Tips for Teaching #Law Online, in the Event of a COVID-19 Shut Down of Law Schools

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I’ve been teaching Federal Income Tax and Wills,Trusts & Estates in mixed live/online formats since 2009. I put together a short video for colleagues with thoughts about how to teach law classes in distance formats, whether synchronous or asynchronous, if the public health situation requires us to do so. The video does not address technology issues (i.e., what format is best for any one particular class), but rather offers thoughts on big picture issues/concerns when moving a traditional law class on line. A few of the tips are idiosyncratic to my school (i.e., who to ask for help supporting a particular program), but most of the tips are applicable across the legal academy.

To summarize, my tips are these:

  1. If you are teaching synchronously, try to do so in your regularly scheduled class time, so as not to create scheduling conflicts for students. If you are teaching asynchronously, try to get your recordings/assignments up before the class otherwise would meet live, or, as a default, no later than 24 hours after a regularly scheduled class would have met.
  2. Keep our eyes on the goal of delivering the best educational experience we can, within the constraints we are have, including time and training.  Don’t feel like you have to radically re-organize your course. 
  3. Instructor availability to students matters especially in the distance format — make sure to schedule virtual office hours.  Consistency is important.  Don’t suddenly add new assignments and requirements just because the class unexpectedly must be taught in a distance format. Make sure to stay in regular contact with students.
  4. Random additional nuggets of wisdom I’ve acquired in teaching online for 11 years:
    • Employ visuals, especially if teaching a class asynchronously.  I don’t like to see myself on screen, but it’s not about me.  The student feedback is that they feel more connected when they can see their instructor.
    • Provide students a roadmap when teaching online, whether in the format of an outline that can be downloaded, or a list on the screen that students can reference during the online session.
    • Record in small chunks.  Don’t do what I did for years, and make the mistake of recording sessions that lasted 1 hour 50 minutes. Break the session into 20-minute segments. If you have to rerecord, you’ll be glad to have to re-do one segment only. Also, if you don’t refer to super-current events, you may end up building a library of recordings that you can use in future semesters.
    • Develop appropriate mechanisms for attendance and accountability. Obviously, if large numbers of students are sick, very strict attendance policies will need to be relaxed, but you’ll want to be able to monitor student progress.
    • Build in lots of opportunities for feedback to students. I do this through quizzes (that do not count toward a student’s grade) that provide students with the opportunity to apply the material from the distance class session.
    • Much of what we do in live classes can be done via distance sessions — group work, working with a partner, self-assessment, etc. With a little creative thinking, we can do those things slightly differently (and equally successfully) online.
    • The students want their professors to be successful instructors just as much as we want them to to be successful learners. We’re all in this together and will work together to deliver the best education we can under the circumstances.  Perfection isn’t required.

The video (about 24 minutes) is available below for anyone who is interested.

(cross-posted from Faculty Lounge)

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