An Online Work-Oriented Training in Paralegal Technology
In 2020, as many programs were forced to turn to distance or blended learning, we, teachers in the new Paralegal Technology program of the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, did it by choice. Our program is in its 2nd year of existence and, for a long time, the plan had been that from this year on, the program would be offered online. For us, one of the key elements of this new program was to bet on the authenticity of the learnings.
We present to you here some activities that we did with our students this fall and some potential directions for the future.
Virtual visits and activities to get familiar with the work environments
Last year, we offered the course in blended learning, synchronous-asynchronous mode. Already then, we offered our student virtual meetings (in groups) with lawyers from Québec City (a lawyer of the Legislative Translation and Publishing Directorate at the Ministère de la Justice and the lawyer responsible for the Direction du soutien aux orientations des affaires législatives et de la refonte at the National Assembly of Québec).
This year, the virtual contacts were a lot easier since people are, in general, a lot more comfortable with videoconferencing than before. In addition to meeting the same speakers as last year (with new students) we were also able to do a virtual guided tour of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Those activities were part of what we call the “Semaine d’intégration à l’environnement juridique”. It is never too early to put the students in contact with real work environments!
Virtual visits: an access to justice facilitated by the pandemic
To offer the student authentic learning situations, we had initially planned to ask them to attend some hearings at courthouses close to them. With the pandemic, many hearings from all across the province take place virtually. This is advantageous for us. We can effectively make it so the whole group attends the same hearing, which makes the group discussions afterward easier.
Some of our students have still been able to go visit courthouses in person, which is pertinent for them because it allows them to access other zones than the courtroom. We believe that all of our students will have the opportunity to visit the entirety of a courthouse later next year, either virtually or in person.
Assessment in our program
In Marion’s course, the final evaluation will be a one-on-one interview in front of a jury of legal professionals. The activity was originally planned to happen in person, but it will easily be transposed to videoconference. This prepares the students to make their entrance into the job market. It is also an evaluation method that ensures the academic integrity of the students.
Generally, we go with longer assignments (individual or team projects, case studies, etc.). In these assignments, the risks of plagiarism are less worrying than for a traditional closed-book evaluation. Our main concern is that the evaluations be relevant to the targeted competencies. In our field, the technicians do not have to know the laws by heart, but need to be competent at applying them. In this context, it is legitimate and beneficial that they have access to their notes and documents during the evaluations.
What’s next for our program
We would like to include elements of field work in our program to go further than a traditional internship. It would entail creating strong links between the professional work environments and the courses, so that some of the learnings that would have normally happened in class would be acquired in the field, in a supervised manner, but in an authentic context. A certain number of the hours of each course in the program could happen in the field. The blended learning formula already allows us to go beyond the confines of the classroom, so why not push it a bit further?