Monday, October 12, 2020
On Friday night, I finished five days of group oral midterm exam appointments with my Business Associations students. (I wrote a law review article on these group oral midterms five years ago, in case you are interested in background and general information.) It is an exhausting week: twenty-one 90-minute meetings with groups of three students based on a specific set of facts. And this year, of course, the examinations were hosted on Zoom, like everything else. Especially given social distancing, mask-wearing, and the overall hybrid instructional method for the course (about which I wrote here), I admit that I headed into the week a bit concerned about how it all would go . . . .
The examination is conducted as a simulated meeting of lawyers in the same law office--three junior lawyers assisting in preparing a senior colleague for a meeting with a new client. The student teams are graded on their identification and use of the applicable substantive law. I was pleased to find that the teams scored at least as well overall and individually as they typically do. That was a major relief. I had truly wondered whether students would be less well prepared in light of the mixed class format and the general distractions of the pandemic. The students were, however, well prepared. It was clear each student had achieved individual mastery of a good chunk of the course substance. It also was clear that, in preparing for and taking the examination as a group, the students had expanded their base of knowledge. Several teams were so well versed that they were able to point out--in a collegial manner--an error in one of my teaching materials, which I since have corrected.
But what really wowed me were the intangibles. Each team was earnest and focused during the entire examination meeting. I was awed by the dedication and diligence of my students in executing on a group oral examination in this unusual and stressful pandemic. Moreover, team members uniformly treated each other with respect, courtesy, patience, and compassion. In the end, it was one of the best teaching experiences I have had in over twenty years as a law professor. I could not be more grateful for the work that my students put into studying for and carrying through on the examination, and I am highly motivated to work with them to cover the remaining material in the course (more on corporations!) in the weeks to come.
Although I undoubtedly need additional time to reflect on the exams more deeply (and I am committed to undertake that deeper reflection before I share more comprehensive observations at the Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting in January), I am extremely pleased with the overall results of these virtual group oral examinations in meeting my teaching and learning objectives for the course. Icing on the cake? Two students (on separate examination teams) thanked me for the exam before leaving the examination Zoom meeting, and a third student, in communicating with me on another matter over the weekend, noted in passing: "I actually enjoyed the midterm and thought it worked really well on zoom and was a great format to get to know the material and other students especially with the circumstances this semester!" If the examination format was able to overcome some of the social and mental isolation so many of us have been feeling over the course of the semester, that certainly is a surprise bonus. As we all know, we learn from our students every day . . . .
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that one team went out of its way to show that its members were "in role" for the examination as a simulation exercise. They created their own custom law firm logo Zoom background (based on the firm name--my name plus that of my intellectual property law colleague, Gary Pulsinelli--set forth at the top of the memo I sent to them that included the facts for use in the examination). It was a hoot! I have included a screenshot below. This definitely put a smile on my face!
Friday, October 9, 2020
How are you doing? I'm exhausted between teaching, grading, consulting, writing, and living through a pandemic. I actually wasn't planning to post today because I post every other Friday, as a way to maintain some balance. I may not post next Friday because I'll be participating in Connecting the Threads, IV, our business law professor blog annual conference. It's virtual and you may get up to 8 CLE credits, including an ethics credit. If you love our posts, you'll get to see us up close and personal, and you won't even need a mask.
I decided to do this short post today because it may help some of you, whether you're professors or practitioners. Several years ago, Haskell Murray wrote that he does a mid-semester survey. He asks his students what they like and don't like. I love this idea ... in theory. How many of us really want to know how we're doing? I've done it a couple of times when I knew that the class was going great, but I don't do it consistently. I decided to do it this year because we are piloting a new program modeled after Emory's Transactional Law Program. I used to teach one or two sections of transactional drafting every semester by myself, but now I do the lecture portion (asynchronously) and six adjuncts teach the skills portion in live classes via Zoom (for now). In some ways, it was easier to teach by myself. Five of the six adjuncts are teaching for the first time, and online at that. It's not easy. I also do pre-recorded videos with questions embedded via Feedback Fruits that students must answer. Each week, I review the answers for each of the classes, look for trends and gaps in knowledge, debrief with the adjuncts, hold office hours with the students, and try to find current events related to what we are doing. I also teach two sections of legal writing to 1Ls. My life is a constant stream of conferences and marking up drafts.
Students tell me they love the transactional drafting class, but what about those who don't say anything? So, I bit the bullet and sent out an anonymous survey to the seventy students enrolled. So far less than 1/3 have responded, but I've already gleaned valuable insight. I sent the survey out two days ago and I've already changed the structure of my videos and am holding a mid-semester review. The students validated my concerns about one of our books. Some students were just glad to be asked. Most important, I won't have to wait until the evaluations at the end of the semester.
Ironically, when I consult with companies on employee relations or corporate culture issues, I recommend that they do a Start, Stop, Continue or Do More, Do Not Change, Do Less exercise with the employees. I've even led focus groups on this, and employees love it because they feel engaged. As long as the company actually commits to making changes as appropriate, it's a powerful tool.
I challenge you to ask your students or your employees how you're doing, especially in these trying times. You may be surprised. If you have other novel recommendation for getting feedback from students or employees, let us know in the comments.
I hope to see you next week at the Connecting the Threads Conference.
Monday, September 28, 2020
Photo Credit: Pixabay
With almost six weeks of hybrid Business Associations classes now under my belt (and many more to go), I wanted to share a bit more about my experience teaching in the hybrid classroom. This follows and builds on my post from the beginning of the semester offering initial impressions (based on my Professional MBA teaching experience). As I noted in that post, technology can differ from classroom to classroom. As a result, my observations here (which are based on a hybrid course with an in-class projection system featuring a camera and document camera and an online component hosted on Zoom), may not hold in other teaching environments. Hopefully, however, some of what I have to say here may be useful to some of you . . . .
Teaching a hybrid course is a bit like managing a three-ring circus. Ring #1 is your in-class student population, #2 is your online students population, and #3 is your technology. It is a lot to pay attention to. I find it more than a bit exhausting.
I have 63 students in total in Business Associations this fall. That is a bit low but within a normal range for that course in the fall semester. Six of the students are "synchronous online only"; the remaining 57 rotate into and out of class--roughly half attending in person Mondays and every other Friday and the remainder attending in person on Wednesday and alternate Fridays. I have a "producer" teaching assistant who participates online to (1) monitor the chat for me, (2) encourage student camera usage and microphone muting, and (3) help handle breakout room monitoring. She also has helped to identify issues with sound--in particular when online folks are having trouble hearing their me or in-person colleagues.
My biggest gaffs so far include the following:
- Clicking on "Leave Meeting" instead of closing the chat box as I was about to begin class and, as a result, kicking all of my online students out of class;
- "Pinning" (highlighting) the video footage of the wrong student named Morgan for projection on the in-class screen (thinking I had called on her--but there are two women named Morgan in the class) and not realizing the mistake because the video of the other Morgan was so dark; and
- Calling for tech help when the in-room camera was not capturing/showing video (my Zoom square was black--showing no video), when, in fact, the issue was that my Zoom video had defaulted to the document camera (which was not then deployed).
Notwithstanding these issues, based on the first writing assignment in the course and questions during my office hours, students in the course are learning! Business Associations is hard to learn (and teach) in a traditional classroom environment. The hybrid classroom is not ideal for many reasons--including without limitation the fractured attention span created by the three-ring-circus. I truly feared that the combined experience of teaching Business Associations in a hybrid environment would be overwhelming for students. But by speaking loudly, repeating student questions and comments, reaching out visually to students in both environments as directly as possible, and keeping technology usage simple and targeted, I seem to be communicating relevant information effectively, and as a group, we seem to be staying engaged with each other. Fingers crossed all of that continues . . . .
I would be missing an important aspect of all of this if I did not mention my biggest pandemic teaching silver lining so far: feeling the love of my students--seeing them come to class in person, complying with numerous restrictions on their lives. and hearing from them in a positive way. The number of students who have reached out in genuine ways to thank me for working hard on their behalf to produce class has been so gratifying. This past week, I even had a student from last year reach out to check in on me. The patience, flexibility, and compassion of my students has been remarkable.
