Distance Learning Best Practices

In establishing these quality standards, iLaw’s primary goal is compliance with ABA Standard 306, particularly 306(c) (1)’s requirement that there be “opportunity for regular and substantive interaction between faculty members and student and among students” and 306(c) (2)’s requirement that there be “regular monitoring of student effort by the faculty member and opportunity for communication about that effort.”

The standards below owe a significant debt to the Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education and to its recommendations as set forth in “Distance Learning in Legal Education: A Summary of Delivery Models, Regulatory Issues, and Recommended Practices.” These standards also are informed by the Quality Matters rubric and the standards set forth by the Distance Education Training Council.

The standards below fall into five categories: Teacher Training, Support and Responsibilities; Student Services; Technical Standards and Support; Course Delivery and Interactivity; and Miscellaneous.

  • Teacher Training, Support, and Responsibilities

 

Standard #1 – All Faculty members must complete the e-certificate program in Desire2Learn. The e-certificate training must be completed before a faculty member’s first day of class. This course provides ample instruction in online course delivery and design. See ABA Standard 311.

Standard #2 – All Faculty members must spend, at a minimum, the equivalent of two full class sessions in training sessions in the online classroom Blackboard Collaborate prior to the first day of classes. This training will be conducted by an iLaw staff member. This is a minimum standard, and more training sessions will be provided should faculty members need or request additional training. The purpose of the training sessions will be to provide faculty members multiple opportunities to use Blackboard Collaborate’s various interactive features in a training environment.

Standard #3 – All Faculty members must ensure access to a high quality, broadband Internet connection for all courses in collaboration with the Director of Operations. Faculty members are responsible for ensuring access to an Internet connection that supports the highest quality of audiovisual transmission in Blackboard Collaborate. The Internet connection must be secure and uninterrupted. While it is strongly preferred that professors teach all synchronous classes from the same location, professors who teach from multiple locations during the term must ensure a high quality connection at each location by testing the audiovisual transmission prior to class. An iLaw staff member will individually verify the quality of audiovisual transmission with each professor and each location from which a professor teaches. For both synchronous and asynchronous classes, access to a learning management system/Ethernet/Cable connection is required at all times.

Standard #4 – Faculty will make detailed course syllabi available to students no later than one week prior to the start of classes. The course syllabus will include information about the course objectives; assigned casebooks and readings; calculation of grades; attendance policy; professor availability and response times; contact information for the professor, Director of Operations, and tech support; dates of the final examination.

Standard #5 – Faculty members must submit grades that are in compliance with each partner law school’s grading policies. Grades must be submitted no later than three weeks after the exam, or in less than three weeks if so required by a partner law school. The grades must comply with the curve applied at each individual school.

Standard #6 – Faculty members will be available to students for live office hours and via email and will closely monitor and participate in out-of-class discussions. Professors will be available for at least two hours per week for live office hours. Professors will provide their email address to students in the syllabus and will respond to email daily throughout the term. Professors will closely monitor the discussion boards in the applicable learning management system (“LMS”). Professors will monitor, and respond as necessary, all discussion board posts made prior to 5 PM EDT on the same day; for discussion board posts made after 5 PM EDT, professors will monitor and respond as necessary by 10 AM EDT the following day. Professors will provide feedback to students about class assignments within a week of when the assignment is submitted.

Standard #7 – All courses will be supported by an Instructional Designer. An instructional designer will be provided for each course beginning two months prior to the first day of classes. The instructional designer’s role will be to consult with the faculty member on all aspects of online course delivery and design, including the organization of modules and content, the creation of learning objectives, the creation and delivery of assessments, and the development and curating of course content (e.g. videos).

 

  • Student Services

 

Standard #8 – Students will be promptly registered in all courses in Desire2Learn. Ventures’ Staff (hereinafter “Staff”) will obtain a spreadsheet containing the names of all enrolled students in each course from each participating law school no later than one week prior to the start of classes in each term. The students will then be enrolled in the Student Orientation course and in the appropriate substantive courses one week prior to the start of classes. As students drop and add courses, both during and after the beginning of classes, law schools will update Staff at least once per day. Staff will manually enroll or drop students in courses within the hour upon receipt of notification from the participating law schools.

