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Law schools are clearly not at the forefront of distance-learning education. Institutional rules set forth high standards for adding this technological advancement to the law school geography. But despite the obstacles put in the way, there is a place for this new advancement, and it was seen for students from Loyola University New Orleans School of Law this past fall in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath of Katrina, I, like so many others, felt helpless and wanted to do something to assist friends and colleagues who suffered devastating losses. In my own world of the legal community, I reached out to a law professor whom I knew-offering her my office space. But more was needed, and that was apparent to everyone. I found my answer in distance education. The prior summer I had taught a pilot Web-based course in international criminal law at Georgia State University College of Law. A total of 10 students from Rutgers School of Law-Camden, Stetson University College of Law, University of Alabama School of Law and Georgia State participated in this two-credit pilot project. It was well received by students, and much was learned from this experiment in distance education. As I moved to a year visitorship at Stetson, the course was placed in the computer archives of the Georgia State system. And most likely would have remained there for the year, but for Katrina. Katrina brought law students throughout the country scrambling to other law schools to continue their education. Many of these schools were already two weeks into their semesters, and students struggled to find courses and make up the work missed. Despite the open arms exhibited at many law schools, students were further disadvantaged by the need to establish places to live and in some cases to secure clothing. I had something to offer. My first hurdle was that I was at Stetson and my course was at Georgia State. Two dynamic deans, Darby Dickerson of Stetson and Steven J. Kaminshine of Georgia State, resolved this by allowing me to offer this course as a joint venture. Stetson provided its registrar’s office, the credit and my time, and Georgia State provided the course, technological accommodations and the method for an online examination. Two associate deans, Anne Emanuel of Georgia State and Theresa J. Pulley Radwan of Stetson, handled the unique issues that can arise with a distance-learning course. The course package, designed by Chris Heaton, then a Georgia State employee, was a low-budget project created using “Soundforge” digital audio-editing software. Twenty-two students from Loyola-New Orleans enrolled in a Web course that was open 24/7. Because this course was offered exclusively to them, students were not coming into the class weeks after it started. And since it started later in the semester, they had time to catch up with other courses they were taking in schools throughout the United States. The course package provided lectures via video and audio, hypothetical problems for the students to work through, a discussion board that required a certain number of substantial posts and a direct link to me for feedback and interaction. Positive feedback A post-course survey reflected that students in this class had not previously been exposed to a distance-learning class. All who responded-nearly two-thirds of the class-were satisfied with the course, with a few having some technical issues. A near-even split demonstrated that many believed they worked harder in this class than in their live classes. And most would be willing to take another distance-learning course again, although some said they missed the live interaction experienced in the typical law school class. Distance learning for law schools is controversial, as classes are often built upon live Socratic interaction, a part of the preparation for courtroom performance. Clearly when a course can be offered live, it should be the preferred method. But with a small specialty course for which the school is unable to provide a professor or adjunct, the online course can meet the needs of the handful of students who seek this upper-level class. And I learned that distance learning offers another feature: a way to educate in catastrophic situations such as those experienced by the students affected by Hurricane Katrina. The thanks from the participating students made this teaching opportunity an incredibly rewarding experience for me. And the lesson gleaned from this experience is that distance learning should be a component in the law school emergency plan so that one can bypass the typical slower approval process in emergency cases. Ellen S. Podgor is the Culverhouse Chair 2005-06 at Stetson University College of Law and a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law.

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