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In for the Long(er) Haul with Online Teaching & Learning

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We’ve been adjusting to the reality that OsgoodePD’s offerings will remain online into the Fall. Having recently spent millions renovating our downtown Toronto facility at Yonge & Dundas and opening a second location at Osgoode Hall Law School at Keele campus, this might have been a bitter pill.

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Well, yes and no. Yes, because in the ‘in-person’ world, spaces matter. It seemed we finally had a space at the downtown teaching facility that promoted flexibility in learning formats, and connection, one of the core aspirations of our Vision*. And no, because though the circumstances are terrible, being denied physical space is a chance for reflection, creativity, collaboration and experimentation as we continue the shift to offering everything online.

Thoughtful re-design of courses for online delivery forces us back to first principles. In a world where information and resources are abundant, what is an instructor’s role? What is the student’s role? For what part of a course for learning does an instructor need to be present, and how? How is presence established and maintained? What is the contract between instructor and student, and student and student, that makes for productive learning?

The potential for online delivery to make learning of all kinds more accessible and dare I say it, sometimes richer and more effective, is vast.

Here are some examples we’re working on now:

  • An online pilot for the Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop (ITAW), Canada’s leading skills program that has been running in person for 40 years. At its heart, the program is performance and feedback, one of the toughest things to do effectively online with current technology. If we’re happy with the pilot, ITAW will continue with an online option and will for the first time become accessible to those who can’t come to Toronto for a week in the summer. Given that it’s entirely possible that the shift to some types of judicial proceedings online may stick after the pandemic, getting advocacy training online makes a lot of sense.
  • Osgoode PD’s full-time Professional LLM programs attract many visa students who will be unable to travel here for the Fall term. Given time differences and internet risks, options for ‘real-time’ or synchronous delivery were limited. Given that a radical re-design to make those courses work was in order, we’ve decided to not only untether them from synchronous instruction but to adopt a Problem-based Learning pedagogical approach, under the direction of Professor Paul Maharg. This is a learner-directed pedagogy, produced by the instructor, that is widely used in medical education, with limited application so far in legal education. For those readers who did traditional law school exams, what it means is that instead of ending with the exam questions, you start with them. That’s a vast oversimplification but that’s the idea.
  • During the month of July, Audrey Fried, who works with us on curriculum design and faculty development (and is also a doctoral student in Education, focusing on legal education) is teaching an online mini-course for Osgoode and OsgoodePD instructors on how to be an effective online instructor. The course is focused on pedagogy, not technology, with a view helping instructors adapt to the new medium by recasting teaching as ‘learning design’. Of course, the ‘learning design’ approach is not limited just to online delivery, and no doubt benefits of engaging in this kind of pedagogical approach will continue flowing once in-person classroom meetings resume.

We have delivered courses both degree and non-degree online for years at OsgoodePD, with slow but steady incremental improvements in course design and technology. We’ve had enough experience to learn that what’s most effective for most people with many types of learning is a mix (or hybrid) of online and in-person, and synchronous and asynchronous course design. The pandemic is, out of necessity, fast-forwarding our learning about all parts of that mix. Because when we do come together again in physical space (and I do hope that is soon), we will be wiser about its value and place in professional legal education.


*Vision (2018)
To be at the centre of innovative design & delivery of professional legal education, enabling understanding, connection and transformation.

To read more about how we are responding to COVID-19, please click here

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