Thoughts for Law Professors Contemplating Moving to Virtual Classes

This photo depicts a laptop on a wooden table, with a watch on the table to the left and an iPhone and airpods case on the table to the right.

Most law schools have now moved to remote education, at least for some period of time. I have had a chance to think about online education for some time, as I moved my bar support class to a flipped classroom with a distance education component over a year ago. (You can read my musings about that here.) Here are five things I am thinking about this morning.

  1. Make sure that your students are prepared. Sending them Susan Landrum’s post is a great start. Some of your students may rely on your school’s food pantry for school, and other supports for social services. They will need to plan now.
  2. Don’t assume that this is just business as usual, but virtual. Faculty are often used to doing a lot of work at home. Staff and students may not be. Just reproducing what we do in a virtual space is not going to work. We cannot assume that our students will have a fully functional computer and internet set-up and a quiet place to work from home at the exact time your class meets. You will need to redesign your course and think about what portions are best done in face-to-face online communication, and what pieces can be done in different modalities. Not everything can be done in real-time. Deadlines and timeframes will need to change.
  3. Have multiple methods of communicating with your students. Many of us are relying on Zoom. They’re great, but they may go down. You likely have access to course management systems such as Blackboard, TWEN, or Lexis WebCourses. You can set up a Slack Channel, or Facebook Group for your course. You can use a program such as Remind to set up a text messaging group for your course. You can post videos to Vocat or TedEd. Email works too, but students are often inundated with email, so it’s best to post communications in multiple places. You can use Google Docs or Dropbox Paper to create a virtual whiteboard, and allow multiple people to edit a document simultaneously.
  4. You don’t have to reinvent everything. Your school probably already pays for subscriptions to study aid packages such as those through West Academic, Wolters Kluwer, or CALI. Many interactive lessons have already been created that you can incorporate into your course.
  5. Remember that your students will be accessing information from different platforms. Whatever you use, should be able to be seen on a desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone. PDFs may work better than Word documents. Posting materials in advance of holding a synchronous online class can make things much easier as well. In particular, think about students with disabilities, and the multiple ways that people need to access information.

Again, this isn’t just business as usual. People will get sick or will be caring for people who are sick. Stress and anxiety will increase, and will cause people to get sick with things other than the coronavirus because our immune systems don’t respond well to heightened stress and anxiety. Many of our students likely work hourly wage jobs in retail and hospitality industries that are taking a hit. They may lose hours or lose their jobs. That will enhance their financial stress. Even if schools shut down, many staff will be required to come in.

Remember that we’re among the most privileged people on earth – we get to work from home and will still have a steady paycheck. Other members of our community do not share that same privilege, and therefore will likely not respond to this crisis in the same way.

Be flexible. Be patient. Be kind.