So, I am surviving, and even striving to thrive. It is like learning how to teach all over again some days. But the students make it all worthwhile. 🧡
Monday, September 21, 2020
As we continue to move through the Fall 2020 semester in "pandemic mode" (whatever that may be for you), the investments of colleagues in their teaching continues to amaze me. The number of teaching webinars and conference panels has been truly awesome, starting in the spring and continuing through the present. Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter offer individualized tips and the opportunity for innovators to build from them and post their responsive comments and additional advice. My friend Jessica Erickson (Richmond Law) wrote an excellent series of Prawfsblog posts at the end of the summer, the last of which can be found here (with links to the earlier posts in the series). Law faculties (including my own) are checking in with each other on challenges and victories on a regular basis. Although the experiences of others may be different, I have felt supported (and very much like I am part of a team) the whole way along.
Among the more stimulating--and daunting--parts of pandemic teaching presentations and conversations are those relating to the introduction of new teaching technologies. We have all dealt with this part of COVID-19 teaching in some respects and in our own ways. Some of us are more comfortable with technology than others. There's Zoom and the like, of course, but then there also are routers, and cameras, and lighting, and more. (I had never heard of a "ring light,", for example, until the COVID-19 pandemic was in full force.) I have been impressed by the extent to which colleagues not only have found technological solutions to some of the novel teaching issues that have arisen during the pandemic, but also have been willing to promote these solutions to colleagues and educate them on their use.
Over the weekend. I became aware that my UT Law colleague Glenn Reynolds had written a short piece on his use of a relatively simple three-camera system he has constructed (in his pool house!) to improve the production quality of his online classes. He is teaching exclusively online this semester. The piece, TIRED OF LOOKING GRAY AND BORING ONLINE? A SIMPLE 3-CAMERA TV STUDIO/CLASSROOM FOR LIVELY ONLINE TEACHING, is posted on SSRN here. The exceedingly short abstract is as follows:
Tired of the dreary webcam-look in my online classroom, I created a fairly simple and reasonably inexpensive three-camera studio using real video cameras for online teaching. This paper outlines how it was done, and provides suggestions for simpler, cheaper alternatives that are still far superior to traditional webcam approaches.
Glenn includes photographs in his brief treatment to better illustrate the camera functionality and his own working view, which I found really helpful. He also is very specific about the human resources he consulted, the equipment he has chosen to use (and why), and the expenses associated with doing what he has done. I share it here for your consideration. The more we can share our victories--as well as our challenges--with each other, the easier it will be for us all to survive (and even thrive) in our teaching through the pandemic.
Monday, September 7, 2020
I have written here in the past about laboring on Labor Day. Most recently. I wrote about the relationship between work and mindfulness in this space last year. But it seems I also have picked up this theme here (in 2018) and here (at the end of my Labor Day post in 2017). Being the routine "Monday blogger" for the BLPB does give me the opportunity to focus on our Monday holidays!
This year, however, Labor Day--like so many other days in 2020--is markedly different in one aspect: I am required to teach today. When I logged in to the campus app on my phone this morning to do my routine daily health screening, I was greeted by this (in clicking through from the main event schedule page):
This is the first day in my 20 years of teaching, and maybe in my 35 years of post-law school work, that I have been required to work on Labor Day. My daughter, a Starbucks night shift manager, is required to work every year on Labor Day. But this is new to me . . . .
Of course, the ongoing pandemic is the reason for this change. By compacting the semester, we are endeavoring to keep folks who are attending class in person here on campus in a more constrained environment until the holidays (at which time we will release everyone to their families and friends until the new semester begins in January). Our campus website offers the following by way of a top-level explanation of the adjustments to the ordinary, customary academic calendar:
Thank you, COVID-19, for yet one more "first" in this year of many unprecedented things (including the 2019 novel coronavirus itself).
I have tried to make the best of teaching on the holiday, especially given the great weather we are having here in East Tennessee right now. I taught both of my classes today in the outfit I would have worn if I had been at home (as shown above at the top of the post and below, in both cases in my Corporate Finance class this morning--photo credits to Kaleb Byars and Landon Foody and mask design and sewing credit to my sister, Susan) and encouraged my in-person Business Associations students (almost half of my hybrid class) to come to school in the clothes they would typically wear to a Labor Day BBQ. I also brought in a special treat for my Corporate Finance students (what could be better at 8:30 am than equity instruments and donuts?) and sent my online Business Associations students into breakout rooms to connect over one of our assigned cases with a smaller group of their classmates while the in-person students wrestled with a case of their own. There was sparse but constructive attendance at Zoom office hours after class. In the end, it all has worked out fine. Not a bad day.
Wishing a happy Labor Day 2020 to all. Whether you are working today (at home or at a workplace outside the home) or taking the day off, stay safe and well. Personally, I look forward to Labor Day hamburgers tonight!
Monday, August 17, 2020
On Saturday, I taught Business Planning to the Class of 2020 Professional MBA (ProMBA) Students in the Haslam College of Business at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I have taught business law topics in this program for a number of years now and thoroughly enjoy it as a change-up to teaching law students. This class is no exception. And two of the students from this cohort plan to go to law school at some point in the next few years.
The class sessions on Saturday--four hours worth--were taught in a hybrid format, with some of the students in the classroom and some participating in the class remotely through Zoom. Starting Wednesday, I will be teaching my Business Associations class sessions in a synchronous hybrid flex format with half of the students rotating in and out of the classroom in accordance with a predefined schedule. The ProMBA program uses classrooms with technology different from that available at the College of Law, did not afford me Zoom hosting privileges that I have at the College of Law, and allows eating and drinking in the classroom. Nevertheless, parts of the teaching I did on Saturday are analogous to what I will be doing at the College of Law in my Business Associations course. Given that some of you also may be teaching in a similar format, I offer a few observations on Saturday's hybrid teaching experience here.
- Sanitizing: An abundant supply of sanitizing wipes were made available. The course administrator noted that she had sanitized my work station (podium, keyboard, mouse, mic) before I had arrived, but she was not offended when I also sanitized everything. A ziplock bag with a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer was given to me for my use during class (although I had brought my own). That was a nice touch.
- Hosting: I wish I had asked for hosting or co-hosting status for the class Zoom meeting room. I wanted to offer a short poll to the remote students, but there was a miscommunication between me and the program administrators. As a result, my poll had not been added to the meeting in advance. Also, when the course administrator put the remote students into breakout rooms for a class exercise, I was put into one room as opposed to being able to easily move between rooms. I worked around these issues, but I would have been able to smooth over these bumps in the class plan execution if I had been the Zoom meeting host or co-host.
- Producer: The course administrator served as a "producer" for the class session--a term that is being used to describe the person who is monitoring remote students for participant hand raises, questions, comments, technology issues, and course and college compliance. She sat in the back of the room and raised her hand when a remote student had a question or comment. At my request, she also conveyed information to the remote students through the chat. This worked well, although the chat comments and questions sometimes were predictably a bit out-of-sync with the instruction.
- Acoustics: The voices of the physically present students did not carry well in the room or through the room mics to the remote students. I tried to summarize or repeat the questions being asked or comments being made in the physical classroom since I was mic'ed.
- Masks: Mask-wearing was a somewhat sloppy/noncompliant. The masks of some students appeared to be too small to cover their mouth and nose. Students sometimes (inadvertently, it appeared) pulled their masks down off their noses or even down below their chins. They seemed to be unaware they were moving/removing their masks. When students wanted eat a snack or have a drink, of course, they had to at least move--if not remove--their masks to do so. For the most part, however, the students were not close enough to present a marked danger to me or each other. And there was no belligerent or other refusal to "mask up."
- Gathering: Humans are natural attractive magnets. During the in-class exercise, while most students in the classroom did as I asked and stayed in their seats or in other "eligible" seats in the classroom, I did caution one group to adjust their masks and distance themselves from each other because they stood up and moved to within six feet of each other. They seemed unaware that their masks may not have been fully covering their mouths and noses and that they had closed in on each other's space. (This incident occurred near the end of our third 75-minute session.) But I admit that the students did not look overly concerned that I was offering them cautionary instructions . . . .
