Emory Law is planning on having at least some classes on campus in the Fall and faculty and staff have spent all Spring working hard to figure out how to make this happen. Safety is the top priority and anything can change at the drop of a hat based on the pandemic, but right now, we plan on having mainly the 1L classes on campus with many of the upper level classes being taught remotely. The 1L class will be divided up into groups with the classes being taught in the larger classrooms (with social distancing) on alternate days. For example, a Monday + Wednesday “come to campus” group, a Tuesday + Thursday group, and a Saturday + to be determined day group.
The professors will be “simulcasting” their classes, where they are in front of a live class giving a lecture, with some students also taking the class remotely at the same time. Both sets of students will be on Zoom and there will be a screen behind the professor showing the Zoom screen and chat box along with all of the remote and physically present students displayed in their “Brady Bunch” styled boxes. The class roll of all students will be taken, and students will still have to show up for class during the allotted time and will be expected to participate during the class. The use of headphones by the live students in the classroom during the simulcast class will help eliminate excess noise and feedback since all involved with be on Zoom using their laptops.
The faculty and librarians have had two wonderful sessions so far, taught by the ELS Executive Director of Online Learning, to help us learn tips and techniques for how to make these Fall semester simulcast and Zoom classes a reality. I’ve learned that while TAs know the subject matter of a class, having a TR (which stands for “Technical Rep” or “Zoom Assistant”) for these online and simulcast classes may actually be more ideal if you can get one. TRs can run a professor’s Zoom polls, manage online breakout groups, manage the Zoom chat function for questions and troubleshoot microphone, camera and computer problems during a class. I’ve also learned it may be good to have someone other than the professor, manage and assist with the chat function during a class for additional class management and learning purposes. The assistant can post additional content and tidbits in the chat during the class thus keeping the students challenged and requiring them to pay closer attention. By expecting the students to focus on the chat as well as the Zoom lecture, they will also have less time to zone out or do other things online during the class.
I also have learned the importance of “Attention Checks” to keep students paying attention and engaged during the class. One good way to do this, is to set up and assign random buddies in the class. These peer checks allow students to check in with each other during the class by text or chat to make sure they are each following and understanding the subject matter. Before the students can ask a question, they are told to check with their class partner to see if they can help figure it out before asking the professor. The professor need not monitor this buddy system, but it does add some “social pressure” during the class to keep the students learning and engaged.
To my knowledge the faculty members at Emory Law are very supportive and interested in these new ways to deliver material and teach. The proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind. Although the reliance on teaching classes online is considered by many to be temporary measures adopted during a pandemic, I wonder if not all law students will want to completely go back to in-person classes when they can.
My Aunt, an extremely intelligent and hip retired librarian, told me a couple of years ago that colleges and graduate schools should embrace and learn how to offer more classes online. Her grandchildren were in their early 20’s and preferred taking some of their classes online. She told me that “Many students want to be able to learn anywhere, to be able to travel and take their classes on the beach if they want to or take them while comfortable in their own homes.” She said younger students want the “freedom to learn while being wherever they choose” that “offering only in-person classes can be so limiting”. My Aunt is in her late 80’s, but maybe she was right. Who knows? If the law students end up liking the freedom remote class options can bring and the ABA was okay with it, this may be the beginning of a new era in legal education.