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Mount St. Joseph Goes Online
Virtual learning programs increasingly gain attention of paralegal educators.
By Steve Gust

September/October 2000 Issue

It’s a brave new world for paralegal education online. Paving the way as one of the pioneers for cyberspace learning, the College of Mount St. Joseph will soon offer one of the first American Bar Association-approved online education programs geared toward providing continued education outside of the traditional classroom.

The Cincinnati college’s paralegal studies online class gets underway in January 2001. That month was selected because dorm space will be needed in the first week and the regular student population will be on break.

“We’re looking to have about 15 to 20 students initially,” said Georgana Taggart, director of paralegal studies at the college and a practicing attorney.

The total cost is about $13,000, Taggart said. In 15 months, a student can earn a Paralegal Studies Certificate. Participants will be brought in for five days before the instruction gets under way.

“This gives us a chance to meet them [students] and have them meet each other,” Taggart said.

Online Education Isn’t Completely New
Taggart has used Web access with other classes. Students, some of whom aren’t normally outgoing in a typical class, are active in computer discussion, some of that coming in the form of the bulletin board page.

“There’s been lots of interesting discussions on the bulletin board that I’m not sure would have come up in the classroom,” she said.
One of those dealt with a special Ohio statute on manslaughter. Someone involved in a fatal accident involving a pregnant woman may face up to two charges of manslaughter under Ohio law.

“One of the students asked what would happen if the woman had been driving to an abortion clinic,” Taggart said. “That’s the kind of interaction you get on a bulletin board.”

Distance Education is Bound to Redefine Higher Education
There could be hurdles for this and other such programs, but the stark reality is that online education is probably here to stay.

Educational professionals are also dealing with the trend. The National Education Association and Blackboard Inc., commissioned the Institute for Higher Education Policy to examine benchmarks or standards for online education. The survey, “Quality On the Line,” estimated 1.6 million students were enrolled in distance education courses in 1997 to 1998.

Robert Griggs is the associate academic dean for distance learning with National American University in Rapid City, S.D. He sees potential for online education and has been involved with programs that teach students from South Dakota, as well as armed forces all over Europe.

“It’s a very interactive way of learning,” he said. He anticipates that an online program with the Seattle-based Pacific Institute will have an enrollment of 6,000 in the fall.

He’s familiar with benchmarks for online education and has his programs in business law and employment law accredited.

Griggs suggested a couple of basic standards as musts, although the Institute for Higher Education Policy report lists 24. The educator said that information access is a must with electronic libraries accessible to students as well as technical support.

“Tutors should also be available to the online students,” Griggs said.

He also said of online coursework that “The potential is there for top education.”

“In the traditional classroom if you miss the information, you’ve missed it,” Taggart said, not so in an online class. “Still, not all the material is spoon fed to students. You have to have the self discipline to complete the various classes on time.”

Making sure students have that attitude and the equipment to complete online learning is one of the benchmarks of the Institute for Higher Education report.

Online education will continue to pose new challenges for the college campus, Griggs said.

“I’ve had some people tell me that online schools may be a threat because we need to make sure there are students in the dorms,” Griggs said. “There’s no doubt though that online education will probably be the primary source of continuing education.”

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