I am sure there is more that I could think of if I put my mind to it. But this is the core of what I noticed. I did not sense that I was exposing myself to an uncomfortable level of risk. Teaching in a hybrid format with these ProMBA students (who by now know me reasonably well) was challenging. In the end, it was neither a bad teaching experience nor the best teaching I have ever done. But teaching and learning were happening during the class sessions. I hope that when I am teaching in my home space--with familiar technology, as the host of my class Zoom meetings, with no eating or drinking permitted in the classrooms--things will go a bit more smoothly. Fingers crossed!
Monday, August 3, 2020
Mitch Crusto, a long-term buddy from past Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) conferences, contacted me last year about participating in a discussion group at this year's SEALS conference on issues surrounding and emanating from Jeffrey Epstein's significant asset transfers to a trust (for the benefit of his brother) two days before his death, currently ruled to be a death by suicide. The discussion group, held yesterday afternoon/evening, was designed to explore interdisciplinary approaches to legal problem-solving, with the thought that the conversation might spur us to bridge doctrinal silos not merely for ourselves, but also for the benefit of our students (in and outside the classroom). Megan Chaney and Victoria Haneman spoke passionately on that issue to lead-off our discussion. Doctrinal areas covered in the session included trusts & estates, business associations, federal income taxation, criminal law, civil rights, and professional responsibility (and I am sure that I am missing some . . . ).
In our initial set of communications, I asked Mitch what possible angle I could have on the Epstein trust matter based on my work and areas of expertise. He noted in response that he would like the session to address, e.g., whether veil piercing doctrine from the business entity law sphere might have a role in helping Jeffrey Epstein's judgment creditors--especially victims of his sexual exploitation, trafficking, molestation, and rape (including the sexual exploitation of teenaged victims)--satisfy any damages awarded to them with assets transferred to and held in the trust. I took the bait, more out of allegiance and curiosity than out of a feeling that I had something valuable to contribute. The session was extremely rewarding professionally and personally. I am sharing some musings from it today, most of which I also shared in yesterday's discussion. They are in the nature of a fledgeling thought experiment and do not reflect deep research.
At its base, the Epstein asset recovery issue presents as a fraudulent conveyance question: can creditors claw back into Jeffrey Epstein's estate the assets he put into trust (presumably to avoid keeping those assets in his name and, after death, in his estate) and, if so, under what circumstances? In reporting on the trust and the ability of Jeffrey Epstein's creditors to access assets from it, a Forbes article from last year concluded, on balance, that the trust assets may well be reachable by those creditors to satisfy their judgments. Of course, certain factual and legal matters asserted or assumed in the article's assessment would need to be established in fact (and participants in yesterday's session both agreed and disagreed with the conclusion expressed in the article, based on their individual knowledge of and "take" on the facts).
Aways loving a challenge, I set out to think about the business entity law angle Mitch pitched--focusing in on veil piercing doctrine (as the same is legally recognized under the law of corporations and limited liability companies). Interestingly, the Forbes article described a trust by contrasting it with these forms of business entity.
It is important to understand what a trust is and isn't. First, what it isn't: A trust has no physical existence: You can't have it over to your house on Saturday afternoon for beer and bar-b-que. Nor does a trust have a separate legal existence either, since it is not considered a "person" under the law that can itself sue or be sued; contrast this with the legal fictions known as corporations and LLC, which are considered "persons" under the law that can sue and be sued in their own names.
Right. So, there is no legal entity to disregard (although it was noted in the discussion group that a trust may be a taxable entity--a recognized legal person--for federal income tax purposes). There is, instead, the need to disregard a unique, legally recognized fiduciary relationship built on a contract or contract-like arrangement that involves the transfer, holding, and administration of property. The lack of legal entity status gives me pause.
Also, of course, veil piercing relates to who is liable for a loss (not whether assets owned of record by a transferee may be recovered, of sorts, and used to satisfy liabilities of the transferor). Various theories (e.g., alter ego, insufficient separateness, unity of interest/ownership) underlie the equitable application of veil piercing doctrine. Given the nature of a trust, however, I am hard-pressed to come up with a theory that would explain or justify holding a properly constructed trust or its trustee liable for the grantor's wrongful conduct. The possibility of disregarding the trust is not, then, logically rooted in notions of direct or vicarious liability operative in business entity law.
All that having been said, there is an interesting, albeit imperfect, analogy to explore between reverse veil piercing and fraudulent transfer law as the same may relate to the Jeffrey Epstein trust scenario. In reverse veil piercing, as business lawyers know well, a business entity is held legally responsible for damages created by the wrongful conduct of a shareholder. As a result, the corporation's assets would be used to satisfy the judgment for that wrongful conduct. The argument in the Epstein trust situation would be that transfers to a trust should be voidable to cover damages created by the wrongful conduct of the grantor. Thus, assets of the trust would be used to satisfy the judgment for that wrongful conduct. The analogy is arguably grounded in common policy underpinnings--the desirability that a plaintiff's recovery of damages for bona fide cognizable claims not be avoided by the establishment of legal structures purposefully designed to defraud or promote fundamental injustice. Kenya Smith put a point on the analogy in our session yesterday by asking us to consider whether reverse veil piercing would be appropriate if Jeffrey Epstein had transferred his assets to a corporation instead of a trust . . . .
Indeed, it appears that the reverse veil piercing argument has been used in at least a few cases. A 2020 Sixth Circuit opinion--Church Joint Venture, L.P. v. Blasingame, 947 F.3d 925 (6th Cir. 2020)--addresses reverse veil piercing in relation to a trust governed by Tennessee law. The opinion of the court notes that, under Tennessee law, reverse veil piercing has only been applied in the parent-subsidiary context. Both the opinion of the court and the concurrence offer much to consider. (I have more to say about the concurrence in the next paragraph.) Moreover, a Utah law firm has published a helpful post that offers a brief treatment of three cases--a federal tex case in which the argument was successful and two non-tax cases in which the argument was unsuccessful. (The post also includes information about two possible alternative arguments applicable to asset protection trusts: that the funding of all or part of the trust was a fraudulent transfer and, in the case of a self-settled trust, that the trust should not be recognized under applicable law.)
A problem with the reverse veil piercing analogy, to the extent it may be considered for use in a legal action, is the possible application of the doctrine of independent legal significance (a/k/a the doctrine of equal dignity). Under that doctrine, as it might be applied in this context, if a person chooses to use a corporation to accomplish a goal, then the law applicable to corporations should govern; and if a person chooses to use a trust to accomplish a goal (even if it be the same goal that could be accomplished with a corporation), then the law applicable to trusts should govern. A court may use that doctrine to reject the application of corporate law to the trust. In fact, the concurring opinion in the Church Joint Venture case cited above is grounded in independent legal significance and notes some of the points regarding the legal entity status (or a lack thereof) of trusts raised above. The concurrence begins: "I join the court’s opinion in full. I write to add a word (or two) about my discomfort with incorporating 'veil piercing' and 'alter ego' theories into trust law. Both concepts originate in corporate law, and both concepts should stay there." Church Joint Venture, L.P. v. Blasingame, 947 F.3d 925, 935 (6th Cir. 2020). I found the concurrence a great read overall. Another quotable from that opinion: "How could one 'pierce the veil' of a trust? It doesn’t have a veil, much less any form to pierce into." Id.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, it may be possible to use veil piercing not as a primary argument but, rather, as support for another legal theory of recovery (likely, fraudulent conveyance). It seems that legal actions may often raise both fraudulent transfer and veil piercing arguments, in the alternative, in any case. Regardless, it has been both instructive and satisfying to identify, think through, and discuss these issues with colleagues from other disciplines and other law schools. I look forward to future conversations of this kind with these and other colleagues in legal education, and I also look forward to engaging students with and in these discussions.
Sunday, August 2, 2020
Greetings from SEALS (virtually). I've just finished sitting in on the last of several excellent panels on online teaching. Below are tips from the panelists, some of my own lessons learned, and key takeaways from the excellent book Small Teaching Online. For more of the foundations of online teaching see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.
