LL.M. Program Has Decade of Experience in Distance Education

April 11, 2023  |  by Susan Schneider, William H. Enfield Professor of Law

Editor's Note: This article was republished from the blog of the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law.

A class in the LL.M. in agricultural and food law program takes place online.

Last fall marked 10 years since the University of Arkansas LL.M. program in agricultural and food law began to use technology to expand access to the degree.

Students were first allowed to join classes by video-conference in the fall of 2013 as part of the LL.M. distance option. Today, the program offers a variety of delivery method options.

"After the past few years of COVID interactions over Zoom, it's hard to remember how innovative our approach really was," says Susan Schneider, director of the program. "Most distance programs offered packaged classes as their online format with no 'live' interaction between student and professor. Our goal then, and our goal now, is to allow our distance students to be fully integrated into our classroom experience and to maintain the feeling of community that our LL.M. network has always reflected."

As remote communication through technology has become commonplace, people are exploring different approaches to online learning.

The U of A School of Law offers three kinds of classes in the LL.M. program:

  • Video-conferenced participation in actual live classes with recordings available when students have to miss a class.
  • Online classes that allow students to progress through readings, watch videos, and listen to recorded lectures on their own time.
  • Hybrid classes that combine the online class with periodic chances to get together by video-conference for high-level discussion.


A Student's Perspective

Ellen Murphy holds a Juris Doctor degree and teaches at Wake Forest University School of Law. Also an instructional designer, she teaches online and now, as a student in the U of A LL.M. program, she studies online, too.

Murphy reflected on her thoughts about online learning and the unprecedented steps universities took as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country in the early spring semester of 2020.

"On March 17, 2020, I taught a group of university professors the basics of teaching online – in a 50-minute lunch-hour presentation," Murphy says. "For a law teacher and an instructional designer who had, at the time, spent nearly a decade thinking about online teaching and learning, I was both horrified and ecstatic about the prospect of professors using (and, wishfully, embracing) the online classroom. What I did not expect on this day was a door to open for me in my formal learning."

In January 2022, Murphy enrolled as a distance student in the U of A LL.M. program. Having grown up in a farming community and having received an agri-business degree at North Carolina State 25 years earlier, she had long wanted to revisit agriculture through the legal lens.

"I was without hesitation regarding the price, flexibility, course offerings, and faculty at Arkansas," Murphy recalls. "However, I was, admittedly, skeptical about the 'hybrid' nature of the courses. In my years of teaching others to teach online, I had long held firm to the belief that it was impossible to serve students in the same classroom while simultaneously serving students attending via video-conference.

"I was wrong."

Murphy says she feels connected, supported and fully integrated into the LL.M. community, despite having never stepped foot on campus. She hopes to visit Arkansas someday soon.

"This includes in the classes I and others have attended via video-conference while other students and faculty (as well as guest speakers) were in a physical classroom in Fayetteville," she says. "I've spent more time than perhaps many of my classmates thinking about why this works so well in our LL.M. program."

She credits the U of A for its efforts in three areas:

  • Investing in the technological infrastructure to create a teaching and learning environment that allows true connection in the hybrid classroom. This includes a dedicated classroom for hybrid classes, equipped with state-of-the-art video and audio, which facilitates smooth, ordered integration of all students.
  • Investing in staff members who provide extraordinary administrative support, including a single point person who is available during any synchronous class, whose sole job is to connect the residential students and online students using this technology.
  • Investing in faculty members who appreciate and understand how this technology works and how to seamlessly bring those students online into the classroom.

"As a teacher, it is clear to me that Arkansas also has invested in the training of its teachers, technologically and pedagogically," Murphy says.

During her time in the program, Murphy says, she's made friends with her classmates, developed professional relationships with her fellow students and professors, and discovered mentors who have helped her begin substantive work in ag and food law.

"In addition to these hybrid classes, I have taken intensive, short courses where the professor and all students were online together synchronously and semester-long (and shorter) asynchronous courses," she says. "In each of these, I feel just as connected to my professors and classmates as I would in a traditional, residential setting.

"I am grateful to the University of Arkansas for these investments and the faculty and administrators who work so hard to facilitate these connections; other online programs could be so lucky as to have the same."

The LL.M. in agricultural and food law offers a blog on its website.

Online Learner Blog Home


LL.M. in Agricultural and Food Law

The demand is increasing for attorneys who understand the complex issues covered in our LL.M. program in Agricultural and Food Law. Connections between food and health, food labeling and food safety, the impact of climate change on food production, farmed animal welfare, and environmental sustainability are but some of the emerging issues affecting all levels of our food system. For over thirty years, the U of A School of Law has led the nation in agricultural and food law education.

Program Page