Online Demo: A Day in the Life of an Online GW Student

This webinar provides a more in depth look at GW’s online Master’s in Paralegal Studies program and what it’s like to take a full-fledge master’s degree online. Topics include:

• Quick overview of The George Washington University & the College of Professional Studies
• Overview of the online Master’s in Paralegal Studies program
• Program focuses, curriculum & learning objectives
• Live demonstration of the online learning platform: what it looks like, what features & functions are available, how students interact & network, and more
• Program faculty
• Resources available to online students


Amanda Walter: Hi, everyone. My name’s Amanda and I’m your moderator today. Obviously I wanted to start by thanking all of you for taking the time to join us for our webinar today about a day in the life of an online GW student. Before we begin, I’d like to point out some of the key logistics for the webinar. The total length of the webinar is about one hour. Also everyone is in listen-only mode to minimize background noise.

We will have an interactive Q&A session at the very end of the webinar so please feel free to ask questions at any time by typing them into the chat window on the right side of your screen and, at the end of the session, I’ll read those out aloud for our panelists to respond to. If we’re not able to answer everyone’s questions during today’s session, we will follow up with you shortly afterwards.

Finally, today’s webinar is being recorded and will be posted on the online program website within the next few weeks.

Today’s panelists are Toni Marsh, the Director of the online Paralegal Studies Program, as well as the on-ground programs and Rachael Lawrence, the Student Services Advisor, for the online program.

Just a quick overview of today’s agenda, we have several topics we’ll be talking about today so we do feel that there’s quite a bit of content here. We’ll start with a brief introduction to GW and with that, help you get to know the Master’s Program in more detail, including the structure and running objectives, the faculty, specifics about the first few courses you’ll take and, of course, the unique attributes of the online program and why GW is recognized nationwide for its prestige and the caliber of our graduates.

Rachael will then provide us an inside look into the online running platform and the Student Resource Centre. She will also help paint a picture of what it’s like to be a student and what you can do to prepare yourself to transition into student mode.

Finally, Rachael and Toni will provide some insight on what makes a successful student and how you can get the most out of your experience in the program. Thanks again for taking the time to join us today and I’ll now turn things over to Toni. Go ahead Toni.

Toni Marsh: Hi. Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for joining us here today as Amanda said. Thank you so much that introduction.

I am the Director of the Paralegal Studies Program at George Washington University. I’m also a Professor in the program and I was there at GW when we designed and launched the program so I have a lot of experience and insight into why we designed the program the way that we did and what we did.

But let me start a little bit by telling you a little bit about George Washington University and the College of Professional Studies. I’m really, really pleased and proud to be a part of George Washington University. I’ve been a lawyer for over 20 years. I’ve been a paralegal educator for over 20 years and GW is far and away the best institution I have ever been associated with.

It’s a great University right in the middle of Washington DC. I am about three blocks away from the White House. I walk over to the White House during my lunch hour and I sit on the benches in front of the White House. I’m a couple of blocks from the State Department, the World Bank is at our door. We’re really just in the middle of everything and we take advantage of that location.

A lot of our professors work in the Federal Government or have a lot of experience working. I’ve got professors from the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, from the State Department, Department of Justice, all over the place; the Department of Homeland Security and we’ve got people from the World Bank, we’ve got people from the embassies.

So it’s a very rich place to have a university and what that means for you, as potential student, is that you get the benefit of our being located right in the middle of DC because, whatever is there at our doorstep, we can take it and bring it to you and extend it to you. Even though you’re online, you’re still going to have access to all of those resources that we have.

The university itself is one of the best universities in the nation. It’s certainly one of the oldest universities, founded in 1821. It was a gift from George Washington. He actually gave a gift of Potomac River Company stock that was used to finance the original, what used to be called, Columbian College and is now called George Washington University.

We’ve been moving up in the ranks. One of the reasons it’s so exciting to be part of GW is that we’ve got all new leadership and the new leadership is very ambitious. We’ve got a great new president.

We’ve got a great new provost. There are lots of new deans and people at the top and everybody has one goal and that is to raise the ranking of GW. I mean we really want to bring GW into the absolute top ranks of worldwide universities. And in order to do that, they’re spending lots of time and lots of money and lots of resources on every program just looking to make everything as excellent as possible. Not cutting any corners at all.

So it’s fun going to work because I come up with a new idea. I want to try something new. I think I have a way that I can serve my students better and I bring it to my dean and the answer is almost always yes. So one of the immediate benefits to you of all of that support is that we have been ranked the best online program in the nation and it’s not just online paralegal program, its online programs. So out of all the online programs in the country, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association named our program the best.

Two of the courses in the program have won awards. One was named the number one course of the country, one was named the number two course of the country and those were the only two courses that we even entered into the competition. So the two courses that we entered were named number one and number two best courses in the nation. So we’ve really put a lot into it and I think you’ll find that you get a lot then out of it.