- Have a class zero- you and students can record an introduction of themselves, pets, hobbies, skills, talents etc. Make sure you’re smiling and conveying your excitement in the video about the class.
- You can also have a class zero where you spend 5 minutes on Zoom with each student before the first day of class talking to them about any questions they have about the class, their tech etc.
- Let students know that this online format is not just a pandemic issue. Virtual offices are increasingly common in practice.
- Think about how to motivate students- what counts as a grade? Should you raise the class participation component and if so, how will you measure it? Will watching videos before class and participating in discussion boards count?
- Stand when recording your video lectures or teaching synchronously. Students prefer it. You can get a standing desk or go old school like me and use a pile of textbooks to create a lectern.
- Think about creating mnemonic devices through your intentional use of imagery. Use images appropriately so that the students can connect the image with what you want them to remember.
- Allow the students to do more prep before class. Let them find the rule and the law and use a problem method during synchronous sessions where the students work on hypotheticals.
- Make sure that you explain the learning objectives each week or each module so the students know what they are doing, why, and where it fits in the course. You can even add how the module or unit will help them in practice.
- You can get information to students with an announcement or email, but consider using a short video, especially if you want to explain an assignment and add more nuance. Make sure to add your personality in to the video. You can also use video to explain information that students find confusing. This way you can avoid answering the same questions over and over again.
- Use the subtitle or caption feature for your powerpoints when you are recording your asynchronous lecture.
- Consider having a transcript of your lecture videos or a detailed outline, especially if you don’t have subtitles or captions in your videos. I don’t write out an outline for my classes, but if you do, you can post that outline.
- Have some questions for the students to think about while they watch the asynchronous video lecture. I will use Feedback Fruits so students will answer questions while they watch the videos and won’t be able to continue watching until they answer the questions. You could be more low tech and provide them with the question in advance and require them to answer the questions before class in a no or low-stakes quiz.
- Students seem to prefer short, informal videos to highly produced videos. Students respond better to conversational tones and unedited videos. Of course, don’t just read the slides.
- Try to avoid talking about dates or current events in your videos, unless it’s really relevant. Make sure the videos can stand alone as an independent product and don’t refer back to other videos.
- Disclose your grading rubric early or have students develop a rubric based on what you have communicated. This will help you know whether they understand your materials and your grading standards.
- Learn from neuroscience- do ungraded short quizzes and spaced repetition before and after class. For a business associations class, for example, you can use old bar questions each week, which will get them familiar with those type of questions.
- Use some of what works in K-12 teaching about how to keep students engaged, where they empower the students to learn. We focus more on how we perform as teachers vs. how students learn. If you watch YouTube videos of K-12 teachers, you can learn a lot that will also apply to law students.
- Use non-graded events throughout the semester such as short essays or multiple choice so that they can see how they are doing. Do this anonymously and provide the answers or model answers.
- If your class is small enough, greet students by name when they come in the Zoom room.
- Start each synchronous class with a question in the chat- it can relate to the materials, something in the news, or pop culture etc. If you normally arrive early to the physical classroom, do the same on Zoom and recreate that casual conversation.
- Make sure to save the chat in Zoom so that you can refer to issues in the next class or you can send out an email or announcement to discuss what you may have missed in the class.
- If you have a TA, that person can monitor the chat for you while you're teaching.
- In the first week, think of creating an exercise that relates to what the students may do for the final exam. This may include multiples choice, a short essay etc.
- Have panels of students on call for certain parts of the class, just as you would in residential classes.
- Try peer-to-peer formative assessment through peer review and team-based learning. This will work better in an online than a residential setting. See my earlier posts for more information on TBL.
- Take a break in class if it’s more than an hour. Tell the students that they can use that time to take notes, talk with each other etc.
- Add humor to the course. Consider a contest for best virtual background but be mindful that some students may not have the bandwidth for this. If all of your students can do it, consider a “prize” for the best background.
- When you use breakout rooms, have a class document that students can fill out or download and then share the screen during the breakout rooms. While they can use a whiteboard in breakout groups, they can’t share their breakout room whiteboard in the main room. You can share using Google docs in Zoom. This may work better if students need to report back to the class.
- In class, reboot student attention with thumbs up, thumbs down, polls etc. Try to keep things moving every 10-15 minutes.
- Have students do a short reflection at the end of a unit to discuss what they learned or struggled with. Give them the choice of using video or written format.
- If your LMS allows it, have a conditional release system so students cant’t see certain content until they have reached a certain score or milestone with the materials.
- Use the discussion board feature for students to answer questions and then make sure that you answer within 24 hours.
- If you choose to use discussion board for substantive student submissions, make sure that you have a clear rubric, with word count requirements etc. Consider having students have a choice of questions to answer. You may decide that if a response does not meet the rubric, the student gets 0 points, so it’s all or nothing. You can also require students to post before they see other posts. If you have a very large class, you can divide them into groups so the students are only looking at a smaller group of posts.
- Think about providing feedback on assignments via audio or video, if your class is small enough. Many students find that this provides more of a connection to the professor.
- Early or midway through the semester, use Google forms, survey monkey, or another mechanisms for students to let you know anonymously what's working and what’s not. Ask them what you should start, stop, and continue doing.
- Send personal emails when a student misses class. Just asking if the student is ok and making sure s/he knows where to find the class recording, can further the sense of community and connection.
- At the end of the semester, have the students assess themselves. They can also discuss three takeaways from the course and how they plan to use it in practice.
Best of luck planning for the new semester. Stay safe!
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
So, I knew about TEDx and TED Talks, but I just learned about TED-Ed today in viewing Professors George Siedel & Christine Ladwig’s “Ethical Dilemma: The Burger Murders” (here). If you’re planning to incorporate an ethics module into your business law courses this year, including their video and accompanying teaching materials could be a great, entertaining addition to your class that I think students would love. Along with their fun, short video, Siedel and Ladwig have provided teaching materials (here) that include multiple choice and open ended questions; a “dig deeper” piece; and, a guided discussion section. They posted only yesterday, and have already had 152,224 views and 744 comments! Check it out! And if you didn’t see my prior post on Siedel’s negotiation materials, check that out too (here)!
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
In a past post (here), I mentioned stumbling (thankfully!!) into teaching in the area of Negotiation and Dispute Resolution while a PhD student focused on financial regulation. For so many reasons, the opportunity to pursue doctoral studies in the Ethics & Legal Studies Program at the Wharton Business School was truly a great blessing! So, I’m delighted to share with BLPB readers that applications for the Program’s incoming class of 2021 are now being accepted. If you – or someone you know – might be interested in learning more, an quick overview is provided below and an informational flyer here: Download Ethics&LegalStudiesDoctoralProgram
The Ethics & Legal Studies Doctoral Program at Wharton focuses on the study of ethics and law in business. It is designed to prepare graduates for tenure-track careers in university teaching and research at leading business schools, and law schools.
Our curriculum crosses many disciplinary boundaries. Students take a core set of courses in the area of ethics and law in business, along with courses in an additional disciplinary concentration such as law, management, philosophy/ethical theory, finance, marketing, or accounting. Students can take courses in other Penn departments and can pursue joint degrees. Additionally, our program offers flexibility in course offerings and research topics. This reflects the interdisciplinary nature of our Department and the diversity of our doctoral student backgrounds.
Faculty and student intellectual interests include a range of topics such as:
- legal theory • normative political theory • ethical theory • firm theory • law and economics • private law theory • penal theory • constitutional law • bankruptcy • corporate governance • corporate law • financial regulation • administrative law • empirical legal studies • blockchain and law • antitrust law • fraud and deception • environmental law and policy • corporate criminal law • corporate moral agency • corruption • behavioral ethics • negotiations.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Earlier today (July 14), Fordham University hosted a webinar entitled Reopening Justly or Just Reopening: Catholic Social Teaching, Universities & COVID-19.
