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Vol. 9 - Issue 4
May 31, 2020


What I Saw: Teaching Law School Remotely


Like schools everywhere, Temple Law School switched to on-line classes when the coronavirus made it unsafe to gather in classrooms.  So, for the last five weeks of the Spring semester, I traded Room 7A of the law school building, for my home office, to teach Insurance Law 0549.  Much has been said about on-line learning.    My take - I found it to be challenging but effective.

My sixteen students appeared on the screen each Monday morning.  Attendance was nearly perfect.  That’s definitely not the case with in-person teaching.  Sure, there were some tech issues here and there.  Static sometimes made it hard to hear and things had to be repeated.  And my dogs barked a few times and I had to put one of them in detention. 

Speaking of dogs, I had bring your cats and dogs to class one week.  We all met everyone’s best furry friends.  And my daughter showed up one class and discussed her new snow cone maker with the students.  I also enjoyed teaching in casual attire over a suit.  It could be the only time ever that a law school class was taught by the professor wearing an Elvis t-shirt.  That’s probably never even happened at Memphis Law School. 

But as for what matters most – the learning – I believe that the format was effective for conveying the substantive information to the students.  There were even a couple of lectures where I thought I did a better job on the material than in past semesters. 

I can’t say enough about how great the students were.  I could see that they were getting worn out by the situation as the semester drew to a close.  But they came totally prepared, were committed to making the best of a difficult situation, stayed focused – which is an understood difficulty in an on-line learning format -- and participated when I asked them to.       
The biggest downside was that the environment made it more difficult to get a robust classroom discussion going.  This too is a widely-acknowledged challenge of an on-line classroom.  Maybe it’s because the students did not feel a personal connection to the class.  Also, the need for students to unmute their mics – even though it just takes a second -- took away the immediacy of dialogue, from one student to the next, that makes for a good class discussion.  And, unlike being in class, I couldn’t stare at a student to give him or her a hint that I’d like to get a comment from them.  But I didn’t press the students to speak.  I was just appreciative that they were being so attentive and didn’t want to give them any angst.  This led to the need for more lecturing from me.  After nearly two hours my voice started to give out and I was exhausted.           
But one trick that I did employ in a couple of classes, to get some interaction, was to have the students give a five minute pre-prepared summary of a case.  This got them to speak, while eliminating the stress of being called-on cold.  And this benefited everyone by providing a very diverse look (16 examples) at the case law on a certain issue.    

Look, for sure, teaching is best done in an in-person classroom.  But, all things considered, on-line learning was effective.  Not to mention that the switch happened overnight, so there was no real time on my part to prepare for the change in format.  With the ability to prepare, tips from experts, and now knowing what to expect and the challenges needed to be overcome, changes can be made to improve the experience.  Importantly, student exams did not reflect any deficiencies in the areas that were taught by Zoom.  But, of course, not every class is created equal when it comes to its conduciveness for an on-line format. 

Here is our class photo, which my students kindly let me share, as well as a certain bad dog that needed to be put into detention.

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