We’re constantly innovating, we’re always looking for a way to increase our engagement. One of the things – and we’re going to talk about this more today – one of the reasons that we’ve been named the best program and the best courses is because of the high level of engagement. So we’ll Stalk about that a few slides down.

And again, about me and about the program, again, I’m Toni Marsh. I’m a lawyer. I’ve been a lawyer for well over 20 years. I have practiced criminal law, criminal defense – I was a trial attorney – and juvenile law. So juvenile was really my number one area of expertise. I’ve written a book on the subject and I’ve continued to stay very involved in juvenile law and volunteer at the courts down here in DC, working with children.

So I started out as a lawyer in Ohio. I came to DC in 2001. I worked at Georgetown University, went to North Carolina for a year where I designed a paralegal program at the University of North Carolina and then came back to DC to design a program here at George Washington University.

So we designed this program in 2006, launched it in 2007. What that really means for you is that this paralegal program was designed for the new paralegal in this new paralegal world. The paralegal profession has changed and grown dramatically since way back in 1990 when I entered the profession. It just changed so much.

It is quite a sophisticated profession, very high profile, very prestigious and the people who are paralegals today are doing a lot of substantive work. It is a very intellectual profession now and so we designed the program to meet that. This is rigorous program. It is a highly selective program. So you don’t just fill out a form and send in your check and get in. You’ve got to apply and be admitted and our standards are high. And what that does for all of us is it increases, again – and we go back to the reputation of the university.

We are widely regarded as one of the premier paralegal programs in the nation and by having really excellent students that helps us to maintain that reputation. What that means directly for you is this, if you get in and you graduate – and by the way, another reason that we’re so highly selective is that the people who come in, we work very, very hard to make sure that once you get in, you graduate.

We do not like to see people drop out. We don’t like to see people not succeed. So once you get into this program, we’ll put all of our resources behind making sure that you succeed in the program and that you graduate and that when you graduate, you get a job. Of course, we can’t guarantee that, we don’t guarantee – if anybody guarantees you that you’re going to get a job, run away because they’re not telling the truth.

Nobody can guarantee you a job, but I can guarantee you that we will give the resources to help you find a job and I can also guarantee you that, by keeping our standards very high and admitting only the best students and graduating the best students, our reputation is growing so that it’s getting to the point where certain law firms, certain federal government agencies, certain corporations, banks only come to GW to hire their paralegals because they just know that our paralegals are the best. So it really cycles around and works again to your benefit.

One of the – I mentioned – well I haven’t mentioned our partnership with the GW Law School, which is another huge benefit to the students who come to GW. We’ve got a great relationship with the GW Law School, which has a great reputation. We work very closely with them with on a lot of programs. We – our students can serve in the legal clinics at the Law School. We’ve got GW Law School librarians teaching legal research class. You get all of the access to all of the online resources through the Law School.

If you’re ever in DC or if you live near DC, you are invited to attend any Law School special events, lectures, workshops, conferences. You’re always welcome there. I host a conference every year, a Corporate Paralegal Education program that’s designed for in-house paralegals. We hold that at the Law School. And by the way, the dean of the GW Law School was just named one of the top 20 scholars in the nation. So he achieved the name one of the top 20 legal champions were the words that they used in the nation. So really you’re associating with a lot of the top scholars and legal minds, which is fabulous.

We’ve got a great faculty. As I said some of our faculty comes from the Law School, some from our faculty comes from – we’ve got Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, the United States Senate, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy. The man who teaches our Intellectual Property Course is the Chief of Staff of the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the guy who teaches the other IT Course is the Chief of Staff for Senator Mary Landrieu and is on her IP Committee.

We’ve also got the Chief of Government Relations for Verizon, teaching one of our IP Courses. Let’s see where else do they come from? They come from private practice; just all over the place. So again, what you’re getting when you come here is you’re getting these brilliant lawyers and they’re practicing lawyers.

So they’re all professors. They’re all GW professors, but they’re also practicing lawyers and they’re out there, implementing the laws and practicing law every day. And in fact, one VIP professor that I told you about that is Chief of Staff actually helped to write the law, the new format that you will now be studying. So these are some really well informed, brilliant and current people so you’re getting the benefit of all of that expertise.

Some of the benefits of the online format just it’s really, really convenient. So that’s probably the biggest thing. It’s convenient, but not just that. It’s also a very rich environment because what you’re getting – each professor creates his or her course and they put everything in there. They put their lectures in there, they put PowerPoints. You’ll see it. It’s a very lively environment.

You’re also interacting with these professors every day. So you’re getting this real engagement with your professors and also with your facilitators. So we’ve got this whole – we not only have these lead professors, who I’ve just described to you, who are going to be present in every class, we’ve also got a whole bank of facilitators and all of our facilitators are all lawyers, most of them GW graduates.