Speakers on the topic of the ethics of reopening schools include the following theology professors:
- Christine Firer Hinze (Fordham)
- Gerald Beyer (Villanova)
- Craig Ford (St. Norbert)
- Kate Ward (Marquette)
Christine Firer Hinze discussed Catholic Social Thought, human dignity, and solidarity. She reminded us that reopening universities is literally a question of life and death, but is also a question of livelihood. Gerald Beyer stressed looking to the the latest science and considering the common good (the flourishing of all). Craig Ford commented on the reality that some universities may be facing financial collapse, that the pandemic is likely to be with us for a long while, and that there are no perfect solutions. Ford also suggested a focus on protecting those who are most vulnerable. Kate Ward talked about moral injury, lamentation, and redemption. A question and answer period --- including on the topics of racial justice, transparency, shared sacrifices and mental health --- followed opening remarks.
Monday, July 13, 2020
As law school classes move online, it is imperative that law faculty understand not only how to teach online, but how to teach well online. This article therefore is designed to help law faculty do their best teaching online. It walks faculty through key choices they must make when designing online courses, and concrete ways that they can prepare themselves and their students to succeed. The article explains why live online teaching should be the default option for most faculty, but also shows how faculty can enhance student learning by incorporating asynchronous lessons into their online classes. It then shows how faculty can set up their virtual teaching space and employ diverse teaching techniques to foster an engaging and rigorous online learning environment. The article concludes by discussing how the move to online education in response to COVID-19 could improve the overall quality of law school teaching.
Sunday, July 12, 2020
A few months ago, I mentioned taking the free Yale University online course The Science of Well Being taught by Professor Laurie Santos.
Before jumping into the substance of the course, I wanted to talk a bit about the format. The course was likely filmed with better equipment than most of us will have in the fall. The videos were mostly under 15 minutes each, and the videos usually had quiz questions to keep you engaged. Then there were longer quizzes at the end of sections and discussion boards.
Even though this was a Yale course, on an interesting subject, with a gifted professor, I probably would not have paid even $1 for this course. The material was surely worth more than $1, but there is simply too much good free information online, in this format, for me to pay anything for it. This fact is sobering to me as a professor, given that at least some of my students will be online-only this fall. The real value, I think, springs from interaction – between professor and student, and between the students themselves. As such, I need to plan my courses with a fair bit of this interaction.
Moving to the substance, Professor Santos noted eight things that the science shows improves well-being:
- Social Interaction
- Meaningful Goals
Professor Santos' ReWi application helps you track these things.
Think all of us know that those eight things are good for us, even if we do not always prioritize them.
Most helpful for me was the discussion of savoring. Previously, I simply had not paused long enough to dwell on the many good things in life. In The Plague, Dr. Rieux and his friend Tarrou savor nature before swimming during a brief break fighting disease. Camus describes it as follows:
Once they were on the pier they saw the sea spread out before them, a gently heaving expanse of deep-piled velvet, supple and sleek as a creature of the wild. They sat down on a boulder facing the open. Slowly the waters rose and sank, and with their tranquil breathing sudden oily glints formed and flickered over the surface in a haze of broken lights. Before them the darkness stretched out into infinity. Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. (256)
Pausing long enough to watch the sea and feel the rocks on his hand is what Professor Santos is talking about when she describes savoring. Think we could all benefit by stopping, noticing, and savoring more I am committed to doing so
(Photo taken savoring the scene at Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, North Carolina)
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Greetings from Miami, Florida, COVID19 hotspot. Yesterday, 33% of those tested had a positive result. Although my university still plans to have some residential instruction as of the time of this writing, most of us are preparing to go fully online at some point. In Part I, Part II, and Part III, I provided perspectives from experts in learning. I'm still gathering that information.
This week, however, I spoke to the real experts -- students. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear from students studying business and human rights from all over the world courtesy of the Teaching Business and Human Rights Forum. I've also been talking to research assistants and other current and former students. Here's a summary of their conclusions:
- We know that Spring was hard for everyone and that everyone is still learning how to teach online. Do not be worried about making mistakes.
- Don't assume that we are all digital natives. Some of us are older students or not used to the technology that you have decided to use. Make sure that the interface is intuitive and use tech in fun and interesting ways. (One professor used Jeopardy online and students loved it).
- Be flexible with assignments. Many of us are dealing with health and financial issues and we will need extensions. Some students will be in different time zones if you're requiring group work. It's not business as usual.
- If you have teaching assistants, have them monitor the chat functions if you use it and have them pop into breakout rooms (if you're using Zoom). TAs can be very helpful, especially in large classes.
- Add a COVID component to the lessons if you can. It helps us make sense of things and provides real-world context to what we are doing.
- Offer breaks. Time moves much slower in an online class.
- Use guest speakers who wouldn't be able to visit class. It makes class more interesting and allows us to hear from thought leaders from around the world.
- Consider using Slack or other tools other than for communications and group work.
- Use screen sharing during synchronous classes and allow others to share when appropriate.
- Make use of the chat function during synchronous classes. It keeps our attention and makes sure that we are engaged.
- Do not just talk over powerpoint slides. Many students simply download the slides if they found that professors were reading the slides word for word without adding new content.
- Make sure the slides have enough information to be useful. Some professors put only a few words on a slide and this doesn't facilitate learning.
- Use breakout rooms often and appoint a reporter to inform the class of the room's conclusions. Make sure that everyone understand the assignment before sending students off to breakout rooms.
- Breakout rooms help build community and encourage shy students to speak more.
- Communicate rubrics for assignments clearly and often. Let us know exactly what you expect us to learn in each module. Make the objectives clear.
- Try to forecast what you're going to teach and do a summary at the end of the lesson, if possible.
- Require us to keep our cameras on. We will pay more attention.
- Keep us engaged with polls, quizzes, and surveys.
- Post slides in advance if you can for synchronous classes so that we can take better notes or annotate them.
- Consider a WhatsApp group or other communication mechanism to share newspaper articles or current events. Make it optional for students to participate.
- Consider having the class watch a movie in class instead of on our own. It helped build community.
- Please do not do a 6 hour lecture over powerpoint.
- Make sure to use powerpoint. Even a short lecture is hard to watch if it's just the professor sitting there.
- Pay special attention to your foreign students, who may be living in a different reality. Consider having small group office hours for them.
- Depending on the time of the day, invite students to have a coffee hour via Zoom.
- Make sure to have virtual office hours. Students will need to feel a connection outside of class. Also consider coming to class early and opening the Zoom (or other room) early and staying after class as you would in person.
- Videos should not be longer than 10 minutes.
- The length of the video matters less if the professor is engaging. Some of the most engaging professors in person look dead on camera. Their lack of enthusiasm for teaching online comes through.
- It's nice to have good looking slides, but if the professor isn't enthusiastic, it doesn't matter how good the slides look.
- Use whiteboards, graphs, or diagrams if possible if you're explaining complex topics. This is really important for visual learners. If you used to use the board in person, try to find a way to do it online.
- Group projects are ok as long as there is built in accountability. We are ok working with others but it's harder online and worse if everyone gets the same grade and there is no penalty for students who don't do any work.
- Show videos within videos for asynchronous and synchronous classes. You can stop the video in class and ask questions, just as you would if we were in person.
- Make sure to stop for questions regularly. Remember there's a lag when people unmute or as you look to see who is raising a hand.
- Ask for our feedback. We all want to make online learning work.
Next week, I will add more from the teaching experts. Everyone stay safe and healthy.
Monday, July 6, 2020
The title of this post is the title of a panel discussion I organized for the 2019 Business Law Prof Blog symposium, held back in September of last year. (Readers may recall that I posted on this session back at the time, under the same title.) The panel experience was indescribably satisfying for me. It represented one of those moments in life where one just feels so lucky . . . .
Why? Because it fulfilled a dream, of sorts, that I have had for quite a while. Here's the story.
About ten years ago, I ended up in a conversation with two of my beloved Tennessee Law colleagues while we were grabbing afternoon beverages. One of these colleagues is a tax geek; the other is a property guy. Somehow, we got into a discussion about mergers and acquisitions. I was asked how I would define a merger as a matter of corporate law, and part of my answer (that mergers are magic) got these two folks all riled up (in a professional, academic, nerdy way). The conversation included some passionate exchanges. It was an exhilerating experience.
