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Technology Enhances Student Experience at Thomas Jefferson School of Law

December 14, 2012
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Courtrooms and law practice are not always associated with advancements in technology. When I think of courtrooms and law offices, my head is filled with thoughts of leather-bound reference volumes and mahogany desks covered in legal pads. But in contrast, many law schools have begun to embrace advanced technology in an effort to enhance their programs. In the case of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, the benefits go above and beyond delivering an innovative student experience.

Thomas Jefferson (TJSL), based in San Diego, has leveraged technology to not only improve the quality of the student experience, but also expand the flexibility of their degree programs. This innovative law school has technology-enabled classrooms that permit video conference and distance leaning, and the school’s cloud-based computing network allows students, faculty, and staff to access and share files from laptops, virtual machines, and mobile devices.  What’s more, Thomas Jefferson accomplishes all of this, while also being environmentally conscious.

I had the opportunity to speak with James Cooper, former Chief Information Officer at TJSL, to learn more about technology in, around, and above the classrooms:

“Number one for us was to ensure that technology ‘stayed out of the way’ of learning. The TJSL classrooms all include high definition projectors, document cameras, video conferencing capabilities and more, yet all of the technology is discrete, accessible by a single control panel and simple/clear enough to use that the professor does not need to have an AV operator around.”

Facilitating Communication and Information Exchange

Going beyond simply wiring the classroom, Thomas Jefferson wanted to use technology to facilitate and extend the communication capabilities for students and staff. Students can access additional resources within campus through large touch screens built into the walls of public areas and elevator lobbies. The screens offer news, announcements, events, building maps, and a personnel directory. The interactive screens even display sports scores (Go Padres!), weather information, and data on the building’s solar capabilities (more on that later).

Information and additional resources are made available to students and faculty through the school’s use of cloud-based networks. Upon accessing the wireless network, students are directed to a customized student portal that provides information and announcements similar to the touchscreens.  Customizing this portal directly for students has enabled the school to focus the public facing web site for news, recruiting, and other external needs. Students and faculty are also able to take advantage of VMWare virtualization, which enables virtual desktops that can be accessed from anywhere. In the case of one student group, the Tax Law Society, they were able to prepare tax returns from any location – while ensuring all data remained on TJSL servers.

Powering the Cloud With the Sun

In addition to providing a high-tech environment, Thomas Jefferson wanted to do so while also keeping a strong commitment to environmental responsibility. First, by virtualizing all the school’s servers and 90% of the desktop computers, TJSL was able to reduce IT power consumption considerably. Secondly, by installing a 49 kilowatt solar array with 270 modules on the roof of the school, the building generates enough electricity to power the school’s data centers. In other words, all of the servers, switches, routers, and cloud computers are virtually energy neutral. Powering the cloud from the sun, it does not get much more innovative than that.