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Friday, March 13, 2020

On two days of online teaching (sorry, remote instruction) (Updated)

Josh Blackman offers good thoughts on teaching via Zoom, which is the tool I have been using. My responses to Josh's bullet points and further thoughts after two days and four online classes (both 70-minute Civ Pro section). My verdict: Not as bad as it could have been; not my preference and I am unlikely to become a convert in support of this as the new normal.

1) Normal Appearance: Nope. I took advantage of this as the chance to wear shorts, a polo shirt, and a pullover. From the waist up, I look business casual. Not sure I am not going to wear a robe, a la Hogwarts, one day.

2) Put on a Show: Rather than sitting or standing in front of my laptop camera, I am conducting the class in a classroom, facing a Zoom camera with a screen showing the students. That is, I am conducting my regular class from my regular position in the room. I am pacing and moving around, as I do in class. The difference is I am talking to a screen of headshots rather than live people.

2 1/2) Dry-Erase Board:  The one limit on the "regular show" concerns the dry-erase board. I learned after the first class that it is useless--the camera cannot pick up what is written on it from a wide-field camera. So my usual interaction with stuff on the board (key language, flowcharts, maps of parties and claims) is out. My solution is to write out whatever I would put on the board and post it in advance of class to the course blog. It should work well enough.

3) Call on Students in Alphabetical Order: I do not cold-call in Civ Pro, relying on incentivized (participation is part of the final grade) volunteers. That cannot work in a large class because the Zoom screen only shows 25 people at a time. I am cold-calling, but I am doing it via the seating chart. I think it works as well as alphabetical, because the students know who they sit next to and so they are on notice when they might be next.

4) Switch the Camera Up: I see Josh's point about staring at one thing for too long. I think/hope that I overcome this because they do not see a close-up of my face, but what they would see if they were in the room. I am standing about 15 feet away from the unit, so I have no opportunity to play around.

5) Check the Chat Feature Often: My big lesson from day one to day two, along with stopping every 15-20 minutes for questions, either shouted out or on the chat feature. The students are using the chat feature to help one another out with answers. When a question was giving one student trouble, I cold-called the student who had answered it in the chat.

6) Virtual Office Hours: I love this idea and may try to implement it.

Other Thoughts:

• The interaction is slower and it takes longer to get through material--at least it feels that way. There is a time delay in the student response to me and likely in my response to the student. I think I am repeating rephrasing because I do not have a group of faces that I can read to determine if it is sinking in. Cold-calling contributes to that. With volunteers, the person answering is ready to go--if she is off the mark, I move on; if she is close or in the general vicinity, we can try to work through the question. With cold-calling, I feel obligated to try to work through it with someone who is at a complete loss.

• This probably relates to how I am using Zoom and that I do not have the computer right at my fingertips. I do bring up the speaker and I not necessarily see the person answering (if she is not one of the 25 on the first screen), so the back-and-forth is not visual. That makes it harder.

• That said, I my rethink cold-calling in Civ Pro when things return to normal. The students have been pretty good when called on, including some who had never or rarely raised their hands through the semester. I always have feared cold-calling a student who is lost and brings the conversation to a needle-screeching halt. But maybe my assumption has been wrong.

• I have had technological problems every class. This does not happen when the only "tech" problem I usually have is that the marker is out of ink.

• A question on economies of scale. I teach two sections of Civ Pro of ~65 each (the entire full-time class), opposite my colleague who teaches Crim to that group--I teach Section A and he teachers B in one time slot; then we flip in a second time slot. So would it work for each to combine section so we each teach once per day--I teach all ~130 Civ Pro in one time slot, my colleague teaches all in Crim in the other slot?

    I would never attempt to teach that many at once in an in-person class. But if I am cold-calling and the interaction is less engaged and more stilted, is there any drawback to adding more students to the mix? Everyone would have fewer opportunities to participate and I would have to jump between classes. But am I wrong that it would be less overwhelming and more efficient when it is remote?

Update: Diane Klein, an experienced online teacher, raises two points with which I agree:

    1) It was "ridiculous and impossible" to believe everyone--including professors (like me) who had never taught remotely and rejected the very idea--would be able to transition to teaching online in one day or one week and be able to do so effectively. She likens it an order that everyone begin teaching using American Sign Language, effective tomorrow.

    2) "[C]lose observers of higher ed in America cannot help but wonder how many of the courses that "migrate" to these online platforms during this crisis may never come back. " I said the same earlier in the week: There will be pressure to make this the new normal.

Second Update: As to # 1, consider these points that have been passed around; they seem to have started on Facebook. No one is expecting anyone to speak ASL; the goal is to muddle through so there is some level of understanding.

  1. Let’s acknowledge that the quality of education will not be as good in alternative formats as it is in the pedagogical model we’ve actually planned for. That’s OK as well—we’re just trying to survive.
  1. Do not read on best practices for distance learning. That’s not the situation we’re in. We’re in triage. Distance learning, when planned, can be really excellent. That’s not what this is. Do what you absolutely have to and ditch what you can. Thinking you can manage best practices in a day or a week will lead to feeling like you’ve failed.
  1. You will not recreate your classroom, and you cannot hold yourself to that standard. Moving a class to a distance learning model in a day’s time excludes the possibility of excellence. Give yourself a break.
  1. Prioritize: what do students really need to know for the next few weeks? This is really difficult, and, once again, it means that the quality of teaching and learning will suffer. But these are not normal circumstances.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 13, 2020 at 06:22 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


One small suggestion from one who has also had to transition in a hurry: If you want to rely on volunteers rather than cold-calling (which I dislike for a variety of reasons, including my desire the incentivize students to prepare and participate), you can use the "public chat" function. I tell students who wish to participate to to type "hi" into the chat bar. I can then call on them in the order that they appear in the chat bar, even though not all of them can appear on my screen.

Larry Rosenthal

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Mar 14, 2020 7:54:03 PM

Thanks for a very useful post! Wanted to mention, the first link is broken.

Posted by: Adam | Mar 14, 2020 1:49:12 PM

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