I have remembered that exchange for all of these years, vowing to myself that some day, I would work on publishing what was said. When the opportunity arose to hold a panel discussion to recreate our water-cooler chat at the symposium last fall, I jumped at the chance. I was tickled pink that my two colleagues consented to join me in the recreation exercise. They are good sports, wise lawyers, and excellent teachers.
My objective in convening the panel was two-fold.
First, I thought that students would find the conversation illuminating. "Aha," they might justifiably say. "Now I know why I am confused about what a merger is. It's because the term means different things to different lawyers, all of whom may have a role in advising on a business combination transaction. I have to understand the perspective from which the question is being asked, and the purpose of answering the question, before I can definitively say what a merger is." Overall, I was convinced that a recreation of the conversation through a panel discussion could be a solid teaching tool.
But that's not all. Faculty also can earn from our dialogue. It helped me in my teaching to know how my tax colleague (who teaches transactional tax planning and business taxation) and my property colleague (who teaches property and secured transactions) define the concept of a merger and what each had to say about his definition as it operates in practice. I like to think my two colleagues similarly benefitted from an understanding of my definition of a merger (even if neither believes in statutory magic) . . . .
Now, you and your students also can benefit from the panel. Although it is not quite as good as hearing us all talk about mergers and acquisitions in person (which one can do here), Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law, recently published an edited transcript of the panel discussion as part of the symposium proceedings. It also is titled "What is a Merger Anyway?" And you can find it here. (The entire volume of the journal that includes the symposium proceedings can be found here. Your friends from the BLPB are the featured authors!) I am sure that your joy in reading it cannot match my joy in contributing to the project, but I hope you find joy in reading it nonetheless.
What remains when the intoxicating distractions of life are removed?
I read both of these books on vacation at Ocean Isle, NC late last month; this was not exactly light, uplifting beach reading.
Before the plague engulfed the Algerian coastal town of Oran, Camus’ narrator notes that:
Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasure as love-making, sea bathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly they reserve these past times for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible . . . . Nevertheless there still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern.
In sharp contrast to the citizens of Oran, Ben Ellis had steadier footing in advance of tragedy. Ben Ellis was a teacher at the private school connected to our church in Nashville (CPA). Our current pandemic has been clarifying for me in many ways, and it has convinced me that Saint Paul was correct when he wrote that faith, hope, and love are the things that remain. Ben Ellis was already building his life on those three things prior to his cancer diagnosis. As his condition worsened in September of 2016, over 400 students gathered outside of his home to sing worship songs with him. Ben Ellis died about 10 days later. Difficulties can clarify, and Ben’s death clarified that he spent his time focused on meaningful things outside of himself. Watch the clip below to see clear evidence of a man who loved God, his students, and his family well. (His daughter is so poised and thoughtful, and the headmaster obviously valued him).
But for many of the citizens of Oran, and many of us in the individualistic, materialistic United States, difficulties can also show that we rest on a shaky foundation. If we are focused primarily on financial success and personal status, something like a pandemic or cancer can destroy the entire endeavor in short order.
In terms of “success,” as it is typically defined in the United States, few could be said to surpass Doctor Paul Kalanithi. He followed an undergraduate and masters degree at Stanford University with medical school at Yale. At the time of his cancer diagnosis, he was in his last year of neurosurgical training as the chief resident back at Stanford University. But even with just a few months left to live, Paul went back to work. The purpose of work does not have to be centered on finances and status. In Paul’s case, he returned to work, I think, primarily because he was doing meaningful work with people he cared about. Impending death clarified that status was of little importance, and he turned down a prestigious and lucrative job offer far from family. I do wonder if he would have taken that job in Wisconsin, but for his diagnosis. From his writing, it sounds like he probably would and that may have been a mistake given his underlying priorities. We often lean toward finances and status, even if our highest priorities lie elsewhere. Hopefully, this pandemic can give us all some time for reflection and help us make decisions that elevate those things that are most important.
Friday, July 3, 2020
It seems that every day, more schools are announcing that they will re-open either totally or mostly online in the Fall. If you’re still debating whether opening face-to-face in the Fall is safe, I recommend that you read this compelling essay by my colleague, Bill Widen. I live in a COVID hotspot in Miami, Florida, and fortunately, I had already been assigned to teach online. Unlike many of you who may find out about your school’s plans at the end of July, I’ve already been focusing on upping my online game.
Last week, in Part II of this series, I promised to summarize what I have learned from some of my readings from Learning How to Learn, Small Teaching Online, and Online Learning and the Future of Legal Education. Alas, I haven’t even had time to look at them because I’ve been teaching two courses, watching webinars on teaching, and taking two online courses for my own non-legal certifications. But it wasn’t a waste of time because it allowed me to look at online learning from a student’s perspective. Next week, I’ll summarize the readings in the sources listed above, but this week, I’ll provide some insight from the experts and from my perspective as a student.
Visual (spacial) learners learn best by seeing
Auditory (aural) learners learn best by hearing
Reading/writing learners learn best by reading and writing
Kinesthetic (physical) learners learn best by moving and doing
I know there’s a lot of controversy on learning styles, but I believe that students do learn differently, and that we need to plan for multiple types of activities to accommodate for those differences. Accordingly, each year, I conduct an online survey before the semester starts to ask the students their learning style, among other things. The students appreciate my asking and it reminds me to use different teaching methods. According to the VARK site, teachers and students often have different styles and we tend to teach in the way that we like to learn. Teaching online will highlight the need to plan for the different learning styles as we compete with the distractions from home.
It’s also important to understand the difference between active and passive learning. In active learning, the student learns by doing. Students learn passively when they listen to lectures or read textbooks. Students engage in active learning when they are analyzing, defining, creating, and evaluating information. Students learn using both modalities, but as educators, we want them to retain the information. This learning pyramid provides a helpful illustration.
My university provided us with the following statistics, which look at active learning from a slightly different perspective, but still gets to the same conclusion – teachers need to focus more on active learning. Apparently, people remember:
10% of what they read- passive learning
20% of what they hear- passive learning
30% of what they see- passive learning
50% of what they see and hear- passive learning
70% of what they say and write- active learning
90% of what they do- active learning
My experiences as a learner and teacher over the past few weeks leads me to believe that learning styles and active learning really do make a difference. For example, even though I had some of the world’s experts as panelists over the past few weeks in my compliance and corporate governance online course, I found during my scans of the Zoom squares that students who weren’t asking questions often look distracted after a period of time. The more they interacted with the panelists, the more engaged the class was as a whole. Having students use the chat feature increased engagement with the speakers as well (just make sure to disable private chat). But even during the most interesting discussions, some students tended to drift away and were clearly doing other things online. On the other hand, when I did sessions with the same students using breakout groups or requiring them to act as board members in a mock meeting, their engagement level appeared higher, even though they always commented favorably on the guest speakers.
Similarly, when I’ve watched webinars or taken certification courses, I found that if I didn’t see a person’s face during a video at least part of the time, then I needed a more engaging presentation style and slides with embedded videos of people doing something. If I didn’t have activities to do to test my understanding or put in practice what I had learned, I quickly lost interest. Reading too much made my eyes glaze over, especially after a day of teaching and holding student meetings on Zoom. Zoom fatigue is real and we need to take that into account when designing our courses. Remember, we may be on Zoom for a few hours a day but our students will be on Zoom for many more hours with different professors using different teaching styles. If we thought they were exhausted after a day of face-to-face class, imagine how they will feel after a day on Zoom learning complex topics from teachers with varying degrees of online proficiency.
With that in mind, here are some things we should consider over the next few weeks:
- How do we break our modules down to chunks of learning activities? How do we tie those learning activities to our stated learning objectives? Even though it may seem like we’re dumbing it down, should we say “Read/Watch This Before Class” “Do This In Class” “Do This After Class” each week in the modules? I’ve learned that you can never make it too simple for students.
- How do we ensure that we have activities where students discover, discuss, and then do/demonstrate?
- Are we mixing things up in our synchronous class every 15-20 minutes with polls, breakout groups, or some other non-lecture activity?
- Are we using the tools that work in a synchronous, asynchronous, and combination environment such as team-based learning, peer review, retrieval practice, and asynchronous videos?
