Magistrates Train Online

How can a magistrate judge in Ashburn, GA, attend a training in Jasper, GA, without spending a dime or being out of the office an hour?   On January 20, 2012, Judge Allen Wigington, Chief Magistrate, Pickens County, taught the first of a series of web-based, real-time trainings (webinars) that allow magistrates to stay in their offices and earn credits toward their annual Continuing Education requirement.  That Abandoned Motor Vehicle course promises to be just the tip of the iceberg for judges contending with cash-strapped counties and tight travelling regulations.
 
alt That same course, if offered in a traditional classroom training session, might cost a judge a day away from the office, a three-hour drive to Athens, a hotel room, and the expense of meals.  Now, judges can receive an hour of instruction and continue with their day-to-day work without leaving the office.
 
Three pilot classes were conducted with 10-15 judges participating during each class.  Judges from rural, suburban, and urban areas of the state were represented during the testing phase. 
 
Working Together
The webinars are the result of a collaboration of the Council of Magistrate Court Judges, Institute of Continuing Judicial Education, and the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Mr. Byron Branch, formerly of the AOC, and Ms. Sharon Reiss, Executive Director, Council of Magistrate Court Judges, began work on the webinars in 2011 as a way to offer cost-effective instruction to Georgia’s magistrate judges.  Judge Wigington and Judge Betsey Kidwell, Magistrate, Heard County, were instrumental in the production and development of the courses.
 
Mr. Richard Reaves, Executive Director, Institute of Judicial Education, says of the new training, “The ICJE is striving to collaborate with the Council of Magistrate Court Judges to fashion and furnish a series of short courses enabling computer-based delivery of instruction.”  Commonly known as “webinars” in the current on-line training industry, they rely upon the Citrix family of internet-connected software, i.e., “Go To Meeting”, “Go To Webinar” and “Go To Training”.  About six courses of one hour’s duration are desired for pilot-testing in Georgia through 2012, with MCJE credit available for each one.
 
The National Judicial College, The Institute for Court Management of the National Center for State Courts, The Federal Judicial Center as well as state judicial education organizations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin are gaining experience with offering on-line CJE in similar short course formats, employing the Citrix family or other software.  ICJE already provides a series of 12-hour on-line courses, using the e-Learning Commons platform.  eLC affords an intensive and highly interactive computer-based learning experience, which could be nicely complemented by the new webinar efforts currently being pursued. 
 
Some travel still required
Not all training will be available for on-line learning, but “these webinars are ideal for judges who may only need one or two hours of training,” said Ms. Reiss.  As budgets shrink, the webinars make the most of existing computers and technology to instruct judges in multiple locations at the same time. “Our judges are enthusiastic about using the resources currently available in their offices to earn their hours.”
 
Other than some technical hiccups, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Instructions to join the webinar were clear and most respondents said they were able to follow the on-line course just as clearly as they might in a classroom setting.
 
Survey responses to the on-line training included:
 
• In our budget strapped times (when even postage is an issue) training costs are coming under more scrutiny.  Online training gives us the same content, with some limited ability to meet our colleagues, as in person training without all the costs.
 
• I love the idea of being able to have the training at my own office.  I hope there will be more opportunities for this type of training.
 
•  This is an asset to the judicial training.  It allows judges who need a few hours here and there to obtain those hours and not be turned over to the JQC.  It will be less burdensome to judges, counties and staff.
 
• I think this is an excellent idea for judicial training and I hope that we are allowed to do this again.  We all need training and there are so many topics we are not able to necessarily cover due to the expense of traveling to the larger training sessions at various venues.  This is a very good way to keep us up-to-date on legislative changes, training for new members of the judiciary and refreshers for various topics that we are unable to cover at the annual recertification classes.

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