Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hold a Socratic Chat: A Law Professor Teaches Students at a Distance

As students enter Mark Kaufman's constitutional-law class on a
recent Tuesday evening, they are greeted with the Pat Benatar song "Hit
Me With Your Best Shot."

The music does more than entertain the students and induce some
early-1980's nostalgia. It is also testing the audio connection on the
students' computers. The class is being conducted online, using a
Web-based multimedia chat forum, and the students and professor log on
from all over the country.

Mr. Kaufman's course is run through the Concord University School of
Law, the only accredited law school in the country that is completely
online. Here, the Socratic method translates to Web chats and e-mail

"A lot of communication relies on body language and intonation," Mr.
Kaufman says. "And that's not available because we don't see each
other. And that means we have to substitute language for that."

But that's OK, he says, because law, more than just about any other
subject, is about precision of language. And in the class, Mr. Kaufman
can speak to his students through the audio system, but they must type
their responses. The students can hear him, but he can't hear them. So
while the students don't get to practice standing up and speaking, they
are forced to hone their language skills when writing their responses
during class discussion. Mr. Kaufman doesn't call on specific students
to answer, as is often done in face-to-face law classes. Instead, he
presents questions to the entire class and waits for several responses
before moving forward with the discussion, allowing more people to be

As class begins, Mr. Kaufman talks to his class through a microphone
attached to a headset as he stares at his computer screen. Today's
lecture is about a legal concept called substantive due process, which
was devised by the Supreme Court in the 20th century in reaction to an
earlier ruling that weakened part of the 14th Amendment. "You remember
what the court did to the 14th Amendment?" Mr. Kaufman asks his class
in a deep, melodic voice that sounds like it belongs on National Public
Radio. "They essentially dismissed it."

Mr. Kaufman has his students describe the issues surrounding the Griswold v. Connecticut
case. Most answer correctly that it was about states' prohibitions on
contraception. Another student answers, incorrectly, that the case was
about states' banning interracial marriage.

The students' answers appear on one side of Mr. Kaufman's computer
screen, allowing him to choose, with the click of a mouse, which
responses the rest of the class will see. In this case he chooses a
couple of the correct answers, then types a private message to the
student who got the wrong answer, explaining that the interracial
marriage case was Loving v. Virginia.

He continues to speak almost nonstop for the next hour,
incorporating students' answers and comments as he goes along. The
conversation flows to other cases, such as Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, and more contemporary cases, such as Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down legislation outlawing sodomy.

Mr. Kaufman says that he lets the students' comments drive the
discussion. His job as an online instructor, he says, is to provide the
voice behind the typed responses and make sure the students are heading
in the right direction. He tries to get his students to discuss not
only the facts of the court cases, but the court's thinking that led to
the decision, letting the students learn from each other's observations.

"I kind of make life difficult by asking what's going on behind it,"
Mr. Kaufman says. "There's no better way to learn something than to try
to teach it."

The chats are only part of the online course. The students spend
much of their time reading textbooks and case law, and then send e-mail
messages to the professor asking questions. Mr. Kaufman says he likes
this setup because he can think about the questions before answering,
unlike being caught on the campus during office hours, when an answer
is expected on the spot.

Another large chunk of his teaching time is spent grading essays.
Many law schools determine students' grades for each class with one big
test at the end of the semester. But Concord gives the students three
essay tests per semester.

Mr. Kaufman says he usually teaches six courses per year, split
between two six-month terms, and that he spends about 40 hours a week
working. Students tend to e-mail questions at all hours of the day and
night, and he tries to respond as soon as he can.

Donna Skibbe, vice president of development at Concord, says the
university's policy is for instructors to answer e-mailed questions
within 48 hours, and preferably within 24 hours. "The immediacy of
their responses is important," she says.

The students put in the hours as well. In addition to reading the
material, answering essay questions, and attending chats, they can
participate in informal online discussions with fellow students.
Concord has Web chat rooms available for students who want to talk
about what they are learning.

Students also watch several videos of lectures online during the
semester. Notable professors, such as Arthur R. Miller, of Harvard
University Law School, have recorded lectures for Concord.

Marek J. Wybraniec, a 40-year-old computer programmer for the law
firm White Case, in New York, is in his second year at Concord
and is taking Mr. Kaufman's constitutional-law course. With a full-time
job and a family, he decided that he could not get his degree from a
traditional institution. But he says he initially had reservations
about the quality of online teaching. The idea of listening to an
instructor's speech through live audio and typing responses seemed a
little strange, he says.

"I felt, hmmm, that's going to be weird," Mr. Wybraniec says. "But
once you get used to it, you don't have a second thought about it."

As Mr. Wybraniec continued taking courses at the online law school,
he found other technological innovations to help his studies. For
example, Concord allows students to download the lectures and listen to
them on an iPod.