Standard #9 – The privacy of student information will be protected and will be shared with participating law schools only as necessary. iLaw will comply with all applicable rules governing the privacy of student information. Staff will share student information with participating law schools in three instances. (1) Staff will share information related to students’ compliance with course attendance policies with participating law schools. Information may be redacted from these reports to ensure that each participating law school receives attendance information related only to its own students and not to students from other participating law schools. (2) Staff may also share information about a student with the student’s law school in instances in which an exam proctor has furnished evidence that the student may have cheated on an examination or on a class assignment. (3) Staff will provide full support for the calculation of all grades to participating law schools, as requested.

Standard #10 – Students will have recourse for any complaints about a course, a professor, and any other aspect of their experience in iLaw online course materials. All students will be provided with the email address and telephone number of the iLaw Help Desk. Students may contact the iLaw Help Desk at any time with complaints about the administration of courses, technical problems, professors, or any other aspect of their experience as a student. While complaints may be handled informally, iLaw will provide students with a form for filing formal complaints. iLaw will promptly investigate and resolve all complaints; all formal complaints will be processed in no more than one week’s time.

Standard #11 – Students must complete a full orientation course. The student orientation course will provide full information about the administration of the online courses as well as comprehensive training in the appropriate LMS. See ABA Standard 311. All students will be required to complete a mock examination as part of the orientation course. Also, all students will be required to meet with a member of the iLaw Team in Blackboard Collaborate prior to the first day of class. During this session, Staff will verify that each student has (1) access to a good Internet connection, (2) a functioning web camera, and (3) a functioning microphone. Students will not be given access to the online classes until they have completed the Orientation course, including the mock examination and Blackboard Collaborate session. Orientation also will include some education on the applicable Code of Conduct and plagiarism. During Orientation students must acknowledge that they have read the applicable Code of Conduct and have agreed to abide by it.

Standard #12 – Students will have ample opportunities to interact directly with professors. Students will have direct access to professors during live office hours (at least two per week per professor), via email, and via discussion boards. Professors must also provide students one additional line of communication, such as a phone number. The Director of Operations will be responsible to ensure that professors respond to all student inquiries in a timely manner.

Standard #13 – Students will complete an end-of-course evaluation. It is anticipated that each participating law school will administer an end-of-course evaluation to its students and share the results with iLaw. If a law school so desires, iLaw may administer the evaluation and share the results with the law school. Student anonymity will be strictly protected. The end-of-course evaluations will be shared with professors after grades are submitted and approved.

Standard #14 – Students who are entitled to services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be fully supported. Staff will provide exam accommodations and any and all other supports for students with disabilities. Staff will request that participating law schools notify iLaw about ADA-eligible students on or before the first day of classes in each term.

Standard #15 – iLaw will provide each participating school with one Desire2Learn account and access to any and all courses in which students from that school are enrolled. A designated administrator at each school will be given full access to each course, including the ability to join any and all live class sessions. iLaw encourages law school administrators to provide feedback during courses.

 

  • Technical Standards and Support

 

Standard #16 – Staff will monitor every minute of every synchronous class and will monitor synchronous classes on a daily basis. During every class, a member of the iLaw Team will be in the Blackboard Collaborate room to monitor classes and provide technical support to students and professors. At least once a day during synchronous classes, a member of the iLaw team will review the activity in the classroom and provide technical support where needed.

