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Saturday, March 14, 2020

More on Online Teaching

From Seth C. Oranburg comes more advice and strategies for law professors moving to online teaching. Here is what he writes, as a short version of his longer ssrn article which is linked below:

Law school is going online, suddenly and quickly. Are you ready? Most of us are not – but here are some suggestions that will make teaching online simpler.

First you need to understand your options. There are two main ways to go online: synchronously and asynchronously. What’s the difference and which should you pick?

I.       Synchronous.

A.    What is it?

Synchronous distance education essentially means using teleconference software to hold virtual class meetings online. Participants use microphones and webcams so they can hear and see each other. Software features usually include a way to share what’s on your screen (e.g., your PowerPoint slides) and a chat function. Your law school probably subscribes to some teleconference software already; if they don’t, you can get a single-user subscription to WebEx for less than $30/month.

B.    Pro

Holding live virtual classes online is not that different from classroom teaching – although you should expect less class discussion and might need to employ lecture more than Socratic dialogue. You can show students the same slides and ask the same discussion questions as you did in the classroom. Advanced used can assign students to discussion groups and check in on group collaboration. There is less new prep. The software from major vendors (Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx) is reliable and reasonably easy to learn how to use. You can record the sessions so students can watch them again later.

C.    Con

Some new equipment may be required. Faculty should purchase a stereo headset with a boom microphone so they can be clearly heard. A good webcam with a stand is also important. Since students can see you, you (and your office) need to look professional. Getting students to speak up is difficult – they are even more nervous than the faculty about looking and sounding good in front of their peers.

Large classes require special considerations online. Participants cannot all be displayed at once, and someone has to control the audio so only one person is speaking while others are muted. Inevitably, someone will have connection problems, which can distract the rest of the class.

D.    Tips and Tricks

Hold a practice meeting with your students before the first real class. Create a video or at least provide written instructions for your students about how to use the teleconference software. Make expectations about attendance and participation clear.

If you have trouble with student engagement, have your students complete an online assignment, such as a discussion board, at least one day before the class meets. Present questions on the discussion board that you would also like to discuss with the live virtual class. Review their answers before class to identify which students seem to get it and to determine what the class is missing. Call on the students who get it to highlight the key things the class as a whole misunderstood. Consider letting the students know ahead of time if they will be called on so they are prepared not only with regard to the subject matter but also in terms of turning on their webcams and ensuring their audio works well.

E.     Bottom Line

Synchronous is best: small classes, one-time events, quick set-up

Avoid synchronous if: large classes, slow internet speeds

II.     Asynchronous

A.    What Is it?

Asynchronous distance education is a broad term that includes everything from correspondence classes to interactive online environments. Having your students spend time researching a topic and writing an essay technically counts as asynchronous distance education – but having students watch videos and then perform related tasks on which they get feedback is the modern use of this term.

B.    Pro

When designed properly, asynchronous learning environments can accelerate student learning. Students can learn at their own pace. Professors get regular feedback on student performance and can thereby identify and help struggling students sooner. The materials can be re-used in future semesters or shared with other faculty for use in this same semester.

C.    Con

Creating good videos is hard. Faculty cannot simply use their slides from class or talk into their webcam for an hour. If the videos are not juxtaposed with active learning exercises, students may not pay attention to or even watch the videos at all. Faculty must make extra efforts to maintain a sense of community, as students tend to burn out and fade away. Student learning plummets on poorly designed learning environments.

The learning curve for faculty is steep. Most law professors are not trained on how to make effective educational videos and learning activities for online learning environments. However, some tips and tricks can mitigate some of these problems.

D.    Tips and Tricks

Put away the webcam, students don’t need to see your face. Instead, get a decent microphone and record voice over PowerPoint slides. Divide your class lessons into their smallest parts. Each video should be about 5-10 minutes long with about 5-10 slides – 20 slides max per video. Make scripts before you start recording. If you stumble or words or say the wrong thing while recording, rewind to the start of the slides and start again. If you do a good job in the video production, you don’t have to learn how to use post-production software and instead can simply export and upload the .MP4 version of your voice-over-PowerPoint.

After each (short) video, ask your students to make a brief journal entry. This activates their learning, and it is not burdensome for faculty to create journal activities and to review the results. Require regular tests or essay and give students feedback on these.

E.     Bottom Line

Asynchronous is best: large classes, repeated classes, self-directed learners

Avoid asynchronous if: time crunched, don’t like PowerPoint

III.   Summary

Whether you go with a synchronous or an asynchronous format depends in large part on your goals: are you trying to get by in a crisis, or is this an opportunity to step up your teaching skills and create valuable new content for the future?

In general, the synchronous approach is lower risk and lower reward. It’s essentially an inferior substitute for meeting in person, but it will get the job done, and it’s not that hard to do well enough. If your goal is to get through this coronavirus kerfuffle, you should probably just set up a virtual classroom and keep going through the term’s material.

The asynchronous approach, on the other hand, is a chance to turn lemons into lemonade, in the sense that the really good online learning environment can substantially improve student learning. If you want to look at this pandemic as an opportunity to step up your teaching skills, go for it! Be cautioned, however, that it’s a lot of work to do it right, and distance education is ineffective when done wrong.

I hope this short post helps you decide how to move forward with distance education in this time of coronavirus. If you would like to take a deeper dive into these concepts, please check out my article on SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3553911

Posted by Orly Lobel on March 14, 2020 at 08:20 PM | Permalink

Comments

Thanks a lot! Very helpful tips for teaching lessons during a pandemic.
When we were transferred to homeschooling, I was a little confused. I have no experience in distance learning and am not an advanced computer user. Now I see some advantages in online education. I love the fact that video communication classes can be made a little more fun. With the transition to online education, I realized that you don't need to be such a snob. Now I do not blame my students for using OnlineWritersRating because this is just a quality review service to help with their studies. Some of my students are not made for writing

Posted by: Charly Wiliamse | Oct 23, 2020 5:57:24 PM

I agree with you, creating good videos is hard.
I I was searching for this information on google

Posted by: Boby Denriks | Oct 17, 2020 8:30:08 AM

Rebecca, I don't think it's either/or. If you do synchronous classes on Zoom (at least on the version that we have linked through Blackboard), you click on automatic recording in the setup. If you save the recording in the cloud (you can also save to your computer), students in circumstances as you describe can watch the recording at their convenience.

Another related issue that concerns many students in that position is which asynchronous classes pose an "attendance" problem. My understanding is that schools (and the ABA) are going to be lenient about counting the asynchronous viewing of a class as one "attended."

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Mar 15, 2020 7:24:20 PM

Many thanks for the helpful post, but you didn't mention the factor I found most decisive in selecting between a/sync classes - student need.

I'm assuming that many of my students are/may become sick or otherwise impaired in this stressful environment, are/may become caretakers for those who are sick, are/may be dealing with unstable employment requirements, and are/may deal with unexpected childcare obligations as schools and day cares close.

Given this, and given that my students didn't sign up for remote education (and thus cannot be expected to have the internet connection/equipment necessary for sync classes), I've decided to make the remainder of my spring course async. Fingers crossed!

Posted by: Rebecca Crootof | Mar 14, 2020 10:31:26 PM

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