Juris Doctor Online

Olivia Sparrow

The law school has recently introduced the JDO – a Juris Doctor degree wholly delivered online. Teaching has just begun, however there’s been a bit of a backlash since the announcement, particularly from the postgraduate community on campus. Queries abound of ‘Do I still have to get up for 9am lectures?’ ‘But what is this crazy new technology?’ ‘Won’t this dilute the reputation of my degree?’ ‘Will they have to still pay the student and amenities fees?’ So here’s the rough breakdown.

The JDO will give online students the same qualification as on-campus JDs, so everyone will end up with a Juris Doctor at the end. The ‘O’ part is merely short-hand for the law faculty to differentiate between the students. The faculty insists that the new degree will not detract from the current on-campus version; it will instead allow students who would be otherwise unable to study postgrad law, i.e. those who can’t pick up and move to Canberra (or any other university town that offers the JD).

However, there are gaping inconsistencies between the two degrees. The JDO will be delivered in an entirely different style. Classes will be delivered in small ‘webinars’ (whyyyy does this word exist) with far fewer students than tutorials and seminars on campus. There won’t be lectures. Rather, the JDO classes start with a ‘trigger question’ to prompt discussion and research – a complex and multi-faceted problem with the aim of students learning content in collaboration and through the lens of the question. This combination of online delivery with trigger questions is purportedly a world ffirst. But does it mean that on-campus students could be disadvantaged with their larger class sizes and conservative teaching delivery?

Additionally, JDO courses differ from those on-campus. Taught according to a ‘tri-cluster’ system (i.e. all subjects underpinned by concepts of FAL, legal theory and LJE), subjects are combined to be more logical for legal practice, such as torts and litigation, equity and corps. The theory is that students will gain a broader and more practical understanding, and avoid that pesky ‘you’ll learn that when you’re older’ answer. While these subjects will be differentiated from the on-campus subjects with different titles and course codes, they’re no longer comparable to the on-campus subjects. 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.

Finally, JDO students will have to pay the same amount as on-campus students, despite discrep- ancies in the forms of course delivery. Their fees will also include students and amenities, even though they’re not on-campus to enjoy most of them. There will also be issues with representation of JDO students by organisations such as PARSA and the LSS, who currently feel unable to adequately communicate and engage with this new online community.

As Education Director, I think online delivery of the JD could be an accessible and inclusive option for people who can’t or don’t want the lifestyle and culture of on-campus delivery. But there are some fundamental shortcomings in the arrangements that disadvantage both on-campus and online students, as well as logical inconsistencies that haven’t been addressed by the faculty.

If you have any thoughts, contact your law reps in the LSS: lsseducation@anu.edu.au, and PARSA: parsa@anu.edu.au.