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Sunday, May 17, 2020

When the middle might be worse than the extreme

Although several months away, universities, including law schools, are trying to figure out how to conduct fall classes. This Inside Higher Ed piece from April offered fifteen scenarios. The favored approach seems to be a return to campus, but with social-distancing and other protocols and with accommodations for students and faculty with age, health, or other reasons for being unable to return to the workplace without a vaccine or herd immunity.*

[*] And assuming that the wave of reopenings in May and June does not produce spikes in cases in June and July that set us back by several months.

Which really means that most schools will be doing a hybrid. They will be mixing in-person, remote, and online classes. And  in-person classes must have remote components. Professors who want to return to the live classroom will have to divide their sections (half the class live on Day One, the other half live on Day Two) and combine it with interactive technology--namely some kind of Zoom or similar hook-up--for the students who cannot be there. (Recording or live-streaming the regular live class is not a reasonable accommodation).

I have been thinking about how this will work and I am not sure it will. My in-person classes work because of a high level of engagement with the students in the room--a rapidly moving conversation, my pacing and moving around the room a lot, and working with and off stuff written on the dry-erase boards. I do not see how I can do that while being close enough to the computer to interact with those students, answer questions, see who is chatting or raising a hand, etc. People on Zoom cannot see the dry-erase board, so visuals would have to be on share screen in addition to the Board. In being close enough to the computer to engage the remote students, however, I fear I am going to lose meaningful interaction with the students in the room.

Given that, I think I might prefer to keep the entire class via Zoom. I believe I reached a point in March and April were I could run a Zoom class that was a reasonable approximation of an engaged law-school course that challenged students, engaged students, and taught students what they needed to know. It remains inferior to an in-person class. But it may be preferable to a hybrid that does a poor job for both sets of students.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 17, 2020 at 04:46 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


That sounds to me, Jim, though I don't know it from direct experience. (I've never been the teacher in that situation. I've seen enough like it to have a sense it works.) How, though, does one get a faculty trained, and in-room moderators trained, in time for late August classes? That's just three months away! Even if the electronic technology is in adequate supply, I don't see how one gets the human factor up and running *at scale* for this fall's classes

Posted by: Joe Miller | May 18, 2020 7:56:33 AM

Jim: Agreed. Not sure if my school has that technology or how how many schools do.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | May 17, 2020 11:05:37 PM

Hybrid depends upon an in-room moderator that helps to bridge the in-class teacher and the online students, as well as some classroom hardware, such as a screen in front of the class and one in front of the teacher to highlight an online speaker. Agreed that the teacher can't manage it all simultaneously, but I think there are possibilities

Posted by: Jim Speta | May 17, 2020 10:48:28 PM

Hybrid does not make sense. Schools need to make the hard decision of which direction they want to go, or at least go initially. I'm not optimistic that in person instruction will remain possible once someone in the building tests positive.

Posted by: anon | May 17, 2020 8:06:51 PM

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