I use team-based learning by having students work in law firms throughout the semester on graded and ungraded assignments and then requiring them to evaluate themselves and each other on specific criteria. More formally, team-based learning can involve more complex features such as readiness assuredness testing, which I don’t do, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness. The Team-Based Learning Collaborative and InteDashboard both come highly recommended.
I have used peer review occasionally in live classes and on discussion boards for my transactional drafting course, but I plan to use it even more in the Fall, likely using Google docs. I’ve found that my students’ work product improves significantly after they’ve marked up someone else’s draft, and this corresponds with the learning pyramid assertion that students remember 75% of what they do and 90% of what they teach others. Other professors I know have used Peerceptiv, Eli Review, and other tools. I’ve watched demos and think they’re great, but I’m trying to keep things simple for myself this Fall.
Finally, I’ve found that polls and no-stakes quizzes are highly effective for keeping students engaged during class, especially in courses like Business Associations. I’ve used polls and test your understanding quizzes through Echo 360 in both synchronous and asynchronous class sessions. Requiring short answers in the Echo 360 quizzes ensures that the students aren’t just guessing. Using multiple choice questions shows me how many students are answering correctly and gives me an idea of where the knowledge gaps are. I also have a record by student of the number of questions they have answered correctly. The quizzes, which only count for class participation, also provide formative assessment, which the students really need in an online environment.
Students also really like polls. It wakes them up and gives me an idea of what they actually understand or think about the material. During class, I’ve tended to use Zoom polls or Echo 360, but in the Fall, I will use a variety of tools including Kahoot for polling and creating instant word clouds, Poll Everywhere, which has more features than Kahoot, and Mentimeter, which offers greater functionality than Zoom. Poll Everywhere has put together a chart comparing it to its competitors but the best way to determine what works for your teaching style and objectives is to test drive them yourself. I’ve been on webinars where presenters have used all four tools, and I liked them all. I will probably use them all during the semester, but no more than two different mechanisms during a synchronous class session. According to our instructional designers, students respond well when professors use one or more polling feature in a class session. Some of the tools require students to use their cell phones to participate and you may have concerns about that, but let’s face it, they may be on their phones anyway, especially if you don’t require them to keep cameras on, as I do.
I’ve now flooded you with information. Next week, the flooding continues. I’ll continue talking about student engagement focusing on evidence-based theories in learning and the do’s and don’ts of breakout rooms. If you have any suggestions or experiences with any of these tools, please leave your comment below.
Friday, June 26, 2020
Last week, I wrote the first in a series of posts with tips for teaching online. I expect many more law schools to join Harvard and now UC Berkeley by doing all Fall classes online. I’m already teaching online this summer and will teach online in the fall. Our students deserve the best, so I’m spending my summer on webinars from my home institution and others learning best practices in course design.
Here are some tips that I learned this week from our distance learning experts. First, I need to adopt backward design. I have to identify the learning objectives for my courses, then decide how I will assess whether or not students successfully met the learning objective. Effective learning objectives are active, measurable, and focus on different levels of learning (e.g., remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating). Some people find Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives helpful.
Once I figure out my learning objectives, I will work backwards to determine what kinds of activities the students will work on either online or face to face (which for me will be Zoom). For more on this topic, see this guide to backward design from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not just saying click here, it’s because descriptive text is better for accessibility.
Then I will figure out the technology, which is important, but shouldn’t drive how or what I teach. Although we think our students are tech savvy, we still need to keep it simple and intuitive. We have to think about how to engage the students and facilitate learning without taking up too much bandwidth.
Finally, I need to ask myself some hard questions.
What do you want students to know when they have finished taking your blended course? What are the intended learning outcomes of the course?
- This actually takes some thought. We all have our mandated ABA learning objectives but what do they really mean, especially in today’s environment? How do I make sure that the learning objectives are pedagogically sound? What do students need to learn to be practical, strategic lawyers? What kinds of people, process, and tech skills do they need for the “new normal” when it comes to delivery of legal services? Yes, I want my students to know how to communicate more effectively to clients, counsel, and judges in my legal writing course. I want my students to know how to draft, edit, and negotiate contracts in my upper level skills courses. I want my compliance students to understand the law and the soft skills. But what other skills matter now? How will I communicate those over Zoom?
As you think about these outcomes, which would be better achieved in the online environment and which would be best achieved face-to-face in class?
- How much harder will it be to teach people skills and impart complex concepts online? I don’t have the option for face-to-face classes in the Fall and many of you won’t either, sorry to say. In the Fall, I will have one online asynchronous course and another hybrid. It will be all online but I will record some lectures and use the synchronous time for simulations, peer review, and discussions. I’m trying to determine how to make the synchronous time as engaging as possible – even more engaging than I would if I was standing in front of the room. I will have to compete with barking dogs, the comforts of a couch, and other electronic distractions that I would not have in an in-person environment. I’ll post more about keeping students engaged online in a subsequent post.
Blended teaching is not just a matter of transferring a portion of your existing course to the online environment. What types of learning activities do you think you will be using for the online portion of your course? For the face-to-face part of the course?
- Each week, I plan to use discussion boards and no-stakes short quizzes to ensure understanding for the asynchronous portions of my courses. My pre-recorded videos will be no longer than fifteen minutes, and ideally seven minutes or less. As stated above, for the synchronous Zoom sessions, I will use polls, breakout rooms, and panels of students. Because I will have a flipped classroom, the students will have learned the concepts so that we can apply them in class. As for class discussions, I have found that I sometimes have a more intimate connection with students in a class of fewer than 25 on Zoom than I did in the classroom, but large classes are much tougher. Professors appear to have mixed views on using the Socratic method on Zoom. Since my face-to-face classes are on Zoom, I require cameras on so that I can see their faces, unless they have permission in advance from me or temporary bandwidth issues.
Blended courses provide new opportunities for asynchronous online discussions. How will you use asynchronous discussions as part of the course learning activities? What challenges do you anticipate in using online discussions? How would you address these?
- I have used pre-class discussion boards and have required students to reply on two other submissions. These count for class participation so students can’t just write “great comment.” I have also experimented with post-class discussion board submissions. They key is to follow up and comment myself so that students don’t feel like they’re in a black hole. I also plan to have one or two students per week post a current event to the discussion board that relates to what we are doing in class. During class time, I will ask another student to discuss or summarize the current event.
How will the face-to-face, online and other “out of class” learning activities be integrated into a single course? In other words, how will all the course activities feed back into and support the other? How will you make the connections between the activities explicit to students?
- This will be tough and this is why I will spend weeks this summer planning. I need to make it clear what the students need to read, watch, and do pre-class, in-class, and post-class. Teaching online takes much more pre-work than most people realize. But this planning is critical to ensuring that the students have a seamless course experience.
When working online, students frequently have problems scheduling their work and managing their time. What do you plan to do to help your students address these issues and understand their own role and responsibility for learning in the course?
- Students really need structure, and even though they don’t like to admit it, they prefer it. Online learning means that students must have more discipline than they are used to. I plan to recommend a workload course estimator so that students can plan appropriately. I will also have to cut back on the work I give because economic and health issues will continue to plague my students during the pandemic. Our university and others have rolled out tools for students to manage their time, and more important, manage their stress. I also plan to do frequent check-ins and increase office hours.
Students can have challenges with using new instructional technologies to support their learning. What specific technologies will you use for the online and face-to-face portions of your course? What proactive steps can you take to assist students to become familiar with your course website and those instructional technologies? If students need help with technology later in the course, how will you provide support?
- As I mentioned in the last post, it’s best for all professors to use the same platforms for the learning management system. You can add bells and whistles for team communication or polling later. As for helping students get familiar with the website, our university has instructional designers and lots of webinars, but I plan to test drive my eventual set up with my research assistants over the summer and ask them to be brutally honest. Fortunately, we have several online resources for students as well.
There is a tendency for faculty to require students to do more work in a blended course than they normally would complete in a traditional face-to-face course. What are you going to do to ensure that you have not created a course and one-half? How will you evaluate the student workload (and your own) as compared to a traditional class?