I tend to go to the GW Law School to recruit the facilitators because I know they’re just so well educated and so brilliant. So they’re all lawyers, they’re all practicing, they’re all experts in their fields. So you’ve got this lead professor plus a facilitator. Each one of you will have a professor plus a facilitator so you’re going to get lots of interaction with real, live human beings.

You can also call me any time, email me. I interact with the courses. We do a lot of video and it’s not like pre-recorded video lectures, but what we do is the professors record these little videos every once a week, a couple of times a week, where they talk about problem areas or they talk about interesting discussions or they may elaborate on an assignment.

So you’re really getting this live human interaction, but you’ve also got this website. The course is essentially a website with all kinds of resources. And the beautiful thing for me, as a professor, when I design an online course, what I love about it is when I’ve designed something and it’s really, really good, and every professor knows that feeling of coming up with something that’s just great, just this brilliant whatever, exposition, you create it online, it’s preserved forever. You never lose it and that is so nice for us.

So you’ve got the benefit of every brilliant guy we’ve ever had. It’s preserved there in the course and we just keep adding to it and adding to it and adding to it. So it’s a very rich and lovely environment and, again, coupled with the fact that it’s really convenient. So you’ve got all these resources to read and things to discuss, but you can do it sort of at your convenience.

Now when I say sort of at your convenience, what is this. You don’t just get six weeks and then you do the material and it’s got to be done by the end of the six weeks. What you have are a lot of little mini deadlines. Now you’ve got lots of flexibility within those deadlines, but what have is you’ve got assignments or readings or participatory exercises, debates, whatever, discussions that are due every couple of days.

And we purposefully design it that way because it keeps you engaged again. So you’re logging into the course every day, you’ve got all these little mini-deadlines, it keeps you engaged and makes sure that you don’t get lost and you don’t procrastinate. So those are some of the benefits.

The way that the program itself is structured is we’ve got these core courses. Then we’ve got the legal specialties, which are higher-level courses. There’s a practicum and there’s independent research. So I’ll go back and go over each, one by one.

The core courses are the basic legal knowledge that you and everyone’s got to have, Legal Research, the American Legal System, Business Law and Litigation. Every paralegal in America has got to know those things because every paralegal, just about every paralegal does a little bit of that.

The legal specialties that we offer, and you take them all, the legal specialties are Intellectual Property, Government Law and International Law. Now those might seem a little off to you, but those are the areas where all of the jobs are right now the really high paying jobs. It’s where all of the law is being made.

I just read the other day that, just like the website, Digg. Some of you may have heard of that. Digg was just sold for $500,000, which was really everybody’s like, oh, my God, I can’t believe that Digg was sold for $500,000, which is a low price for a website. But the patent from Digg was sold for $4 million. So, that’s where that patent law, IP law, that’s where they law is nowadays. Every company, the companies in the United States now, what they’ve got to buy and sell and trade on are their patents and that’s where all the commerce is being done. So that’s what you guys are going to learn.

Government law, it’s in everything that you do. You’re not just for people who live in Washington DC. Federal Government is the largest employer in the United States, everywhere, not just in DC. And international law, there are no American Companies any more. There everything is international.

Again, I just saw an ad today in the Washington Post for Honda. They said all of our parts are manufactured in America. Honda is a, quote, Japanese company, but their parts are made in America. This is how it goes nowadays. All business is international so you need to know that.

You do a practicum, which is you go off and you do some work. It’s a non-credit course. If you already have legal experience, that will satisfy the practicum requirement. You’re still going to register for the course because we give you some content as well, but the actual work that you’ve already done will count. If you don’t have any legal experience, we don’t actually place you. You’ve got to find your own placement, but we will give you all kinds of help in finding that placement. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and to get that experience you need.

And then, independent research, you’re going to write – you do this way at the end so don’t worry yet. You’ll do it in two years from now, but you’re going to write a 20 to 30 page sort of a thesis. We don’t call them thesis because you don’t come in and defend it as you would for traditional thesis, but it’s going to look and feel just like a thesis except for the fact that you don’t do a thesis defense.

Speaking of writing, as you can see, some of the key learning and objectives are written and oral communications. What we do, we’ve done a lot of research. What employers are looking for is people who know how to write. They’re looking for people who can present orally and they’re looking for people who can work in groups and so we have incorporated that. We’ve integrated that throughout our curriculum.

So, yes, you’re going to rewrite this 20 to 30 page thesis paper at the end of the time that you’re here, but you’re also going to be writing and writing and writing in just about every class. And what we do when we give you a writing assignment is we give it to you in phases so that you get lots of feedback and you get lots of points.