Standard #17 – All courses will receive 24/7 Technical Support. From the beginning of the Orientation course through the end of the final examination period, students and professors will receive 24/7 technical support for the applicable LMS, Blackboard Collaborate, and any technical issues affecting their ability to participate in the online courses. This 24/7 support will be provided through a combination of Staff and D2L and Blackboard’s own tech support capabilities. Staff will provide a technical support email and phone number to students, and the phone number will be answered between 8 AM and 10 PM EDT, Monday-Friday. Students will be directed to phone the applicable LMS and/or Blackboard Collaborate directly between 10 PM EDT and 8 AM EDT. All contact information will be provided to students during the Student Orientation course and will be posted in each course in Desire2Learn.

Standard #18 – Staff will ensure that professors have appropriate hardware and software and that it has been repeatedly tested. Staff will ensure that professors have a professional background when teaching or recording classes, including appropriate lighting and camera positioning. For synchronous classes, a member of the iLaw Team will meet with each professor to test his or her existing computer, web camera, and microphone. In the event that the professor is unable to achieve high quality, synchronous audiovisual transmission with his or her existing equipment, then Staff will provide an external web camera and/or external microphone. In the event that the professor’s computer and/or Internet connection does not suffice, then the professor will assume responsibility for purchasing suitable equipment. Each professor will have the necessary equipment in hand no later than two months prior to his or her first day of class. Professors may choose to use a headset but are not required to do so. If a professor chooses to use a headset rather than an external microphone and does not have a headset that is suitable, then Staff will provide a suitable headset.

Standard #19 – Staff will be proactive in contacting students who may have technical difficulties during classes or who are skipping classes. In instances where a student in a synchronous class joins and then exits a class, the in-class monitor will immediately reach out to that student via email to offer technical support as needed. Also, Staff will immediately contact students in all instances where Blackboard Collaborate indicates that the student’s Internet connection is subpar in a given class session. Staff will initiate technical support in these instances rather than wait for the student to initiate it. Also, Staff will monitor each student’s attendance and will contact any student who (1) misses two consecutive synchronous class sessions or (b) has not logged into the course in Desire2Learn within a 72-hour period.

Standard #20 – Staff will conduct periodic surveys throughout each course to provide students with an opportunity to provide feedback about technical issues and course administration. Each Friday, Staff will send out a brief via email to all enrolled students that will provide them with an opportunity to provide feedback.

Standard #21 – All course content will be provided through an LMS and will be password protected. Students will be provided with a unique username and password to log into the applicable LMS. Students are encouraged to change their password upon logging in.

 

  • Course Delivery and Interactivity

 

Standard #22 – The learning objectives and measurable student outcomes for each course will be clearly stated in the syllabus. Objectives and outcomes will be identified for each individual class session. In addition to placing this information in the syllabus, students will also receive the information in the Content area of the course in the applicable LMS for each class module.

Standard #23 – Professors will design classes so that students in online courses enjoy at least as much interactivity as in the traditional classroom. Students in online courses should have the opportunity for “regular and substantive interaction between the faculty member and student and among students.” (See ABA Standard 306(d).) Professors should include in syllabi formal interactive spaces. These may include blogs, chat rooms, discussion groups, assignments, etc. There should be “regular monitoring of student effort” in these activities by the faculty member. There also should be opportunity for communication between the student and the faculty member about that effort.

The following requirements help assure interactivity, but professors are encouraged to consider additional ideas that make pedagogical sense with the course.

1. Students will be required to attend at least 80% (or a greater percentage if required by a school) of all synchronous classes in the course, and students in asynchronous classes must view all classes.

1. While recordings of every lecture in synchronous classes will be posted in Desire2Learn, students must attend at least 80% of classes synchronously. In order for class attendance to count in synchronous classes, students must join the class no later than five minutes after the start of class and stay for the duration. In stances in which iLaw verifies that the student is experiencing technical difficulties, and these technical difficulties prevent the student from joining all or a portion of the class, then iLaw will count the student as having attended the class provided that student views the entire recorded class within 24 hours.

2.Students in asynchronous classes will be required to view all recordings.

2.During synchronous classes, professors will initiate interaction with students at least once every eight minutes, and during asynchronous classes, professors will initiate interaction with students at least twice a week.