"Some of these lectures are amazing," Mr. Wybraniec says. "I walk
around and listen to them. People think I'm listening to music, but I'm
not. I'm listening to lectures."

Mr. Kaufman, who was a practicing attorney for 18 years before he
decided to teach full time, has taught both face to face and online. He
says students who graduate from an online law school are no less
prepared to become lawyers than students from traditional schools. In
fact, he says, neither type of school teaches how to be a good
litigator -- can come only through experience.

"No law student walks out of law school competent to practice law,"
Mr. Kaufman says. "That's not something that law schools deal with, by
and large."

Learning a subject -- subject -- does take some getting
used to, he says, and some people take to the online environment more
quickly than others. And that goes for both the instructors and the

"That's an adjustment, I think, for both sides," Mr. Kaufman says.
"I don't know that I'd describe it as a disadvantage or an advantage.
It's simply different."

Section: The Chronicle Review

Volume 51, Issue 42, Page B16

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Law School Profits From Classroom-Web Mix

One is a cop. One is a cookbook author and mother of two. And another spent the past 33 years on tour with the Rolling Stones. But every week, these three are also one homework assignment closer to becoming lawyers.

Their alma-mater-to-be is Abraham Lincoln University, a small California player trying to carve a niche in the growing business called distance education. This academic model, which makes heavy use of the Internet and doesn't require class attendance, is gaining traction among those looking to make midlife career changes or enhance workplace skills without attending school full time.

Many traditional nonprofit schools now offer some course work online, and by year's end, some 915,000 students will be enrolled in fully online programs that represent a market of $5.1 million, according to Eduventures Inc., a Boston-based educational research firm. That's a 30% jump in students from last year.

But ALU is unusual in that it is a for-profit model offering online tutorial as well as in-person classroom instruction, making it something of a hybrid in this field. For-profit higher education institutions account for only about 5% of students at schools with a bricks-and-mortar classroom presence, according to the Sloan Consortium, an educational research group in Needham, Mass.

ALU is housed in a handful of classrooms in West Los Angeles. It has no formal library -- the leather-bound books that line the walls are mostly for show, an administrator says. There's no student center, no bookstore, no dorms, and amenities are limited to a few couches and a free cup of cofee. The average student age is 45.

The school's four-year law degree program is a part-time, one-class-at-a-time affair, and each three-hour lecture is delivered five times a week by the schools's 14 full-time and part-time teachers. The lectures also are available live on the Web, and course videos and handouts are archived online. A hybrid schedule of mixing face time at school with online classes, live Internet chats with professors, and e-mail is used by 80% of ALU's students. The other 20% of ALU's students learn solely via the Internet: one student is a U.S. soldier in Kosovo.

The university's founder is 58-year-old Hyung Joo Park. His middle school was a six-mile walk from his family's rice and barley farm in rural southern Korea: a severe case of tuberculosis delayed his high-school studies. But he went on to earn an economics degree from Seoul's Sogang University, an M.B.A. on scholarship at the University of Minnesota, and later graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. By the time he was through with his studies he was married and had three kids.

After his own accomplishments, Mr. Park was deeply affected by a Korean friend's failure to finish law school because work and family didn't leave time for class. Shortly after hearing that his friend might drop out, Mr. Park saw an ad for a correspondence law school in an in-flight magazine. "What they were doing was crazy . . . all [through the] mail system. I thought, is there any way to do it better? Maybe they study at home, we give them a schedule, they come to our place once a week."

Mr. Park started his school in 1996 with $200,000 from savings and investments acquired during his days as an accountant and lawyer: he doesn't draw a salary at ALU and says the school is profitable with about $2 million in revenue last year. While many of his students eventually sit for the California bar, others simply want the education to enhance their existing careers. At $6,000 a year, ALU's tuition is far less than the $17,000 in-state students pay to attend UCLA's law school.

In many ways, incorporating online learning into academia is smart business because the traditional college and university market is saturated. Paul Saffo, a director at Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think tank, says the number of students a fixed facility can handle is limited by physical factors such as classrooms or available professors. Online classes can always accommodate more students: extra homework graders can be hired to take the burden off professors.

But because Mr. Park insists on offering as much flexibility for students as possible by having a physical location where students can attend class in person if they choose, he may miss out on some of the cost-saving advantages held by his largest competitor, Concord University Law School, owned by the Kaplan Inc. unit of the Washington Post Co., which operates totally online. Concord was founded in 1998 and now enrolls more than 1,700 students nationwide for its four-year J.D. program.

"We can't explode like a prepackaged program that doesn't offer face time." says Steven Carter, dean of admissions at ALU. "It costs us much more to expand increment by increment."

There are limitations to what an ALU degree can offer. Even though about a third of American Bar Association-accredited schools offer part-time programs, Abraham Lincoln -- like Concord -- doesn't meet ABA standards that regulate library size, classroom time and number of credits that can be satisfied with distance-learning courses. Without ABA accreditation, ALU graduates can only sit for the bar in California, a state with liberal bar eligibility standards.

