Discourse at a Distance

The online option for the Graduate Tax Program breaks new ground for MET and LAW.

This past year, Boston University School of Law (LAW) collaborated with MET’s Distance Education office to launch the online option for LAW’s Master of Laws (LLM) in Taxation. Students around the country may now study the finer points of tax law at what Princeton Review has ranked the third-best law school in the U.S. for “Best Professors” (The Best 168 Law Schools, 2013 edition). LAW also ranks fifth among U.S. law schools that offer the LLM in Taxation, according to the 2013 edition of U.S. News & World Report.

According to John Riccardi (LAW’91), LAW assistant dean for graduate and international programs, “The online option for the Graduate Tax Program will enable practitioners throughout the country—and indeed the world—to receive the same rigorous training in tax law that the residential program has provided since 1959, but in an accessible, flexible format that fits with their busy professional lives.” BU’s Taxation degree, now one of the first law program options designed specifically for a distance learning audience, utilizes robust multimedia and interactive instruction to help practitioners master the fundamental concepts of tax law, while gaining an understanding of how complex tax issues are handled across a variety of practical settings.

“There is little doubt that online instruction will play an increasing role in legal education in the U.S.,” says Riccardi.“If we are to compete globally for the best students, we need to offer flexible options that appeal to a greater number of working professionals.”

Online instruction is new territory for nearly all LAW faculty, but, as Riccardi notes, they have approached it with open minds. “Deconstructing a class that has been taught only in the classroom and transforming it into a pedagogically sound online format has been highly edifying for the faculty. Our work with MET’s office of Distance Education has given us valuable experience and will position us well to keep pace with the needs of the next generation of law students.”

The initial required course in the program, Federal Tax Law, is taught by LAW Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law David Walker, a recipient of BU’s 2011 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching. For Walker and MET Senior Instructional Designer Brad Kay.Goodman (SED’05), the course was an opportunity to use multimedia to emulate the back-and-forth of the live classroom, where ideas get bounced around and reshaped.

Watch a short clip from Professor Walker’s class above.

“Professor Walker has taken President Obama’s tax return from last year, and, in an integrated Flash and video piece, he goes through the tax return line by line. The form actually serves to outline the course curriculum while highlighting what students are going to learn,” says Nancy Coleman (GSM’07), director of MET’s Distance Education office. “At specific intervals, students have to answer a series of interactive questions to make sure they understand the highlights of the video. We’re able to present information and then ask students to analyze it, identify key elements, and present it back to us.”

According to Professor Walker, “My goal has been to make the process as interactive as possible by incorporating a multitude of questions and problems that the students must grapple with as they work their way through my video and textual materials.”

“We’ve created a model that is going to be very effective, using methods that will change how we design courses,” asserts Kay.Goodman.

Coleman agrees: “In launching the tax program option, we have overcome a significant hurdle. We were able to create the kind of interactive content that is true to the pedagogy of the LAW program. We’re very excited about that.”