For the past few years, we’ve been hearing from some of our authors that they have elected to work with a new company called iLaw Ventures to teach online distance education courses in their areas of expertise. So we reached out to iLaw in order to learn more about who they are. It turns out that while iLaw is in some senses a new company, in fact the people who founded it have a very extensive and accomplished history in legal education. iLaw was founded by Ken Randall, former dean at the University of Alabama School of Law. Its mission is to utilize communication technology, and the ABA’s growing support of online education for a small number of course credits, to ensure that law schools who so choose can offer a full range of elective and core courses. iLaw’s distance courses connect faculty with students outside of their own law school using online class management software, through which students can see the instructor lecture, dialogue with him or her, submit assignments, and download lecture notes. iLaw has been quite successful in pioneering this model in the law school space: to date, more than forty law schools have secured iLaw’s services to supplement their traditional catalog. And those of our authors who have participated in iLaw’s program so far have told us they have had a very positive experience.
In the past year, several more of our authors have asked us whether we are planning something comparable to iLaw, in order to give our authors a new way to reach students. To address this opportunity, I’m delighted to announce that as of this month, Wolters Kluwer Legal Education is now signed up as an official collaborator with iLaw. As a result of this collaboration, many of our authors who want to teach their course via a distance education model will be able to do so through iLaw. (The specific areas in which courses will be offered will be determined by iLaw based on market demand, so not all authors who wish to participate will automatically be able to do so.) Wolters Kluwer will lend our resources and expertise to iLaw to help build the program beyond its current impressive state, and our sales and marketing team will also help to spread the word about how this model can help law schools and law students.
Since this is a new direction for law schools, I know there may be lots of questions about how this works. Below are answers to a few likely ones.
Will all Wolters Kluwer authors participate?
No. Only those authors who particularly want to be involved with distance education will do so. I anticipate this will be a fairly small number at the outset. As the market continues to evolve over the next few decades, perhaps the numbers will grow.
What is the quality of iLaw’s courses?
Because iLaw’s courses are designed by the professors who run them, and because iLaw has been selective in choosing lecturers, the course quality has been quite high, and very much in line with WK values. We look forward to working closely with iLaw to ensure that quality standards remain high in the coming years as the program expands.
Is iLaw intended to replace the law school?
No. iLaw is a service for law schools, and only works with students whose schools have hired iLaw. Law schools have engaged iLaw thus far for a range of reasons. Some are using iLaw to offer higher-enrollment classes in the summer term to students who have returned to their home cities; others are using the program during the fall/spring term to offer classes that had never previously appeared in their catalog. The school lists the class in its catalog, provides credit, and collects tuition, and the digital course experience carries the school’s brand . . . for all intents and purposes, iLaw classes belong to the schools that offer them. iLaw is a service provider, helping make the complex process of administering a course online straightforward.
When can law students take distance-based classes?
The ABA has clear limits on the degree to which law schools can incorporate distance education into their curriculum . . . for instance, students can only take a distance course after they have taken essentially the full 1L course sequence in a traditional mode, and can only take a comparatively small number of distance courses thereafter. But within those limits, we expect that schools will find quite varied ways that distance education can supplement their existing programs.
Why is WK working with iLaw?
Our mission is to give our authors every option possible for reaching students. Today, that is primarily through the vehicle of the book. Tomorrow, that may be through books as well as through online lectures. While that future is yet uncertain, we want to position our authors to be able to participate in it, should it transpire. Our collaboration with iLaw gives our authors a path to partake in new ways of sharing their vision. Also, since we are a commercial company . . . the iLaw collaboration gives us a valuable new avenue for driving revenue growth on those of our titles that are assigned by lecturers in the program.
Is iLaw now a part of Wolters Kluwer?
No. iLaw remains a separate business entity, headquartered in Alabama. Wolters Kluwer and iLaw have signed an agreement to collaborate in the cultivation of new educational opportunities.
Can online distance education be effective?
While this is still an emerging field, there is solid research thus far to suggest that – if properly run – online distance courses can effectively teach students to think critically about the law. In the end, the success of this kind of program rests on the teaching ability of the lecturer. The class can be run poorly or it can be run well . . . as with traditional classes.
What impact will distance education have on law faculty and students?
We believe that distance education opens up an avenue for faculty to connect with more students than they would otherwise be able to reach. This is particularly relevant for courses that are not offered at all law schools, either because they tend to have small enrollments or because they involved highly specialized concerns. Today, many students simply can’t take those courses. Tomorrow, through distance education, faculty with expertise in those areas should be able to reach the handful of students per law school who are interested in taking the class, which could unlock surprising career directions for some of those students and bring a new kind of professional gratification to professors. In general, we see distance education as adding a new optional component to the student and faculty experience on campus, in the same way that clinics and externships have.
We are very excited to set off on this new promising direction with iLaw, and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming years to discuss your interest. If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns now, please do let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about iLaw Ventures, visit www.ilawventures.com.