About 42% of the school's graduates have passed the California bar exam so far, including first-time and repeat applicants; the overall pass rate for the state's February 2004 sitting of the general bar exam was 35%.

Mr. Park lays out an ambitious growth plan for ALU, moving over he next decade to serve 10,000 students and relocating to a new campus. He also hopes to start sending professors to San Francisco, and later to New York and cities in India, China, Korea and Japan, to meet regularly with distance students face to face.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols

Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on The Elaboration of a Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime at The Millenium Assembly of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, November 2000

The Convention represents a major step forward in the fight against transnational organized crime and signifies the recognition of UN Member States that this is a serious and growing problem that can only be solved through close international cooperation. The Convention, concluded at the 10th session of the Ad Hoc Committee established by the General Assembly to deal with this problem, is a legally binding instrument committing States that ratify it to taking a series of measures against transnational organized crime. These include the creation of domestic criminal offences to combat the problem, and the adoption of new, sweeping frameworks for mutual legal assistance, extradition, law-enforcement cooperation and technical assistance and training.

States Parties will be able to rely on one another in investigating, prosecuting and punishing crimes committed by organized criminal groups where either the crimes or the groups who commit them have some element of transnational involvement. This should make it much more difficult for offenders and organized criminal groups to take advantage of gaps in national law, jurisdictional problems or a lack of accurate information about the full scope of their activities.

The Convention deals with the fight against organized crime in general and some of the major activities in which transnational organized crime is commonly involved, such as money laundering, corruption and the obstruction of investigations or prosecutions. To supplement the Convention, two Protocols also tackle specific areas of transnational organized crime that are of particular concern to UN Member States.

The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants deals with the growing problem of organized criminal groups who smuggle migrants, often at high risk to the migrants and at great profit for the offenders. The Protocol against Trafficking in Persons deals with the problem of modern slavery, in which the desire of people to seek a better life is taken advantage of by organized criminal groups. Migrants are often confined or coerced into exploitive or oppressive forms of employment, often in the sex trade or in dangerous occupations, with the illicit incomes generated from these activities going to organized crime.

The Protocols also commit countries which ratify them to making the basic subject of the Protocol a criminal offence and to adopting other specific measures, such as controls on travel documents, to combat the problem. These supplement the more general measures found in the Convention, and countries must become parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the Protocols. A third Protocol, dealing with the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, parts and components, and ammunition, remains under discussion.

The texts of these documents were developed over 11 sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee, and footnoted texts may be found under each session. The Convention was finalized at the 10th session, and the complete text forms part of the Report of that session. The Protocols dealing with the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons were finalized at the 11th session and are reported there. These three instruments were adopted by the UN Millenium General Assembly on 15 November 2000, and final texts are included in the Report of that session.
Finalized instruments:

United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and following protocols:

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
(PDF) English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese

Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
(PDF) English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese
Background information

By resolution 53/111, of 9 December 1998, the General Assembly established an Ad Hoc Comittee open to all States, for the purpose of elaborating the international convention against transnational organized crime and three additional international legal protocols. The first session of the Ad Hoc Committee took place in Vienna, Austria, from 19-29 January 1999.

* First session (Vienna, January 1999)
* Second session (Vienna, March 1999)
* Third session (Vienna, April 1999)
* Fourth session (Vienna, June 28 - July 9 1999)
* Fifth session (Vienna, October 4 - 15 1999)
* Sixth session (Vienna, December 6 -17 1999)
* Seventh session (Vienna, January 17 - 28 2000)
* Eighth session (Vienna, February 21 - March 3 2000)
* Ninth session (Vienna, June 5 - 16 2000)
* Tenth session (Vienna, July 17-28 2000)
* Eleventh session (Vienna, October 2-27 2000)
* General Assembly documents (A/55/383 & Add.1, Add.2, Add.3))
* Signing Conference for the Convention (Palermo, December 12-15 2000)
* Twelfth session (Vienna, February 26 - March 2 2001)
* 13th Session of the Ad Hoc Committee to prepare the draft text of the Rules of Procedure
of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
(Vienna, 26 January - 6 February 2004)

Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols – (CTOC/COP)

By its resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

In accordance with Article 38, Annex l of the aforementioned resolution, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime entered into force on 29 September 2003.

Pursuant to article 32 of the Convention, a Conference of the Parties to the Convention is hereby established to improve the capacity of States Parties to combat transnational organized crime and to promote and review the implementation of this Convention. Article 32 also states that the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall convene the Conference of the Parties not later than one year following the entry into force of this Convention. The Conference of the Parties shall adopt rules of procedure and rules governing the activities set forth in paragraphs 3 and 4 of this article (including rules concerning payment of expenses incurred in carrying out those activities).