Distance Learning

     Distance learning.
     The definition of that phrase is your new piece of learning for the day. Maybe you already know what it is, but, if you don’t, here’s how it was used in a sentence by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court the other day in a ruling called Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners:
     “However, the court agreed to, and did, request the ABA ‘to give attention to the issue of distance learning, with a view towards incorporating online methodologies into the [ABA’s] Standards for Approval of Law Schools.'”
     Want to take a guess as to what distance learning means?
     No, it doesn’t mean sitting in the back of the class and trying to figure out what the teacher is saying.
     No, it has nothing to do with yardsticks.
     No, it doesn’t mean teaching law students not to get too involved with their clients.
     Apparently, it just means taking courses online. And the American Bar Association seems to have a problem with that.
     Having spent many a day long ago in the back of law school classes without paying much attention or keeping up with the work, I find this concept difficult to grasp. How exactly is listening to a lecture onscreen any worse?
     Clearly, I’m missing something because, according to the Massachusetts ruling, the ABA standards “provide in part that an approved law school program may only allow four credits per term to be taught at a distance, and a total of twelve credits for an entire program. They also require that a law school have a physical library, and have fixed facilities.”
     No trailer park law schools allowed.
     OK, I’ll admit it’s a lot more fun hanging out with other students (or at least some other students) and there’s something to be said for give-and-take and the chance to ask a live person questions. But is it all that important?
     Case in point: Ross Mitchell, the guy who had to go to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to be allowed to take the Massachusetts bar exam.
     Was he some sort of menace?
     Was he horribly unqualified?
     Was he even borderline unqualified?
     Well, let’s see. According to the ruling, he was the class valedictorian of his online school and then took the California bar exam the same year he graduated from online law school and passed the California bar exam that same year.
     Now consider all the law students engaged in close-proximity learning that don’t pass the California bar exam the year they graduate.
     In case you’re wondering and don’t feel like reading the opinion, the Massachusetts court did feel sheepish enough about this to let the guy take the bar exam – but it also didn’t throw out the anti-distance rule.
     But all of the above wasn’t what I found most intriguing about the ruling. Instead, what I found really interesting was a little tiny ray of hope for the news business. To wit: “Concord, an entirely online law school owned by Kaplan, Inc., which in turn is owned by the Washington Post Company.”
     The Washington Post owns a school?
     It’s brilliant!
     This is how we save journalism!
     Instead of losing money putting all our research into money-losing newspapers, we’ll report to classes for college credit.
     Imagine a poli sci class being taught by Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room.
     There’s a future for us news guys after all.

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