UC Berkeley School of Law to offer its first interactive online course

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Starting this summer, the UC Berkeley School of Law will be offering its first interactive online course specifically aimed at an international audience of both current law students and practicing attorneys.

Championed as an “anti-massive open online course,” campus law lecturer Bill Fernholz’s “Fundamentals of U.S. Law” class is designed to create a tight-knit community despite the students’ diverse geographical locations. This online opportunity allows both international law students and lawyers with international caseloads to master U.S. law from their homes.

The course is taught each year to lawyers from different countries who come to UC Berkeley to receive a prestigious law degree. With online education gaining widespread popularity in recent years, the idea of expanding a UC Berkeley law education to an online audience has been in development for quite some time. After the success of a pilot course last year, faculty members decided to expand the campus law school to a global level.

“The material (will be) analogous to a physical classroom and in many ways will resemble the same classes one would expect to take at Boalt,” said professor Andrew Guzman, associate dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law’s advanced degree program, who was deeply involved in the project’s development. “However, the form in which it is done will be quite different.”

The course is uniquely designed to be highly interactive by making students feel as though they are surrounded by both their professor and their peers.

Course instructors collaborated with instructional designers to bring this idea to life, breaking up lectures with quizzes, group projects, guest speakers and interactive forums to make the course “high-touch.” Guzman also mentioned that the professor may be able to hold office hours via Skype.

Even though online courses are growing more popular every year, many still remain skeptical about the quality of virtual teaching.

“Online classes are a good option for international students and for people thinking about getting their (master of laws degree) at Berkeley, since it provides them with flexibility,” said current Berkeley Law student Rachael Robinson. “But I don’t think online courses will replace the value of being in the classroom.” She added that she would most likely not be interested in taking similar classes.

For $2,600, students can now begin to register for the six-week course and will receive a $400 discount if they register before April 20. The only requirement for registering students is strong English-writing skills. Enrollment is limited, and some students may be placed on a waitlist.

“Online education is new and still developing, and the field is changing quickly. We don’t know yet how extensive our program might be,” said Susan Gluss, a spokesperson for the law school, in an email. “But we do know that online education has the potential to greatly increase access to education. It’s a tool to help us reach new students in the U.S. and worldwide.”

Contact Becca Benham at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beccabenhamdc.