Catholic University’s longstanding American Law Program is generally offered to students at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland throughout the year. But for the first time, no member of Catholic University’s law school faculty had to hop a plane and cross the ocean to deliver the course material in person. Instead, “American Civil Rights Law” was taught exclusively on-line as a webinar for the first time in April by Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Suzette Malveaux (above).
Short for Web-based seminar, a webinar is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web. It’s an efficient and cost effective method of reaching students nearly anywhere on the planet, and an alternative many educators are considering for the future.
For five days, Dean Malveaux’ s students would log in from wherever they wanted—a coffee shop, library or even at home—and enter an interactive virtual classroom where she and other guest lecturers would discuss a variety of civil rights topics online. Dean Malveaux brought in law professors, lawyers and a judge to co-teach from Texas, Illinois, DC and Maryland, giving her students diverse approaches and a cross-section of perspectives from around the United States.
Dean Malveaux had little experience with online law teaching, but necessity turned out once again to be the mother of invention.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to Cracow because of a family emergency,” said Malveaux. “So the idea of the webinar was to make lemonade out of lemons. Turns out we made lemon meringue pie!”
The course covered topics such as critical race feminism, racial identity politics, the constitutional rights to counsel and a jury trial, school desegregation, affirmative action and discrimination in sports.
The law school's Library Media Services Department, along with its university counterpart, assisted with the steep learning curve to design and implement an online course for the first time. The offices supported aspects of the program that allowed participants to record and view lectures prior to each web meeting.
The effort seems to have paid off. The Polish students, separated by thousands of miles from Dean Malveaux’ s presence but not her grasp of American civil rights, had no problem with the webinar format of a course they found fascinating.
“This was by far the best course I have attended during American Law Program,” wrote one student in a post course assessment. “For me it was a fantastic introduction into a vast world of civil rights in America. I can only wish that we had more seminars so you could guide us through more legal problems.”
The success of the webinar approach for both student and professor may give legal educators new insight and ideas for potential reforms for the future.