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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Altering courses mid-stream

The move to remote instruction affects course coverage because class moves more slowly. There is a time lag, however slight, between when I call on a student and when she unmutes her microphone and gets ready to answer. In-person, I relied on volunteers, which limited the possibility of calling on someone who had no clue or was unprepared to talk. This meant fewer long silences, fewer times repeating a question or backing up to prior principles, and less time spent deciding when to try to work the student through something and when to move on or to bring in "co-counsel." Having to cold-call introduces those delays. (This should not be read as a knock on my students this semester, who have been prepared and engaged through a lot of technological and personal problems). But things move slowly.

This affects course coverage. When we went inside, we had about half a day left on discovery. This was followed on the syllabus by Summary Judgment, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Personal Jurisdiction, Venue, and Erie. With nine 70-minute classes remaining, I have to make some hard choices.

Erie is gone. This is too bad because I like teaching it and it is the most "gamey" part of the class. I assign two cases--Erie and Hanna--then we work through a series of current problems to illustrate the various moves on the flowchart. I will miss doing this.

• I skipped the capstone problem for Discovery (based on a long-ago lawsuit in which Coca-Cola bottlers attempted to obtain the formula in discovery), in which I split the class into parties and work through the discovery issues. I could not make it work online, with cold-calling.

• On SMJ, I am basically skipping Federal Question Jurisdiction. We examined the different types of statutes and I will lecture (or post a primer on the course blog) about the Well Pleaded Complaint Rule and about the Mims standard for arising under. I am less concerned about this because I focus on FQJ in Fed Courts, going beyond what I do in Civ Pro to include Grable and complete preemption. It may be that this cursory overview becomes the new normal.

• On Personal Jurisdiction, I expect to have, at best, 7 days to cover what I usually cover in about 9+ (including Venue). My plan is to skip Pennoyer and lecture/write a primer on the different types of actions (in personam, in rem, etc.) and the basic idea of the Power Theory.

I will swing back in three weeks and let you know how it goes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 29, 2020 at 02:04 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


Howard: I generally run a very interactive classroom with turn-and-talks and in-role exercises and whatnot, and the difference between my 110 student course and my 28 student course on Zoom this semester has been pretty negligible. Some things work/translate, others don't, and the key factor typically isn't number of students.

The frustration that I feel with delivering online education comes, I think, from trying to replicate what I do in the classroom face-to-face in a completely different medium. Best practices for each are significantly different. While Zoom has been a thankful tool during these crazy times, for continuity and for some much appreciated social interaction, a course designed to be delivered online would/should be a different class than one delivered in the classroom (and it wouldn't be designed to happen 100% on Zoom). Transitioning on the fly has been like being a player in the NFL/MLB and being traded midseason to a team in the Australian Football League/Indian Premier Cricket League. Some of my skills translate, but I'm a bit out of sorts and baffled by some of what's going on.

For what it's worth, you can type the student name into the participant search bar in Zoom, and can unmute the student there before or as you call on that student (no need to look through 135 mini screens to find them). I use it to check that a student is "in the room" before I call on the student, and unmute them as I do. This isn't going to make a meaningful difference in time delays, but it's a feature that professors might wish to know about.

Posted by: Kevin Lapp | Mar 30, 2020 1:01:22 PM

135 students is a lot of students in any environment. I had 125 in Business Entity Fundamentals a year ago. My sympathies.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 30, 2020 10:51:34 AM

I have 135 students in there (combining two sections of the course). I can't see everyone at once. So it would take me more time to find the student I called on (going alphabetically by last name) in the list of 135 names than to wait for the student to unmute themselves.

I still do not like this way of teaching. But I think it would be closer to what I do in-person in a class with 15-20 students, where I could see everyone on the screen.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 30, 2020 9:14:53 AM

Howard, I am almost positive that you can unmute the student's microphone as you are calling on him/her/them.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 30, 2020 9:04:27 AM

This sounds like a really wonderful plan.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Mar 29, 2020 3:43:09 PM

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