1.During synchronous classes, professors will initiate direct interaction with students at least ten times per class. During asynchronous classes, professors will initiate direct contact with students at least twice a week. These are minimum standards, and professors are encouraged to exceed these minimums. For synchronous classes, this interactivity may be satisfied by the following types of activities: (1) discussion boards; (2) placing students into group breakout session to work on a problem; (3) Yes/No polling questions; (4) Multiple Choice polling questions; (5) calling on designated students (see Standard #26) to answer questions or make presentations to the class; (6) cold-calling on students; (7) requiring students to provide short answer responses through the chat message board.

2.In asynchronous classes, this interactivity requirement may be satisfied by the following types of activities: (1) discussion boards; (2) placing students into group breakout sessions to work on a problem; (3) asking questions of specific students during discussion boards and office hours; (4) asking students to answer yes/no or multiple choice polling  questions or to provide short answer responses through discussion boards, chat rooms, and office hours; (5) calling on designated students to answer questions or make presentations to the class through discussion boards, chat rooms, and office hours.

 

Standard #24 – Professors will provide at least one out-of-class assessment opportunity per class session. In synchronous classes, students will be required to participate in at least half of the out-of-class assessments in order to satisfy the attendance requirements for the course.  In asynchronous courses, students will be required to participate in all of the assessments in order to satisfy the attendance requirements for the course. Each class will have clearly stated learning objectives and feedback on progress to those goals. These out-of-class assessments may include the following: (1) a discussion board question provided by the professor in advance of a class to prepare students for class; (2) a discussion board question provided by the professor after a class for review purposes; (3) a short multiple choice review quiz in which feedback is provided on all possible answer choices; (4) a group assignment involving 3-5 students submitted to the professor via the Dropbox; (5) a discussion thread initiated and moderated by a designated student or group of students. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and professors are encouraged to be creative in generating opportunities for out of class interaction.

Standard #25 – Classes must comply with ABA Standard 310. Minutes counted toward the credit hour include faculty instruction through synchronous and asynchronous teaching, synchronous and asynchronous contact with students, and online textual communications. Out -of-class work (readings and assignments) counts for credit at one-half the rate of faculty instruction.

Standard #26 – In synchronous courses, professors will transmit their video image at all times during class, and students are required to transmit their video image when using the microphone. Professors of asynchronous course should use live-video conferencing for office hours and evaluations of at least two class assignments.

Standard #27 – In synchronous classes, all students will be called on to use the microphone in a live class at least once in each course. Professors in synchronous courses will create a schedule of students who will be designated in advance of each class to be called upon. Professors may set this schedule for the entire course at the beginning of the course, or they may set it on a week-to-week basis. Students will be provided with at least one week’s advance notice of the class or classes during which they will be called upon. Professors are encouraged to require students to use the microphone more often.  In asynchronous courses, students are required to participate in all class activities.

Standard #28 – Visuals will be provided for every class session. Professors must provide power point slides and/or other visuals for every class. In instances in which students are presenting material to the class, professors will permit students to use the whiteboard area in making the presentation.

Standard #29 – A final examination will be administered in every J.D. course. Professors must provide samples of the question formats used in the final examination prior to the final examination. In LL.M. courses, the professor must clearly set out in the syllabus how cumulative assessment will be conducted. In some of the class-to-class assessments provided pursuant to Standard #24 (see above), it is expected that professors will provide questions in the format(s) that will be used on the final examination. However, professors may, at their discretion, provide mid-term examinations and feedback on these examinations.

 

  • Integrity

 

Standard #30 – Professors will guard against plagiarism. It is suggested that at least one writing assignment for each student be processed through a plagiarism check during the course term.

Standard #31 – All examinations will be administered in a secure environment to ensure exam integrity. iLaw will use a third-party vendor to verify student identity and proctor all final examinations. If the exam proctor identifies suspicious behavior during a final examination, iLaw will share this information with the school so that the school can investigate and take disciplinary action as needed.