Blended Courses in Law School: The Best of On-Line and Face-to-Face Learning?
35 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2013
Date Written: November 10, 2013
Course design and redesign can help ensure that law school courses efficiently and effectively prepare students for the modern practice of law. A fundamental course design issue for legal educators is the appropriate model or medium for law school courses. The course could follow the traditional face-to-face format – students prepare for class by reading, writing, and thinking outside of class and then interact with the teacher and other students in the classroom. Or the course could be delivered on-line – students read, write, and complete exercises outside of the classroom and then interact with the teacher and students in an on-line environment. Recently, a third course design option has emerged in higher education, including legal education – a blended course that combines the face-to-face and online formats. This article is centered on three sets of questions. First, what is a blended course? Where do blended courses fit in the spectrum of course design formats? Many modern law school courses employ instructional technology in the classroom and supplement classroom instruction with web-based resources outside of class. A blended format replaces a significant portion of face-to-face classes with on-line instruction. The aim in a blended course design is to maximize the benefits of both face-to-face and on-line teaching and learning.
Second, why use a blended course design in law school? What evidence suggests that blended courses are more effective than on-line or face-to-face courses? A growing body of literature and empirical research establish the efficacy of blended course designs. Interviews with students and faculty who have extensive experience in taking and delivering blended courses identify a number of advantages of the blended design, including increased interaction between teachers and students, increased interaction among students, broader and deeper student engagement in the course, and improved student responsibility for their own learning. These interviews also reveal a number of challenges that arise in blended course designs. Meta-analyses of empirical studies of on-line and face-to-face instruction in 2005 and 2010 found that blended courses led to significantly better student learning outcomes than face-to-face courses.
Third, what principles should guide the design of a blended course? What does the teaching and learning literature and empirical research tell us about effective blended course designs? Many fundamental principles from learning theory and instructional design apply to all course design, including the thoughtful planning of course goals, teaching/learning methods, materials, and assessment. In addition, an effective blended design must integrate on-line and face-to-face instruction to maximize the benefits of both formats.
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