Online education offers alternative



    Computer technology is transforming traditional teaching methods.

    On Sept. 15, Kaplan Educational Centers announced the launch of Concord University School of Law, the first major institution offering a juris doctorate degree earned completely online.

    “We’re not competing with the Harvards or the Yales. Our mission is to provide a high quality education for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get one. That’s the beauty of the Internet,” said Andrea Wilson, spokesperson for Concord University School of Law, a division of Kaplan Educational Centers.

    Education on the Internet provides greater opportunities for working students, family caretakers and those living in rural areas who have trouble getting to a fixed facility, Wilson said.

    Wilson said pursuing a legal education online provides maximum flexibility. There is no enrollment cap since the Internet is not restricted by the number of seats available, such as in a traditional classroom, she said. Students can earn their degree at their own pace as long as they complete the requirements within six years, she said.

    Online law students will view lectures on the Internet given by a board of professors via mainstream video, Wilson said. Students will submit assignments and receive feedback via e-mail, she said. They can participate in chat rooms and will take exams on the Internet, she said.

    “There’s a law library online where students can do research,” Wilson said.

    Applications are still being processed, so no students have been admitted to Concord University School of Law yet, Wilson said. Kaplan has received more than 2,000 inquiries since the announcement of the online law school on Sept. 15, she said.

    John Faust, 23, a first year BYU law student from Vienna, Va., said he enjoys the conveniences of doing research online and submitting assignments via e-mail.

    “I think online opportunities are great. Doing online research doesn’t trap you or confine you to the law library. It allows you to spend more time at home with your family. If technology allows it, why not do it?,” Faust said.

    Yet, Faust said students still need to attend lectures in the traditional classroom setting to ask the professor questions and to have that “interactive experience.”

    BYU law professor Larry C. Farmer teaches in the traditional classroom setting, but uses the Internet to manage his law school seminar. This system allows Farmer to focus less on mechanics and more on instruction, he said.

    By making the change from paper and floppy disks to the Internet, “I can make myself more available to the students,” Farmer said.

    This change, which Farmer began about three years ago, was made possible by the law school’s resources, Farmer said. Now, all students have access to the Internet, he said.

    Beginning this fall, all students admitted to BYU’s law school are required to have a notebook computer, said Peter Mueller, manager of information systems.

    “Every seat in every classroom has a power supply. The students are taking notes during class on their lap top computers. There’s access to online legal resources from the graduate carrels. Students can print from the carrels through the lab system,” Mueller said.

    Farmer’s students can download assignments at their convenience and receive feedback via e-mail, Farmer said.

    “Nobody seems frustrated. The students appreciate Internet based learning,” Farmer said.

    When asked how he felt about Concord University School of Law online, Farmer said he didn’t know exactly what earning a degree online would entail, but said, “Students learn a lot just from their face to face associations with each other.”

    Mary Hanson, 19, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, majoring in elementary education, said she is aware of the impact computers are having on education.

    “I’m trying to learn more. Teachers have to know more,” Hanson said.

    In a city in Texas, administrators are thinking about replacing all paper work with computers and giving every elementary school student a lap top computer, Hanson said.

    When asked if Hanson would ever take a college course completely online, she said she’d like going at her own pace.

    “I wouldn’t have students to talk to, but I think communication via e-mail would be sufficient because even in regular classes you just sit, listen and leave without ever really talking to anyone anyway,” Hanson said.

    Amy Petersen, 21, a senior from Cary, N.C., majoring in elementary education, said she’s preparing for advances in computer technology by taking two classes at BYU called Instructional Psychology and Technology.

    “Taking a class completely online would be more convenient, but it would be harder to ask the professor questions. E-mail would work, but it’s not as beneficial as face to face communication. It’s not as immediate,” Petersen said.

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