- This is my biggest concern. I spend many more hours prepping my online courses than my traditional courses, and I haven’t even been doing anything particularly sophisticated. Now that I’m learning more tools and techniques, I anticipate that I will be spending more time prepping. In my zeal to make sure the students have a great experience and learn as much or more than in the traditional classroom, I will likely give them more work as well, if I’m not careful. The key is to use the findings from learning science to find a balance.
In my next post, I’ll talk about what I’m learning about how students learn. In case you can’t wait to see what I write, check out Learning How to Learn, Small Teaching Online, and Online Learning and the Future of Legal Education. If you have suggestions or comments, please leave them below so we can all learn from each other.
 Our instructional designers attributed these questions to the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Monday, June 22, 2020
Thanks to all of our readers who were able to come to the National Business Law Scholars Conference (NBLSC) last Thursday and Friday. It was lovely to see so many of you there, even though it was somewhat sad that we could not be with each other in person. The conference enjoyed record participation, and we have received a lot of useful informal feedback about our virtual format from folks who attended.
I was the beneficiary of many "teaching moments" in hosting and participating in the NBLSC this year. I later will post on some of the outtakes from the NBLSC teaching panel (to which co-blogger Marcia Narine Weldon--who blogged about teaching on Friday--contributed meaningfully). Today, however, I am focusing my post on a few new things my fellow UT Law conference hosts and I learned about Zoom in the process of hosting the conference. A list follows.
- Although meeting participants should mute themselves on entering a meeting, it is best for a meeting host to set up the meeting so that all participants will be muted on entry, especially for large meetings. It can be challenging to track down and mute participants who join a meeting and bring background noise or conversations into a meeting that is already in progress.
- If you have set up a Zoom meeting with yourself as the host and you hand off the hosting to another meeting participant during the meeting, you may leave the meeting without ending the meeting for all. However, you cannot then initiate a second meeting as host until the first meeting has concluded. You cannot, in other words, host two concurrent meetings, even if you handed off hosting in the first meeting to someone else. See here. (Fix? Set up someone else as an alternative host of the first meeting. Also have that alternative host start the first meeting as host. Join the first meeting as a participant. Sign off any time and initiate the second meeting.)
- If you are hosting a meeting, consider assigning someone as a co-host so that, if your Internet connection fails, the meeting continues to proceed with the co-host as host until you can re-join. This was particularly welcome to me, since my power went out three separate times on Friday afternoon during conference sessions I was hosting.
- Have a telephone or data-enabled smart pad handy as a back-up connection device if you are hosting or participating in a Zoom meeting on a computer using the Zoom client. Although data rates may apply, you can easily reconnect using the Zoom app on your phone or smart pad if you lose your Internet connection. (This is how I reconnected those three times on Friday.)
- If the meeting host allows all participants to share screens at the outset of the meeting, if a presenter who is sharing slides drops out of the meeting because of, e.g., Internet hiccups, the presenter can immediately re-share the slides after re-joining the meeting (without having to be named as a host or co-host). A meeting host would not want to allow all participants to share screens, however, unless the participants are trusted.
- A host can kick a participant out of a meeting, but that participant can re-enter the meeting room unless the "Allow removed participants to rejoin" feature is disabled.
- A meeting host can report an aberrant user to Zoom if that feature ("Report participants to Zoom") is enabled in the host's settings.
- Some meeting participants like to communicate with other meeting participants privately through the chat feature of Zoom. See here. It approximates sitting next to (or close to) others in a physical room. If you want to allow this kind of background chatter, enable "Allow meeting participants to send a private 1:1 message to another participant" in your profile settings on Zoom.
- Although I did not use them for the NBLSC, meeting hosts should consider the desirability of using waiting rooms, password requirements, meeting locks and other security features, and breakout rooms to manage participants.
I am sure there is more I could say, but these were the main things I learned that were not necessarily things I had picked up in establishing and engaging Zoom meetings for classroom activities. While some of the above-listed items may be of limited utility in using Zoom to teach online (as opposed to using Zoom to host a two-day, 31-meeting conference), if you substitute "class" for "meeting" in the listed items, you can get a sense of how some of them may apply to class activities in general or in specific circumstances, too. In any event, i have come to the understanding that we all can benefit from knowing as much as possible about the technologies were are using as we continue to navigate the virtual conference and online teaching waters as business law professors.
Friday, June 19, 2020
If you're like me, you're wondering how you can improve your teaching after last Spring's foray into online learning. I wasn't nearly as traumatized as many of my colleagues because I had already taught Transactional Drafting online asynchronously for several semesters. This summer, I'm teaching two courses -- Transactional Drafting asynchronously and a hybrid course on Regulatory Compliance, Corporate Governance, and Sustainability. I'm making a list of tips based on my experience and will post about that in the future. In the meantime, I've started to think about how I can improve next semester when I will be teaching all of my courses online. Since I know that so many students had a mediocre to poor experience with emergency online teaching, I've spent a lot of time on webinars learning how to do better. This will be the first in a series of posts on what I'm learning on course design, learning styles, and best practices. But let's start with the basic questions to ask yourself as you're preparing for next semester.
First, think about whether you want to teach synchronously or not. If you're looking for maximum flexibility for both you and the students, then asynchronous teaching makes sense. If you're teaching solely asynchronously, then you need to consider how to make your videos and content as engaging as possible. You also have to do something to build community within the class and a rapport between you and the student. If you're thinking of doing a hybrid, perhaps using a flipped classroom, recognize that it will take longer to prepare than you would think. For my summer compliance course, I record videos on substantive legal issues, monitor discussion on the class discussion board, prepare questions for students to answer prior to class using Echo 360, and then review those answers all prior to teaching the 2-credit course live on Zoom. This requires substantially more time than normal class prep, but it's well worth it because we can use class time to do simulations or interact with guest speakers from all over the world. More about these issues will come in a future post.
Second, learn everything you can about the platforms you will use next semester so that you can master all of the features that will make your class more engaging. Even if your institution does not require you to use one platform, try to come to some consensus anyway. Students do not want to learn three different systems so do what you can to make sure that the platforms are uniform and intuitive for them. Then think of whether all of the tools you're already using can integrate with that platform. Our university is using Blackboard, Echo 360, and Zoom. The students will have one place for logon and access everything from there. Next, think about whether you want to have students use discussion boards to interact or maybe develop Slack or Microsoft Teams instead. Since many students are uncomfortable speaking in class on video, we will have to work harder to foster classroom discussion. Teams and Slack channels can help, and many students will already use them for internships or business purposes. The more intentional you are, the better an experience your students will have, even if it takes some time to determine what works for you. If you have a research assistant or student you can contact, find out which tools did and didn't work from their Spring experience. See if your university will survey students for feedback on online learning,
Third, think about whether you have the right equipment. Do you need a separate headset, webcam, or microphone? I actually don't use any of those even though I have a separate microphone. How stable is your internet? Think about whether you might need an upgraded modem or even your own mesh network. One thing I absolutely recommend is a ring light. There are hundreds of YouTube videos on how to light yourself properly using your household lamps. But, I've found that having a separate ring light makes my videos brighter and more professional looking.
Finally, while you're designing your course, make sure you're thinking of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At UM, we've been told to do the following for presentations:
- provide wording for links and avoid using “click here” for the links;
- use sans serif fonts for easy readability;
- use dark font colors on light backgrounds;
- avoid extremely bright colors as a background color;
- use one font throughout the site;
- avoid overuse of all CAPS, bold or italics;
- avoid underlining words, as the screen reader can mistake it for a navigation link;
- make sure that images are clear and optimized for efficient loading;
- limit the use of animated and blinking images text, or cursors because they can cause seizures for some people;
- make sure that audio file lengths are adequate to meet the goals of the activity without being too large to restrict users’ ability to download the file on computers with lower bandwidths;
- provide a written transcript with all audio files; and
- provide closed-captioning or has accompanying text-based scripts for all videos.
After you've thought through some of these baseline issues, you can then turn to making your content as interesting and accessible for your students as possible. Future posts will cover tips for effective presentations, tools to increase engagement, and other best practices. In the meantime, if you have any tips to share or areas you want covered, please comment below.