So for example, an American Jurisprudence, you’re going to write a very short paper, a four-page paper. I think it’s two to four pages. It’s a really short little paper, but first you’re going to choose your topic and you’re going to turn that in and you’re going to get feedback on your topic. Then you’re going to write a thesis statement. You’re going to turn that in and get feedback; [10 points] by the way. Then you’re going to do an outline. Then you’re going to do a first draft. Then you’re going to do a final draft.

So we don’t just give you these writing assignments and expect you to teach yourselves. We teach you how to write and we’re really very good at it. The same thing with oral presentations, just because you’re online, doesn’t mean that you’re not going to do oral presentations. We’ve got all kinds of technology. We’ve got something called InterviewStream that allows you to record short little oral presentations and submit them to your teacher for a grade. Of course, there’s Skype. There’s all sorts. There’s webinars now and there’s all kinds of ways that we interact live and you’re able to work and make oral presentations.

The same thing with group work. Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you’re not working in groups. So we’re putting you in groups, you’re working on projects, you’re debating, you’re working together. It’s a very lively and engaged environment so not only is it fun, but you’re also picking up these key skills that you need.

Research and technology, you’re doing research all the time. Again, every day in your classes, you’re using the technology as you’re exactly taking classes, but we’ve also built in lots of technology instruction into some of our courses. So you’re going to learn the important legal research databases and some of the other legal databases. And ethics also. We’ve integrated ethics and professionalism throughout the program.

I’m not going to go into these courses in real deep detail, but I’ll tell you that American Jurisprudence is the first course you’ll take. I’m the professor. You’re going to learn the American Legal System. So you’ll learn State versus Federal. You’ll learn about civil law versus common law. You’ll learn a little bit about the Constitution, about jurisdiction, about trials, a little bit about legal philosophy and history. So it’s just, it’s giving you that overview of the law of the American system. It’s also getting you used to school again and getting you used to our system and used to being online. So it’s a way to pull you in and to those are some of the learning objectives.

Legal research and writing is when it gets really deep and really serious. That’s going to be a very content heavy, very intense class, but you’re going to get lots and lots of guidance all the way through. We’re going to be really working with you closely on that. In that course you’re going to study with Professor Larry Ross, who is a lawyer and a professor and a law librarian at the GW Law Library.

And in that course you’re going to learn how to use a print. Believe it or not, again, just because you’re online doesn’t mean you’re not going to learn how to use the library and you’re going to learn how to use online legal resources, including LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Amanda Walter: Yes, lets transition over to Rachael now to tell us a little bit more about what it’s like to be a student.

Rachael Lawrence: Thank you so much Toni and Amanda. Toni did a fantastic job of encompassing what the program is all about and I’m going to tell you what it looks like on a day-to-day basis for any of the students in the program; how do you manage it, how do you get everything that Toni just told you about.

So one of the first things I want to talk about is the transition from being an applicant to a student. So after you’re accepted into the program and you’ve accepted your acceptance, you’ll have a phone call with me. I introduce myself and I talk to you about the program and the logistics on handling on a day-to-day basis.

We talk about what your plans are, what your goals are, what are your dreams for coming into this program and what do you hope to accomplish. We talk a little bit about how you’re going to manage your day-to-day and the strategies that you’ll use to be successful in each of your courses and the program overall. We talk about program expectations, we talk about the faculty, the professors and any questions that you have, coming into the program.

One of the most important things is switching you into student mode. Many of you are already working professionals or you’ve been out of school for a little bit of time. So it’s about reintegrating you into that mindset and that new habit of being a student again. And maybe for some of you, some of it has changed. The online environment is a lot more dynamic and it’s not that same brick-and-mortar where you show up every day, you sit down for two hours, take notes, go home, do homework and come back the next day.

To a certain degree that element is incorporated into the classes, but it is a lot more your responsibility. You have the flexibility of working with the courses within your timeframe, setting up your own agenda and setting up how you’re going to manage your time and resources to make yourself successful in these classes. We have student orientation that’s set up for you to help you learn and navigate the online portal.

We do all this before you start your actual coursework so when you do start, you’re comfortable, you’re familiar with the arena that you’re working in and you really have a true sense of what the resources are, what’s available to you and how to use them. We give you any type of additional resources and assistance that you’d be needing in order to prepare for your courses.

In terms of getting started, the student orientation is conveniently housed on the online platform. So you’re getting in there right away. We’re going to talk about this during orientation. We’re going to show you that’s done. We’re also going to show you the online platform. I have few slides coming up that will show you snapshots of what that online portal looks like.

We walk you through accessing your first course, which will be American Jurisprudence, if you’re coming up for the upcoming fall start and it’s very simple. The courses retain the same format so, once you’ve gotten used to how the courses work, you retain that. It’s kind of like riding a bike. You learn it once and you continue to do it again until you’ve reached that point of graduation.

