Professors Pistone and Barton on Distance Education
Villanova Law Professor Michele R. Pistone and Adjunct Professor April M. Barton recently participated in a groundbreaking workshop that brought together legal educators who are exploring, researching, and experimenting with distance learning as a method to provide high quality legal education.
“Distance Learning in Legal Education,” sponsored by Harvard University’s Program on the Legal Profession and Vermont Law School, focused on how best to approach distance learning in the law classroom. “Distance learning, the separation of time or space between the teacher and student, is extremely beneficial because it creates opportunities for more peer-to-peer learning, as well as more in-depth learning opportunities,” said Pistone. “It provides a more diverse learning experience. A course can be taught with students from around the globe. You’re not confined to your geographic location,” she added.
The workshop explored the best practices and standards for distance learning. Currently, the American Bar Association (ABA) limits the number of distance learning credits that count toward a law degree. “The workshop was in line with the ABA’s standards for distance education although participants discussed reasons why more distance learning in law school classrooms should be encouraged,” Professor Barton explained. “It ended with a working draft of best practices for law schools engaging in distance education, as well as a draft policy document for faculty to follow.”
Both Professors Pistone and Barton emphasized the best practice is largely contingent upon the goals, mission, and pedagogy of each school, as well as individual courses. Professor Pistone, who is on the drafting committee for the best practices model, believes a “hybrid approach, blending online study with an in-class component, could be extremely beneficial.” She continued, “It allows for more creativity and innovation in how we teach. It potentially would free up more time in the classroom for practical skills and problem solving.”
Professor Pistone believes distance learning is an essential facet of future legal education curricula. “Higher education, high schools, and many other schools have started to incorporate distance learning into the curriculum. Future law students will expect a distance learning component.” Barton agreed, “It’s time to truly study how best to implement it and begin now because it is the future of legal education.”