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College of Law’s Nina Kohn Discusses New Online Juris Doctor Program
The College of Law was recently granted a variance by the American Bar Association to offer the first live online juris doctor program in the nation. The J.D. program will offer real-time and self-paced online classes, on-campus residential classes and experiential learning opportunities for students who would normally not be able to attend law school due to family and job responsibilities or geographic constraints.
Nina Kohn, associate dean for research and online education and the David M. Levy L’48 Professor of Law, answered a few questions about this new program and what it means for the future of legal education.
01This is the first program of its kind in the U.S. Tell us a little about the planning to make such an innovative program possible.
The program is the result of a multi-year process and careful deliberation by our faculty. Multiple faculty committees worked on this program, from the initial deliberation on whether to pursue it in the first place, to the general curricular framework, to specific course content.
During the process, we benefited from the input of students and alumni. The College of Law is now working closely with the Syracuse University Center for Online and Digital Learning, which is playing a critical role in providing the instructional design and technological support needed to bring the program to life.
02The College of Law is breaking new ground with this program. What is the impact on the legal education community with the first online J.D. program?
The program is designed to create a model for excellence in 21st century legal education. Many law schools are thinking about how to combine online and residential classes, but this program, we think, will set the gold standard. It will allow students to earn a J.D. online while interacting in real-time with their professors and fellow students.
By taking our rigorous residential J.D. program and making it available in a new medium, we will be able to make a high-quality legal education available to talented students who cannot reasonably attend a residential law school. That is, Syracuse is now firmly in the vanguard of transforming legal education to better meet the needs of a dynamic profession.
We recognize that some in the legal community may be skeptical about the online J.D. program at first. However, we have designed the program to be academically excellent, and we will strive to make its excellence obvious to the legal community.
03How does an online J.D. program still deliver the benefits of a residential classroom experience? How will online students gain the Syracuse University and College of Law experiences that residential students have?
At least half of the instruction time in each online class will occur live, in real-time with professors and students interacting as they would on campus. Each online class also will feature self-paced sessions that students can complete on their own schedule. These class sessions will engage students in the material through interactive exercises particularly relevant to the legal concept at hand.
The program also will include traditional in-person learning experiences. Students will participate in residential courses, including on-campus, and they will have the opportunity to complete a legal externship before graduation. Moreover, students will be encouraged to participate in student organizations, such as student-run journals and other extra-curricular activities.
04How will faculty interact with the online students in and outside of the online “classroom”?
The pedagogical model for the online J.D. is highly interactive and immersive. At least 50 percent of the online instruction will be “real-time class sessions” allowing professors and students to interact in a small-class environment. The online J.D. also includes online instruction that students will engage on their own schedule, and another key component of the online J.D. program will be an in-person, residential learning experience.
Online students will have comparable access to programming and services, including academic counseling, student support, virtual tutors, study groups, bar exam preparation and professional development. Our residential J.D. program provides student support through the Office of Student Affairs and through the faculty. Like residential J.D. students, online students will be able to engage with faculty for academic support and counseling, and faculty will be expected to hold online office hours to answer questions and counsel students regularly.
05Whom do you imagine as the typical student for the online J.D. program? Who will benefit from the online experience?
We anticipate that the online J.D. program will appeal to a different cohort of students than those who apply for residential law programs. In fact, we see a significant market for high-quality, geographically flexible legal education.
For example, many aspiring law students are working professionals and are not in a position to quit their jobs or relocate their families. Many do not live near a law school that offers a high-quality, flexible program. Others are members of the military, or partners of such members, who do not have the luxury of committing to staying in one place for the duration of law school.
06Now that the program has been approved by the ABA, what is next?
We plan to accept applications beginning in the spring of 2018 and enroll our first class in January 2019. After the inaugural January 2019 matriculation, online cohorts will matriculate every August, similar to our residential program.
You can learn more about the online J.D. at theonlinejd.syr.edu.
About Syracuse University
Founded in 1870, Syracuse University is a private international research university dedicated to advancing knowledge and fostering student success through teaching excellence, rigorous scholarship and interdisciplinary research. Comprising 11 academic schools and colleges, the University has a long legacy of excellence in the liberal arts, sciences and professional disciplines that prepares students for the complex challenges and emerging opportunities of a rapidly changing world. Students enjoy the resources of a 270-acre main campus and extended campus venues in major national metropolitan hubs and across three continents. Syracuse’s student body is among the most diverse for an institution of its kind across multiple dimensions, and students typically represent all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Syracuse also has a long legacy of supporting veterans and is home to the nationally recognized Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the first university-based institute in the U.S. focused on addressing the unique needs of veterans and their families.