Some of the features and functions within a course include things like flash presentations, PowerPoint presentations. We try and keep the technological aspect of the courses engaging and active, but not overbearing. We truly want you to focus on the curriculum and what you’re learning in the program.

The assignments, for the most part, are individual, but we do have group assignments as well. So you do have an opportunity to network and interact with your peers and classmates. The students that come into this program come from different areas of life. They bring a broad spectrum with personal experience as well as work knowledge that comes into the program and you really get an opportunity to network across a variety of industries.

Ongoing resources and tools, we have a student resource center available to you online and this is something that we’re continuously updating and improving. We put in different tutorials, we put in different tips and tricks that will help you as you move through the online program and we even put some of our webinars on there.

There we recently held one with David Ettinger, who’s one of our librarians at the Gelman Library, and it proves to be very successful. We record the webinar and we host it in the resource center so it’s something that students can go back and reference if they’re ever looking for additional information.

So this is our online learning platform. This is the general page and every student who logs in, this is the main thing they’ll see. On the left hand side, you’ll see the Student Resource Centre and in this case, this student is taking PSLX6210, American Jurisprudence. On the top right hand side students can easily access their grades, messages and My Moodle, which is a customizable profile page.

The main page is a site news blog. I post announcements in there and so does Toni. It’s an open forum. anything interesting, engaging, anything important that you need to know, we post it here. Anybody who’s a student, also they can email a copy of anything that’s posted in the forums. We have really navigational links on the left hand and the right hand side.

The top right hand side has our 24/7 technical helpdesk. They’re available via email as well as chat as well as phone and they’re a fantastic resource. Additionally, we have a little calendar that you can use and a link to the Gelman Library.

Moving to the next slide we’re talking about inside a course now. So this piece here on the activities, these four components are the basic components for all of the courses in the program. You have your written assignments, your chat sessions, your forums and your quizzes. You have immediate links to the Gelman Library and the orientation always.

You have a little box for research help. So anything and everything that you would need is very convenient for you in our online platform. We even have a little blog menu for if you want to join with your friends or your other classmates and talk about different things. It’s another avenue for you to communicate and be a part of the community here at George Washington University.

This is what your assignments page looks like. Now, in this particular place, this is actually a synopsis of all the assignments in the program. So they’re listed off by week and, if you click on each one, it will tell you what the assignment is and give you an option to upload the file. What’s also really great about this is it tells you all of your due dates. So this is a really great way of being organized with your courses so when things are due ahead of time.

Resources. All courses come with PDFs and documents that your professors have to worked really hard to put together to help you get through these classes. So as much as you have your own independent reading, you can also use these as their guides and their, quote, unquote, lecture note to get you through each of your courses.

The forums are discussion boards. On average you’ll see about one a week and they work in the way where a professor will post a general question to the class, which you’ll respond to and then respond to two other or three other classmates. You’re not by means restricted. Some of these can be very engaging. We’ve seen a lot of discussion, a lot of debate come about from these discussion boards. They’re a great way to participate in real time in a very active, professional way with your classmates and your faculty.

So what I’m going to do now is actually take you on a little bit of a live tour of what our Student Resource Centre looks like. Bear with us for just a moment and here we have our Student Resource Centre. So it’s very simple. We’re continuously building this. So at the very beginning we’ve got a video guide to using your actual Moodle site, which is our online platform, which is what you’re looking at right now.

We give you a little task, teaching you how to update your profile so you can go in and update your information, upload a picture of yourself and share a little biography as well. You have a little quiz to make sure that you understand how to use the portal and this will help you get the basic skills set that you will need for navigating inside your classrooms.

We have a careers services chat that’s housed by our very own Melissa Feuer. She’s the director for the Careers Services Centre and anything, as far as the chats go, they’re usually held at a specific time. If you’re not able to make the specific time, we do have chat transcripts available for you. We realize that we are interacting with students from all over the world so it’s a little hard to coincide with all of the time zones, but we do our very best.

Additionally we have a special section getting you ready for the legal research and writing class. This class is very rigorous, but it teaches you a great deal. You will also be introduced to Westlaw and LexisNexis, which are two legal databases that are used throughout the program. So this was a special section that we’ve put together specifically for this particular class.

Moving further down, we have some course introductions. This particular one, CPS 6294, is an introduction to your independent research and then we also have information here about the practicum. So all of this is available to you very early in the program. It’s available to you right away, as soon as you come in. So this way you can start preparing and thinking about what you want to do with your practicum and your independent research as you get through the program.

We have special keyboard shortcuts for people using a Mac computer and we even have help for setting up your George Washington email and student account. And this latest piece is something that we just recently added and this is our webinar and video series and we’re constantly building this and putting this together and for different topics.

