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Friday, July 31, 2020

Preparing for Fall Teaching – Community-Based Learning in Physically Distanced, Hybrid, and Remote Courses

This post is part of a series on preparing to teach in the fall.  For the other posts in the series, see here and for the  five step approach that I am using, see here.  This post and other recent posts focus on the second step, which is designing assessment & engagement techniques for these new learning environments. 

One of the best parts of teaching in a law school is creating opportunities for students to take their learning out into the world.  We can bring speakers into our class, we can take students to visit a court or administrative agency to see the law in practice, and we can have our students meet up with real clients who may need their help. I even have a colleague who has her Criminal Procedure students do a ride along with the local police department.  Yet none of this will be possible this fall, at least not the way we’ve done it in the past—we certainly can’t put students on a bus and drive up to the Supreme Court, for example.  We could just scrap community-based learning entirely, but I’d love to explore ways to bring the community to our students, even if they are on Zoom.

Bring in speakers remotely.  This option is obvious, but I want to encourage professors to dream big on the speakers they invite into their remote courses.  Pre-COVID, it was hard to get big name speakers into our courses – virtual presentations were rare, and people often didn’t want to travel to talk to a handful of law students.  Now that we all work over Zoom, it’s so much easier to get someone to participate in a 30 minute virtual visit with a class.  So make a list of your dream speakers and invite them to your class.

Record a brief interview with a practicing lawyer about the material.  As asynchronous videos become more common, we might explore using them to introduce practicing lawyers’ views about the material we cover in class.  I’ll give one example here.  As any business law professor knows, the law on corporate boards’ oversight liability is in flux right now.  Rather than just letting my students hear from me on how the law is changing, I’m considering calling up 2-3 lawyers and asking them to record a brief interview with me on the impact of recent cases on traditional doctrine. These interviews will give my students a broader perspective on the law, while also letting them know that the cases they are reading in class actually matter to lawyers out in the world.

Ask lawyers to record their thoughts on assigned problems.  Like many professors, I often assign problem sets at the end of course units, and we go over the problems in class.  This year, I’m contemplating a new approach.  We’ll still talk about the problems as a class, but then I’ll show a video of a practicing lawyers working through the same problem.  I’ve never tried this approach, but my guess is that the lawyer will have a broader perspective on the problems than our in-class discussion, looking beyond the formal rules to the practicalities of pursuing various claims. 

Show law working remotely.  The legal profession has experienced tremendous upheaval over the last few months as hearings, trials, and mediations have all moved online.  It’s worth exploring whether our students can witness this upheaval for themselves.  If you’ve previously required students to visit your local court and attend a hearing, maybe they can attend a virtual hearing this semester.  The great thing about this option is that you don’t need to limit your class to local hearings.  Even if the courts around you are operating in-person, you may be able to find a locality somewhere in the country where courts are still virtual.

Use podcasts to provide broader context.  I’ve oriented my entire Business Associations course around podcasts.  At the start of each unit, I require students to listen to a podcast describing a business.  I then feature this business in all of the hypotheticals for this business, and then we end each unit with a lengthier case study relating to that business.  If you want my podcast list, just email me!  Sometimes I even reach out to the business to ask the founders for their thoughts on what they wanted from their lawyers in starting the business.  This approach helps students see the human side of business law, but a similar approach could work in other classes as well.  I won’t pretend that I know the podcasts options in all of the different areas of law, but there are enough out there that I’m sure we can all find some interesting options.    

Try a Community Interest Journal.  This idea comes from the Cross Academy, and they have more information about it here.  The basic idea is simple.  You have students create a journal or even just a single essay in which they connect real-world events to material from class.  I could imagine asking students to find an example of fiduciary duties in the news for my Business Associations course or class actions in the news for my Civil Procedure class.  I like the idea because it gives students some choice in how they engage with the material, which we know is important in fostering motivation.

My plan is to have one more post on assessment & engagement, focusing on metacognition strategies in the new learning environments.  I’ll then turn to ideas for building community and connection in our courses.


Posted by Jessica Erickson on July 31, 2020 at 10:55 AM in Remote & Physically Distanced Teaching, Teaching Law | Permalink


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