The Opportunity to Learn from Other Disciplines (And Maybe in our Own Backyards) About Teaching Online

This is the third of three posts about finding opportunities in the changes we are required to make in legal education because of the rapid spread of Covid-19. The last two focused on grading and employment, this one is about teaching.

The law school classroom, as we know, is a venerable if sometimes creaky battleship.  Its tendency is to keep moving on the same path and turning it is so difficult that until now all reasons for not doing so drowned out the voices of many who believed turning it was long overdue. Another barrier to change has been a lack of specific evidence combined with a deep commitment to law school “exceptionalism”-a belief that we should not adopt contemporary best practices for teaching and learning because none were developed specifically for law school. (As well, perhaps, a fear that by doing so we will make ourselves less special or less rigorous or too transparent). Going forward, this opportunity to pause and learn new things is not just about“ online teaching” but about “online teaching” as part of “excellent teaching.”

Law School Specific Resources

It is reasonable in the current crisis to seek help first from those among us who have successfully taught law online. I have learned a lot from many people and am exceptionally grateful for the generosity of people who have shared their knowledge and expertise.  Anyone who has yet watched the AALS Technology Section’s webinars  or visited Sara Berman’s AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence and, of course, the Best Practices For Legal Education blog edited by Professor Mary Lynch with assistance from Jessica Haller and Eileen Roepe, is in for a treat and an immediate upgrade in knowledge, skills, and abilities. So many people have stepped in in specific disciplines to offer advice and share best-practices that if you haven’t gotten an announcement, it’s worth a search of the AALS website.  The Southeastern Association of Law Schools annual SEALS conference , July 30-August 5th, will offer its programs-including its always excellent teaching & learning sessions-online (as well as in person). This may also be a good time to remember that, like the Bluebird of Happiness, help can be found at home- from our colleagues who have had to go online to accommodate family moves or, especially, from those who teach students how to “do” law as well as “think about it.” They are well ahead in their use of technology–and we should be seeking their help at every turn.

Online Education Experts Outside of Law Schools

It is no diminution of any one’s expertise to say that legal education’s expertise in online education has been severely limited by the strength of opposition that until very recently limited ABA law schools from allowing students to earn more than a few credits online. That this has changed at all is due to the success of peers in other graduate and professional disciplines who have been doing high quality distance education for at least a decade.  So, 1) let’s look at the experts in online education and 2) let’s look at the materials of institutions who have devoted considerable resources to teaching excellence–and who have generously made available to all of us what they’ve developed.

Nursing education has been in the forefront of designing online education in response to the need to bring the many nurses practicing with an LPN the two years of extra college education they needed to acquire the now almost mandatory RN. Here and here are some of the imaginative things they are doing. Also, in direct response to concerns about prestige, have a look at what’s going on in business schools–which have all developed online programs. Here’s MIT, Wharton, Harvard, ,and Kellogg‘s take on online teaching. Additionally, we should look for guidance to programs at places like Stanford and  Purdue Global which offer hundreds of online post-graduate programs.  And finally, perhaps just as much for those who are now either law professors or Pre-K through 12 instructors, there is the example of Australia’s “School of the Air” which, since 1951, has been offering comprehensive education in every subject area to children who live in locations too remote to attend a physical school building as well as, in general, some very good teaching resources offered by various offices of Australia’s Department for Education.

Institutions Offering Just-in-Time Teaching Advice for “Crash” online education

In addition to those institutions with long experience teaching online, there are now many who were forced into doing so by the Covid-19 virus.  But unlike law schools, they had in place a substantial infra-structure to support teaching across the university–and they have a lot to offer us. One of my favorite sources of help & inspiration for teaching hard things to very smart students is Harvard Medical School’s Macy Institute.

Others resources to check out are from the, of course, always excellent UFL and Texas Tech and also from Columbia, Howard, the University of Texas at Austin, and, particular,  this one from Dartmouth about how to conduct remote lab activities and experiences–lots of ideas we can translate to our own experiential exercises. A quick look at the “teaching resources” of any school you’ve ever heard of may reveal a treasure trove of helpful information.

Finally, as we work to provide excellent education online we must also increase our work to make law school classrooms places that value & promote equity, diversity, and inclusion. Here are some helpful resources from Rice, UC Davis, and some info targeted directly at students with specific learning disabilities which might make online classes challenging from UNC (including some resources specifically for faculty & staff)

In conclusion, while there are excellent resources for help with online teaching specific to law, this is a great opportunity to be more open to borrowing new methods and new ideas–and I’d suggest that until we can all be together again, there is a lot out there to inspire us.

Jennifer S. Bard, Visiting Professor, University of Florida, Levin College of Law

One Response

  1. CALI is about to wrap up a 7 session mini-course titled Preparing for the Future of Legal Education – Online Teaching Tips & Techniques that not only featured a number of law faculty talking about how they coped wit the spring emergency but also how they are preparing for the fall but included 2 presenters from outside legal academia who offer a broader perspective on online teaching and learning. The 7th session is Tuesday June 30th at 3:00 PM CT and is open to all. The entire course is available on the course blog at https://onlineteaching.classcaster.net/.

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