This first one here is one that was done by Toni Marsh and the team, including Melissa Feuer as well as a few of her students about presenting yourself professionally and this is specific to paralegal students. The second webinar is actually the library one that I spoke about earlier and, as soon as you guys come onboard to the program, it’s definitely worth checking out.

So one of my major responsibilities in being your Student Services Advisor is to help you get set up for success. And it’s not just about the courses. It’s not just about the academic. It truly is about the overall experience here at George Washington University and what it takes to be successful in that experience. So when you and I talk for the very first time, we’ll talk about what your day-to-day is like.

Many of you are working professionals, you have families, some of you are single parents and it can be challenging trying to find a balance with all of that. So I do my very best to assist you. We talk about setting up calendars and goals and really finding out your strengths and weaknesses and what your challenges are going to be with keeping up with the program and how do we counter act that. How do we make you a stronger student?

I’ll talk a little bit about myself. I work fulltime. I’m a Student Services Advisor here, but I’m also a student. So I’m right there in the trenches with you. I know what you’re going through. I know what it’s like to be up at 3 o’clock in the morning, working on a paper. So you and I will share a lot of those experiences when we talk about the frustrations that come with trying to handle all of that.

Normally after I finish work, I go home, I have a little bit of a break, I say hi to my family as I walk through the door and then I’m usually sitting with my books. This program does require a great deal of commitment, but it has a great payout at the end of it. It’s worth every moment that you’ve spent. What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. So bear that in mind as you work through these courses.

The student experiences in this program are fantastic. the professors, the facilitators, even the other students in the program create a great support network here. They’re really here for you. They’re as hands-on as they possibly can be. I have a few facilitators and professors who will jump on the phone with you. It’s not just email. It’s not just inside the online environment. They’re very personable and they really are invested in your success.

Some of the most memorable moments in the program are actually from my students. They talk about their triumphs. They talk about their trials that they’ve faced. I’ve seen students make it through this program through divorces, through custody battles, through natural disasters. That latest series of storms that hit DC, we had students in classes and they did just fine. They were successful. It was all about communication and making sure that they kept myself as well as their facilitators, aware of the situation and we worked with them to make sure that they remained successful throughout the course.

We have program resources and they’re unmatched, as far as I’m concerned, with this program. They people here are truly invested in success and it’s really hard to put into words what this program will get you because it is an experience. It’s not just about the online course, it’s not just about delivering the academics to you. You are part of a family and part of a community here and it continues past the program.

We have graduate students that are still very much a part of our community. We have a paralegal students association that is available to you. They’re an on-campus committee. They’ve recently made themselves available online. Actually a few of our online students are part of the leaders of that committee and they’re constantly working to bring you the best experiences and enhance your paralegal knowledge.

So here are some tips coming from your Student Services Advisor when it comes to online learning. One of the really main key things is to be organized. You have to know what your major responsibilities are coming in and how those are going to change once you’re a part of the program. One of the things that I do is I create a master calendar that has everything from walking my dog to when my last assignment is due. It really does come in very handy.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know when is the best time for you to study. Are you a morning person, are you an evening person, do you like to study late at night? When are you most productive and can you make that work with your schedule?

Lastly, don’t be afraid to delegate. I think, as working professionals and as adults, we get accustomed to handling everything on our own. Rest assured that there will be times when you’re going to need the help. Lean on your family and friends and make them a part of this process and a part of this experience. They will support you and they will help you and they will carry you through to graduation and they’ll be there when you walk across that stage. All of our online students have that opportunity to come and be a part of the commencement ceremony on campus.

I look forward to working with you if you choose to apply and be a part of program and I will definitely make it my personal mission to make sure that you’re successful.

Amanda Walter: Let’s transition things back over to Toni for a bit here to kind of cap off her observations and her recommendations for what students can…

Toni Marsh: Again, I just want to thank you. That was such an excellent – that was really such an excellent presentation and it’s absolutely true. I’ve had to laugh when you said I even put in my calendar walking the dog, but I know people that do that.

Somebody told me I had to put on my calendar eat lunch. And this is just what you do, but it’s not unmanageable. With a little bit of – I just have to say, with a little bit of organization, it can be done and the students of the core team is fabulous. Not only to students get the benefit of these fabulous student advisors, but so do we at faculty because we really depend on the student services advisors to know the students and to anticipate their needs and make sure that they succeed. So we found a great students services team. Thank you so much, Amanda, Rachael, everybody. They’re just great at this.

So then, tips from me, as I just said, rely on your student services team. Be proactive. When you feel that you’re starting to get in trouble, you’re starting to get underwater or overwhelmed. Let somebody know. We’ll work with you. We’re absolutely, we’re all human, we’ve all been through it, we’ve all got family. This program is designed for working professionals so we understand how it is.

