Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Social Distance Learning

Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates.  Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days.  These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness.  Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas.  Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds.  After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support.  Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.

This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture.  In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes.  Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard.  Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.  

In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted.  If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast.  Resist this temptation!  Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester: 

  • Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself. 
  • Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you. 
  • Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups. 
  • Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you. 
  • Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.  
  • When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.

Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment.  Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier.  Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network.  And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.

[Bill MacDonald]

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2020/09/social-distance-learning.html

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