Video-conferencing enhances the law school experience

Four years ago, Gunther Teubner , a University of Frankfurt law professor, spent a year as a visiting scholar at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. In the early part of this year, he returned to Osgoode, this time as a virtual visitor.

Thanks to the introduction this past December of a new state-of-the-art video-conferencing system at the law school, Teubner was able to have a real-time, face-to-face discussion about his concept of reflexive law with students in one of five reading groups in the Osgoode Graduate Program in Law. The groups are being offered for the first time this year so that students can gain a deeper understanding of various topics. Teubner’s videoconference took place on Jan. 31.

Right: University of Frankfurt Professor Gunther Teubner (centre) speaks to Osgoode students via videoconference

"The experience was great," says Osgoode Master of Laws (LLM) candidate Andreas Maurer, a participant in the "Law … and not Law" reading group supervised by Professor Emeritus Harry Arthurs. "The huge screen and the great quality of the video connection made it almost appear as though Professor Teubner was sitting at our table."

Using technology to enhance the learning experience is not a new idea, but the extent to which new communication technologies, particularly Internet technologies, are being used at Osgoode to improve the quality and quantity of education programming is remarkable, says Kurt Binnie, director of Information Technology Services at Osgoode.

Binnie says a key priority of Osgoode’s computing plan for 2007-2008 is to provide IT support for the growth of the research-stream Graduate Program in Law, which offers full-time LLM and Doctor of Laws (PhD) programs, and Osgoode Professional Development, which offers a variety of part-time LLM programs as well as non-degree continuing legal education courses.

Binnie says Osgoode’s new video-conference capability is the most advanced at York University and is aligned with one of the law school’s key strategic priorities – to situate itself as a global law school. It allows up to 20 separate sites to connect at various speeds and users’ screens to be customized. "It’s easy for our participants and technicians to use, and it takes only seconds to set up a complex conference that includes video, audio and data such as PowerPoint," says Binnie. 

Left: Osgoode students participate in the videoconference with Teubner

Osgoode’s Comparative Research in Law and Political Economy Network, which was founded by Osgoode Professor Peer Zumbansen in 2004 to bring together a diverse group of scholars from around the world who share an interest in governance and regulation, helped pay for the new video-conferencing equipment, knowing how important it was to the success of that collaboration.

As well, Osgoode Professional Development is using the new video-conferencing technology to attract a greater number of participants to its many part-time LLM programs. An important video-conferencing feature is that program participants from various cities do not all have to be together in one video-conferencing room to join the class, says Binnie. Software and a Webcam installed on individual users’ computers allow them to participate in the part-time LLM from their office or home. "Now we can have, for example, six people join the class from one remote conferencing site, plus several single students from other locations," says Binnie.

Professor Richard Haigh, director of the part-time LLM program, says the new video-conferencing technology is a boon to program participants. "Our students reside throughout Canada and around the world. For many, the opportunity to gain a graduate degree in law from Osgoode would not exist without our video-conferencing technology. It has enabled us to attract a wider diversity of students, and at the same time, provide both local and distance students with a much richer experience."