Check in every single day. Don’t let a day go by without checking in. And a lot of people – sometimes people tend to say, oh, gosh I’m in trouble and you just want to hide and run away from it. That’s the opposite of what you should do. If you feel that you’re getting overwhelmed, check in more. See what’s out there. Don’t let there be any surprises.

And here’s the other thing and this is a big, big, big thing. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So a lot of people come into this program, they know it’s a great program, they know it’s a great profession. They have these huge aspirations and I share them and I think that you’re all – I want you all to succeed and do great, great things. Sometimes that striving for greatness can be paralyzing.

You want to write the greatest stories that’s ever been written in the history of the universe and then you don’t even get started because you’re overwhelmed by it. Just put pen to paper, figuratively or finger to keyboard and just start working. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed or don’t be daunted by the enormity of the task.

When I wrote my book on juvenile law, my husband said something to me that just stuck with me forever. They wanted 500 pages from me and I thought, oh my God, 500 pages. How will I ever write 500 pages? And my husband said to me, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And I remembered that and I’ve always done that so I thought I’ve got one year to write 500 pages. There’s 50 weeks in a year. That means I’ve got to write 10 pages per week.

That means if I work five, the five working days a week, I’ve got to write two pages a day. Two pages a day. That’s nothing. Two pages. By the way, double spaced. So really, I only had to write one single spaced paper a day. Surely I could do that. I can do that in my sleep, right? So when you break it down into small little tasks you realize – and by the way the book did get written and it was on time and it was exactly what I wanted. And I did that – I put myself on that one page a day schedule.

And, of course, what happened, most days I set out and said I’m going to write one page today and, once I started writing, I wrote far more than one page in that day. So break things down into their small tasks. Don’t say I’ve got to write a 30 page paper, say I’ve got to write one page. I’m going to write another one. and that’s why we break our assignments down into little pieces because I’ve learnt that that’s the way to get things done.

That’s my best advice for you and then, as always, communicate with us, talk to us and never, never hesitate. Oh, here’s another one. I do have one more thing to say. A lot of people call me or they’ll email me and they’ll say, oh Professor Marsh, I’m so sorry to interrupt you. I know you’re really busy. I hate to interrupt you, but I’ve got a question. And I’ve got to remind my students and I’m going to tell you this now and you remember this.

You are never interrupting my work. You are my work. If it wasn’t for my students and it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t have a job. So you are my work. You’re never an interruption of my work and it’s the same for me and all of our professors and all of our student services team and this is why we’re here. So the more you give us to do, the better that we are. So stay in touch.

Amanda Walter: Thank you so much, Toni. Just a couple of quick questions then at the end here. One person is wondering, you talked about the three legal specialties that are covered in the curriculum. What kind of learning outcomes or how do people apply those skills to other legal specialties?

Toni Marsh: That’s a really, really good question. A lot of these skills that you’re going to pick up at those classes, you’re going to pick up some specific knowledge. You’re going to learn how the Patent Reform Act works. You’re going to actually work with that law and you’re going to learn how to work with actual forms, but the skills that you pick up overall are going to be applicable to everything.

You’re going to really gain, as I said, the reading, the writing, the research, the oral presentation, the group work. Those are things that you’re going to learn and you’re going to reinforce in every class and those are going to be transferable over to any area that you practice. So yes, a lot of our graduates go on to work in IP law, and a lot them go on to work in corporate law and a lot of them go to work for the Federal Government, but a lot of them don’t.

So a lot of other students go to work in criminal law, forensics and whatever; or tax law, everywhere, all over the board. So although you’re going to pick up specific knowledge and skills, you’re also going to pick up a lot of transferable skills that will serve you just fine no matter what area you go into.
Amanda Walter: Thank you. Another question pertains to the two different audiences that we usually see for this program, some of which are changing career paths, really looking at where they want to go with their career and deciding to make that transition. Others are already in the paralegal profession and looking to advance within it, advance their skills, become a better paralegal. How do the courses balance those two different audiences and make it rigorous enough for the current paralegals, but also easy for someone entering the profession?

Toni Marsh: Well that’s another great question. So this crew that’s online here is already shaping up to be a pretty interesting group. That is a great question. So we do give people the basics. We get people who have absolutely no experience and so there are going to be learning units where we’re going to say this is how the state system works compared to the federal system. and there are going to be people out there who have been practicing paralegals for 20 years, who already know quite well what the difference is between the state and the federal system.

What we’ve done is in each class, in every single class – there are a few quizzes where they’re just basic quizzes and you’re going to be answering what’s the difference between this and this and what does this mean. And so people, who have got of experience, that’s going to be kind of easy for them. But very quickly we use a lot of, as I said earlier, a lot of writing, there’s a lot of papers, a lot of exercises and in those environments, the people who are brand new to this, who are just starting out and know nothing at all about the law, they can explore the basics.

