The ANU College of Law has recently established a Juris Doctor degree online (JDO), with ANU students expressing concern about its implementation. A JD is essentially a post-graduate qualification of an LLB, ANU being one of the few universities in Australia that offers both undergrad and postgrad law degrees.

The JDO has garnered some controversy regarding the quality of teaching and the concerns of current JD students on campus. The JDO will provide online teaching and assessment, resulting in the same JD qualifications as on-campus students.

Currrent on-campus JD students have questioned the Law School’s ability to maintain the quality of teaching. As the JDO will result in the same qualification, for a wildly different teaching program, many have questioned whether the introduction of the JDO will dilute the standing of the ANU JD.

The JDO will explore a completely different teaching method from those currently used for on-campus teaching. The JDO classes will be taught as ‘webinars’, in groups smaller than on-campus tutorials. The program also excludes lectures. Classes commence with a ‘trigger question’ to be used in discussion and research, involving the students in collaborative learning.

Olivia Sparrow, Juris Doctor (Education) Officer on the ANU Law Students’ Society, questions whether “on-campus students could be disadvantaged with their larger class sizes and conservative teaching delivery”.

On-campus students may also be disadvantaged when it comes to the style of online delivery. Using a ‘tri-cluster’ program, all courses will be founded in concepts from the subjects of Foundations of Australian Law, Legal Theory and Lawyers, Justice and Ethics.  Moreover, certain subjects such as torts, litigation, equity, and corporations, will be amalgamated to provide a more practical understanding of legal practice.

It has often been acknowledged that the ANU law school provides a more theoretical teaching of law, with little focus on practical methods and skills necessary for the occupation.

Sparrow says, “it’s problematic that the faculty insists that online students are getting the same degree while studying completely different subjects, whether or not the students ultimately achieve the same outcomes”.

Interestingly, JDO will have to pay student amenities fees equal to students on campus. This is questionable given the reduced opportunities JDOs will have to engage in student events with organisations such as PARSA and the LSS.

This is a bold move for the Law School in the aim to create a program with greater accessibility. As JD students are often older than the average undergrad, an online program gives them more flexibility to work and live in different places while earning a law degree.

Sparrow acknowledges the benefits of the program, saying this “could be an accessible and inclusive option for people who can’t or don’t want the lifestyle and culture of on-campus delivery.”

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