we have the ABA limitations that apply to online instruction.  The ABA allows a law school graduate to have taken no more than 12 credits in online courses, and none of those during the first year.  I suspect when we as legal educators become facile with teaching online, and use best practices in online pedagogical design, that restraint will be relaxed."

This could change the entire landscape of legal education. It has the potential to substantially lower the cost of legal education. And law schools would also need fewer rank-and-file professors. So it makes sense that many legal educators are reacting with fear. But law school education doesn't have to be all or nothing. Legal educators could embrace the new wave of online education now by creating hybrid classes with online and in-class components, which work remarkably well. This would ensure that when the time comes, law schools are prepared for any changes and can stay ahead of embracing the (potential) future of legal education.

So what does this mean for law librarians? Online courses -- whether MOOCs or not -- need librarian support for things like clearing copyrighted content, supporting production, supporting faculty and students, and preservation. Law librarians need to continue to promote their services and update their skills to keep pace. Even though my institution does not require the librarians to create online instruction, I have a colleague who purchased Captivate and is teaching it to herself. She is smart to do so, and it definitely has me thinking about ways to keep my skills up to date and how to advance with technological changes that seem inevitable.  Also, some law librarian job postings are now asking for examples of librarian-created online instruction.


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