They can start and they can work on a very basic level and they’re going to do fine and they’re going to get really good grades for exploring things like the difference between substantive and procedural and due process or things like that. The people who have lots and lots of experience and who are operating on a different level, they can choose a topic and delve very deeply into that topic so that they’re being challenged.

You’re being challenged and you’re learning and your professors and your facilitators are going to respond to that level of engagement just at the same level that they responded to the beginners because we’ve got the expertise. so if you want to go off and do some very sophisticated subject matter, your professors are going to be able to handle that and they’re going to be able to grade that work and respond to it and give you good feedback. But again, if you’re a beginner and you wanted to talk about what does the Fourth Amendment mean, we can do that with you as well.

So although there will be spots where the people, who are highly experienced, will find that this material as quite familiar, there won’t be many like that. You won’t be stopped very often. You’ll be able to very quickly get yourself much more deeply involved and challenged.

Amanda Walter: Perfect, thank you. This question is going to be directed over to Rachael. Rachael, can you tell us just a little about the program format, how long it takes to complete the degree and what it looks like each semester, how many courses you take a time?

Rachael Lawrence: Sure. The program takes a little under two years to complete and you take one course at a time. So each semester is actually split into two sessions. So you’ll start off with a class that’s about six to seven weeks long. You’ll have a break in between and then you’ll pick up another class. So you’re taking two classes in the semester, but you’re focusing on course at a time so you can really focus on the content and really get in depth with the material. That way you’re getting 100% of your faculty, you’re getting 100% of the knowledge and really 100% of the experience.

Amanda Walter: And, Rachael, you also mentioned earlier at the beginning of the session about having access to Westlaw and LexisNexis in courses. What kind of access is that? How do students utilize that and how long do they have access to it?

Rachael Lawrence: So the access to Westlaw and LexisNexis is actually available to you for the entire duration of your program here. so you’ll have it for the entire time you’re enrolled. The access is granted every semester. It’s something that we renew and students use it as much as they want for what they want. You will have assignments that are specific to Westlaw and LexisNexis that will ask you to go into the databases, but other than that it’s also available for independent research and anything additional that you might like.

Amanda Walter: And one last question here, directed over to Toni. Toni, you talked about how students interact both in group projects, networking with each other outside of the classroom. Can you just kind of detail a little bit more – this is kind of a loaded question, but can you detail a little bit more about the background of those students, where they are geographically and what that networking is like? How do students really benefit from that and what’s that lasting impression?

Toni Marsh: It’s interesting. The students – as I said, we really believe in networking and pulling these communities together. So we give students, as I’ve said many times already today, we give them lots of opportunities to engage online.

We’ve got the, as you mentioned earlier, the Paralegal Students Association, which house a distance student division and a distance student rep who pulls in and represents the distance students throughout the paralegal through the PSA activities and make sure that the distance student know what’s going on, that when we hold events here in DC that we record them and they get posted and they get publicized. So things like that. So we’re always looking out for our students’ interests.

I have had lots of students come to DC and meet up here. One thing about having the whole university or the sort of mother ship located in Washington DC is that it’s very easy city to visit. So a lot of people come to DC for whatever reason. A lot of people come here for work. It’s an easy city to travel to. There’s three airports. There’s a train station. You can get here by train, by plane, by automobile. There are lots of hotels here, there’s lots of reasonable hotels. So it’s an easy place to come and then, of course, once you here, it’s a fun place to visit.

So a lot of people meet up and they’ll have weekends in DC. Course commencement weekends. People meet up at commencement weekend. A lot of distance students come to commencement weekend. We really encourage you to come to that. It’s so much fun. It’s such a fun weekend. Whenever people come to DC, I always encourage you to please contact me. My office is right on 21st and F Street and I encourage people to come and see me and we usually go to lunch or go for coffee or something like that.

One of our online students, Diane Morgan, she was in the very first inaugural class, she warmed a friendship with a group of women. They all became really close friends. They met up here in DC. Diane ended up being one of our facilitators and then, when a professor position opened up, she’s now one of our professors. So you will have Diane as a facilitator and as a professor and she was a student and just created this great network, met me, met everyone else and ended up being a professor at GW.

Amanda Walter: That’s excellent. Thank you so much. Why don’t we wrap things up now? Actually, I wanted to thank, obviously, Toni and Rachael again for their time for this webinar, of course, thank all of our attendees for taking the time out of their busy days to join us. I wanted to point out, we are still accepting applications for the Fall 1 term, but there is a very limited window left to get an application started and all the files in, in time to be reviewed.

So if you’re interested in applying for Fall 1, I highly recommend reaching out to an enrolment advisor right away so they can help you get that underway. I want to remind you again that the recording of this webinar will be posted on the program website in the next couple of weeks. And, again, thank you again for taking the time to join us and we look forward to talking to you all soon.

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