Ranking among the world’s top 100 educational institutes, Lund University is one of oldest, largest and most prestigious universities of northern Europe. Founded in 1666, with 41,000 students, the university caters for the many professionals who benefit from Sweden’s public funding of continuing education. The Faculty of Law of Lund University, for example, has been educating lawyers for 350 years and also provides short courses to meet the huge demand for a fundamental knowledge of law amongst non-lawyers including HR professionals, company directors and teachers of law at secondary schools.
However, Sweden’s 10 million population is spread over 50,000 square kilometres and most of these students cannot come to the university campus. That’s why for the University to cater for even the remotest students, a successful distance learning option was essential. Magnus Svensson, Manager of Distance Learning at the Faculty of Law, says that the faculty aims to “send the teachers into the student’s living room, rather than expect the students to come to the lecture room.”
The Faculty of Law has been offering distance-learning courses since the mid-1990s, using a Learning Management System (LMS) specifically developed for the faculty. “Even if this LMS was continually developed and updated, we came to a point where we had to decide whether we should make a massive investment in refreshing it or try to find a standard platform that could fulfill all our special needs,” Magnus Svensson says.
After thorough consideration, the faculty decided to implement Blackboard’s solutions.
Most of the 1,000 students enroled during the year now study through Blackboard Learn, taking courses asynchronously, with pre-recorded, high-quality lectures that can be accessed virtually at any time. This approach proved successful especially because the 10-week course can be taken alongside a degree in another subject, even when enroled at another university, or as part of a professional’s continuing education alongside their work.
In addition to taking lectures, students need to practice with real examples of legal problems and the most important tool they need to use is the written word. That’s why the faculty’s pedagogy relies on written assignments that students send in to get individualised feedback. However, with over 1000 students online each year and with each student handing in at least five compulsory assignments (and most handing in between 5-10 non-compulsory assignments as well), the faculty would have had an enormous logistical problem without an efficient technical solution.
The faculty decided to employ the best students on the full-time law programme to help assess non-legal students. As the online courses are aimed at non-lawyers, they cover a fundamental level of understanding and the experienced legal students are well placed to become coaches. The teachers design the assignments, which are distributed through Blackboard Learn, and also prepare detailed answers for the coaches. The students on a fundamental course submit their assignments to the coach who will use the teachers’ answers for comparison, provide comments on the student’s legal answer, and legal technique, and suggest opportunities for further study. Coaches are also using Blackboard Collaborate to talk to students, answer questions, and respond to queries.
Feedback from students and teachers has been absolutely positive. The popularity of these courses has grown and there are now approximately eight times as many applicants as places available. Teachers are particularly pleased that they are able to share their knowledge with such a large number of students. They are also glad that the University is employing full-time students to support them with technical help as needed so they can focus on creating more immersive learning content.
Lund University is 350 years old, but its Faculty of Law certainly has a modern approach to learning and continues to look ahead at how to use technology to reach the widest group of students.