Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen is shifting to providing its courses online in order to continue operating amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The school, the only one in the world to offer both a U.S. law curriculum taught in English and a Chinese Law curriculum, has postponed the start of its spring semester in a bid to help slow the spread of COVID-19 virus. But it expects to restart classes online this week, a major undertaking considering that it largely does not have a distance learning infrastructure.

The steps the law school, founded in 2007, is taking show how the virus, which has killed more than 3,000 people and has sickened more than 88,000, has upended business and education operations in region. Shenzhen is about a 12-hour drive south from the epidemic’s center in Wuhan.

Peking Law’s dean Philip McConnaughay, former dean at Penn State University Law School, said that many universities across the country are similarly postponed, and that he expects that to remain the case through at least March.

To help make the online transition, Peking Law administrators reached out to Mitchell Hamline College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has been operating a mostly online J.D. program for the past five years.

The Shenzhen school’s assistant dean of academic affairs, Christian Pangilinan, has taken the lead in the rapid conversion from a residential to fully online program. The two schools held an instructional video conference last week to go over the ins-and-outs of effective online learning and different models.

“I think that what we are seeing in China is unprecedented—millions of students at all levels, from primary school students to Ph.D. students, will study or are studying online nationwide,” Pangilinan said. “Because the adoption of remote learning is occurring so rapidly, the opportunity to learn from Mitchell Hamline’s expertise in blended and online learning was invaluable to helping us maintain the quality of our education.”

Mitchell Hamline has helped the Chinese school with the modes of instruction, including synchronous verses asynchronous courses, said Amanda Soderlind, senior instructional designer at Mitchell Hamline. She also said Mitchell Hamline provided help with lesson plans for teaching online, including devising a syllabus, and how to assess student performance in an online course.

Soderlind added that Mitchell Hamline starts building its online courses three to four months ahead of time. But with the semester slipping away, Peking doesn’t have that kind of time on its hands.

Asked if she thought other schools in the U.S. should be looking into online courses as an alternative in the event of lockdowns and quarantines, Sonderlind said she couldn’t comment on the right path for other schools. But she said Mitchell Hamline should be able to transition its residential law students to online relatively easily, since the infrastructure is already in place.


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