Friday, March 13, 2020

Online Learning Tips

The vast majority of law schools are transitioning to online environments for the foreseeable future.  Online learning presents unique challenges for both faculty and students.  Students must find ways engage in the virtual interactions, which can be difficult when sitting behind a screen.  Natalie Rodriguez from Southwestern Law School sent her students the below email to help them stay engaged and learn efficiently over the next few weeks.

"As we go through this transition together, I would like to provide you with some guidance on how to set yourself up for success with online classes.  Some of you already have experience with online classes, but for some of us, this format is new.  Either way, we will all need to lean into our self-directed learning skills - students and faculty alike.  Luckily, many of the same habits that served you well for traditional classroom learning will also serve you well with online learning. . . .

You are still in school

This is more of a reminder for your friends and family than it is for you.  For those that live with others, they may be tempted to expect more from you since you are not going to campus.  Remind them that you are still in school and have the same academic commitments you previously had. 

Keep a schedule

That you are not physically in a classroom does not change the amount of time it takes to do well in law school.  You will still “attend” just as many class time hours and will still need to devote as many hours outside of class time (per ABA Standards, 2 hours outside of class for every hour in class).  The only difference some of you may see is if you had a long commute.  If that is the case, think back to all those times you thought to yourself, “If I only had more time I could get in more outlining and practice.” Now you do, so use it productively. Time management is still an important skill, whether the class is online or on-campus.

Minimize distractions

With online learning, potential distractions are everywhere – on your computer and even around you.  Some of you have made the choice to not use a laptop during class time.  This new format will require you to use a laptop or some other device to access class lecture.  Using laptops comes with its own set of temptations.  Then there is your personal space.  After all, a pile of dirty dishes is never as tempting as when you have important work to complete.  For internet distractions, consider installing online tools for better attention and focus.  Around your home, set up a space you will use for “attending” class.  Keep it organized and to the extent you can, keep it separate from common areas in the home.  Sitting with a wall directly behind you is less distracting for the other participants.  Remember, professors and peers alike will be able to see what is behind you.  

Stay focused and engaged during class lectures

This can be a bit more challenging because there is more distance between you and your professor.  There is also a lack of eye contact.  Minimizing distractions will help (see above), but you will need to prepare yourself to follow along with the lecture.  Taking breaks between classes to move around also helps.  Use the opportunities presented by your professor to answer questions.  Take class notes just as you would if you were sitting in a classroom.  In other words, treat it as much as possible as if you were in class with the professor in front and surrounded by your classmates.  Practicing active participation and holding yourself accountable for your own success during this time will help you stay on track.

Some tips for using Zoom

Here are some best practice tips for participating in a Zoom class: 

  • Consider using good on-line etiquette.  Do not eat during class lecture and be mindful of your attire.  In addition, everyone will be able to see your facial expressions, even those who ordinarily would be sitting behind you in class. 
  • Mute your mic when you are not talking.  This will lead to a better audio experience for all participants.
  • Pay attention to the chat feature on the right hand side of the screen.  Your professor may pose questions there for you to answer. 
  • In case I have not emphasized this enough, everything the camera can capture will be on display for all participants to see.  Make sure they are seeing what you want them to see, or more importantly, not seeing what you would not want anyone to see. 
  • In a traditional classroom setting, I can often tell if a student seems confused by material and will make an effort to reach out to the student.  Over Zoom, it is difficult to pick up on these same non-verbal cues.  Make sure you reach out to your professors for help if you need it."


(Steven Foster)

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