Public legal education on the small screen

Public legal education on the small screen

Canadians watch a lot of online videos. In fact, we’re second only to the UK in online videos views with the average Canadian taking in an impressive 291 videos a month. According to StatsCan nearly 80 per cent of Canadians aged 18-64 watch videos online.

Education – including public legal education – is one of the many areas benefiting from the growing popularity of online video. Through websites such as Coursera and the Khan Academy, anyone with a broadband Internet connection can access high quality education material for free. (For a passionate discussion of the power of video-based education take a look at the Khan Academy TedTalk.) And although they’re taking a smaller-scale approach, public legal education organizations across Canada are also making excellent use of video to deliver their services.

“When developing our family law website we decided to include a video option for several reasons. The literacy rates in New Brunswick are extremely low. Being a rural province, facilitating access to information is always a challenge,” says Deborah Doherty, Executive Director of Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick (PLEIS-NB). PLEIS-NB sees videos “as one way to help address the needs of individuals who are auditory/visual learners whether because of low literacy in English or French, or by preference.”

In addition to their short family law-oriented videos, PLEIS-NB has also produced a number of longer videos hosted on Vimeo, which “educate and inform various segments of the population about particular law information topics,” including “youth in conflict with the law, youth victims of crime, abused women, and individuals who volunteer or sit on the board of charitable organizations.”

The Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta has also created videos for a range of audiences; their recent The Case of the Vacation Vegetables is aimed at kids, while other videos cover topics ranging from the Youth Criminal Justice Act to tips for landlords and tenants.

Both PLEIS-NB and CPLEA emphasize that videos are part of an integrated education effort, with additional print and in-person presentation materials playing an important role in providing context for the video-based information. Doherty says that PLEIS-NB knows its target audience, and works with other agencies and organizations to put strategies in place to reach these audiences. For example, the videos are used to assist in a monthly workshops series for self-representing family law litigants, which are delivered pro bono by local lawyers in many (often rural) locations.

Likewise, the CPLEA says that their videos are usually “paired with a print (or PDF) resource,” and are often incorporated into presentations, with positive results. “When the landlord/tenant videos have been shown at presentations, there is a good response,” with “some intermediaries ask[ing] if they can show their clients the videos.”

The ease and low cost of sharing online videos is another benefit. As the CPLEA points out, “videos are embeddable and shareable on social networks and can help spread our message and increase awareness of our organization and mission.” The CPLEA hosts their videos on YouTube, which add another level of connectivity since the online platform “suggests related videos allow[ing] users to find [the CPLEA’s] material serendipitously.”

Of course, online video is not without its drawbacks, especially for many Canadians living in rural areas. In New Brunswick, Doherty says that Wifi connections are limited, and that during their monthly family law presentations, “the videos can be choppy because of bandwidth issues, but that is the reality of living in a rural community.”

Overall, both public legal education organizations have been very pleased with the results of their foray into online video. The CPLEA has even recently invested in Final Cut Pro in order to improve the quality of their finished products and plans to release more videos in the future. And although Doherty isn’t sure when PLEIS-NB will produce more videos, which can be quite resource intensive, the feedback from their current offerings has been positive.

“Court staff and members of the legal community have often told us that they refer clients to the Family Law or PLEIS-NB websites,” Doherty says. “Some specifically mention that they point out that there are videos available since this is one way to direct individuals to information without having to assess their reading levels.”

Does your organization use online videos for education purposes? Share your stories below.

Andi Argast

About Andi Argast

Freelance writer, part-time LAO Communications Advisor, full-time grad student (critical information studies). Interested in digital activism and community informatics. Opinionated in a good way.