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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Online teaching

FIU (and the rest of Florida's State University System) joined the parade of colleges and universities by moving to "remote instruction" (ah, euphemisms) effective tomorrow. It starts with my 9:30 a.m. Civ Pro course, for which Zoom has not been set-up. It should not be surprising that I am not happy about this development. Not only do I find online law teaching a horrible idea. Not only are we, by necessity, rushing into it without preparation or organization. But I fear that this is the camel's nose for people who want online education (legal and otherwise) to become the new normal--"see how well it worked, let's put everything online so we are ready for the next emergency and never again have to worry about rushed transitions."

This defense of online education (sorry, remote instruction takes the cake, especially the start of the fourth paragraph:

But teaching online wasn’t that different from the classroom experience I was accustomed to. It was often more fun than standing at a lectern working through a well-worn set of PowerPoint slides. The trick was making it as personal as possible and accepting that sometimes, the technology fails and you figure it out. 

Anything is more fun than standing at a lectern working through a well-work set of PowerPoint slides. But if all you were doing is standing at lectern working through well-worn slides, then you were not doing a good job of teaching in the first place. So a poor facsimile of the educational experience will not seem much worse.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 11, 2020 at 09:22 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


I think the trick is this:

"I worked with a talented co-instructor who helped lead and teach the class, an administrator and a full-time “educational technologist” who helped craft our online curriculum. We conducted three surveys during the semester to be sure that NYU’s online students were mastering the material as if they were live in a classroom."

How many schools have this kind of resource support not to mention the time to deploy it across campus in an emergency?

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Mar 12, 2020 8:14:48 PM

"..I am criticizing a view of online education as, outside of this emergency, a good thing..."

I get that, but "emergency" is sometimes localized. Sick kid, medical problem, pregnancy, etc are emergencies for the student that could be mitigated by online learning. We found the same when doing an ADA audit of our website. The changes we made to make things more accessible also made the website better for the abled. F2F is the best. Online can be good enough and for some it's better. I am not saying you have to cater to all students' whims, but learning the skills of effective teaching and interactive - which this crisis is teaching us - is a good thing for all teaching.

BTW, I have been collecting advice, videos and tweet streams from law faculty who have been sharing here - www.cali.org/corona

Posted by: John Mayer | Mar 12, 2020 7:25:58 PM

FIU had been doing what Suzanna suggests for the past 1 1/2 weeks before they decided to change last night. Attendance in some upper-level classes cratered; attendance in my Civ Pro class was pretty good (except for the day before a writing assignment was due).

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 12, 2020 11:47:44 AM

Even in this situation I think forcing us to move to remote or online teaching is an overreaction and a bad idea, at least for law schools where (1) our students don't usually live in dorms; (2) our students are adults who can decide whether to attend class or not (more on that later); and (3) the Socratic method with 60 or 80 or 100 students simply isn't adaptable to zoom or any other remote or on-line platform. For this "emergency" we should simply audiotape all our classes and post them for students who prefer not to attend -- something that some of my colleagues (not me) do all the time.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Mar 12, 2020 10:09:55 AM

I have been teaching online courses since 2012. It has potential and it can be a great tool in some situations BUT using zoom is not online teaching. Taping a lecture and putting it online for students to watch is not teaching, it is a great way to put a student to teach. The idea that you can simply turn a course over night to an online version shows that some one does not understand teaching at all, not online or in a class room.

Posted by: Ilan Fuchs | Mar 12, 2020 1:00:57 AM


I agree with you about online learning. In a time, when education scholars are stressing the importance of active learning, law schools (and colleges)should not be moving to more online learning. I realize it is cheaper, but law schools should not lower the quality of instruction to save a few bucks.

Scott Fruehwald

How To Grow A Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors, and Law Students (2018)

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Mar 12, 2020 12:51:42 AM

I have participated in more distance training (US DOT, HAZWOPER, Process Safety Management, environmental risk management) than I care to remember. The challenge for the instructor is the limited ability to view the faces of the students to gauge whether or not the key ideas are sinking in. Obviously, when in a lecture hall, or small classroom, the discussions between the instructor and the students as well as between the students provides the stimulation for additional thought and synthesis.

Posted by: Paul Sonnenfeld | Mar 12, 2020 12:02:53 AM

I am not complaining about online teaching in the current circumstances, which is obviously essential in a unique crisis. And nothing in the OP says as much. I am criticizing a view of online education as, outside of this emergency, a good thing.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 11, 2020 11:22:43 PM

In english 101 we're already assigned books from centuries ago. Isn't reading the works of dead white males already "distance-learning". At least when we watch a video online we see your face and hear your voice.

Posted by: Homeschooling | Mar 11, 2020 11:14:12 PM

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