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.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
I think that the GCs at Big Pharma have hacked into my Zoom account. First, some background. Earlier this week, I asked my students in UM’s Lawyering in a Pandemic course to imagine that they were the compliance officers or GCs at the drug companies involved in Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership formed to find a vaccine for COVID-19 in months, rather than years. I asked the students what they would do if they thought that the scientists were cutting corners to meet the government’s deadlines. Some indicated that they would report it internally and then externally, if necessary.
I hated to burst their bubbles, but I explained that the current administration hasn’t been too welcoming to whistleblowers. I had served on a non-partisan, multi-stakeholder Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee when President Trump came into office, which was disbanded shortly thereafter. For over a year after that, I received calls from concerned scientists asking where they could lodge complaints. With that background, I wanted my students to think about how company executives could reasonably would report on cutting corners to the government that was requiring the “warp speed” results in the first place. We didn’t even get into the potential ethical issues related to lawyers as whistleblowers.
Well the good news is that Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi announced on Friday that they have signed a pledge to make sure that they won’t jeopardize public safety by ignoring protocols. Apparently, the FDA may be planning its own statement to reassure the public. I look forward to seeing the statements when they’re released, but these companies have been working on these drugs for months. Better late than never, but why issue this statement now? Perhaps the lawyers and compliance officers – the gatekeepers – were doing their jobs and protecting the shareholders and the stakeholders. Maybe the scientists stood their ground. We will never know how or why the companies made this decision, but I’m glad they did. The companies hadn’t announced this safety pledge yet when I had my class and at the time, almost none of the students said they would get the vaccine. Maybe the pledge will change their minds.
Although the drug companies seem to be doing the right thing, I have other questions about Kodak. During the same class, I had asked my students to imagine that they were the GC, compliance officer, or board member at Kodak. Of course, some of my students probably didn’t even know what Kodak is because they take pictures with their phones. They don’t remember Kodak for film and cameras and absolutely no one knows Kodak as a pharmaceutical company. Perhaps that’s why everyone was stunned when Kodak announced a $765 million federal loan to start producing drug ingredients, especially because it’s so far outside the scope of its business. After all, the company makes chemicals for film development and manufacturing but not for life saving drugs. Kodak has struggled over the past few years because it missed the boat on digital cameras and has significant debt, filing for bankruptcy in 2012. It even dabbled in cryptocurrency for a few months in 2018. Not the first choice to help develop a vaccine.
To be charitable, Kodak did own a pharmaceutical company for a few years in the 80’s. But its most recent 10-K states that “Kodak is a global technology company focused on print and advanced materials and chemicals. Kodak provides industry-leading hardware, software, consumables and services primarily to customers in commercial print, packaging, publishing, manufacturing and entertainment.”
The Kodak deal became even more newsworthy because the company issued 1.75 million in stock and options to the CEO and other grants to company insiders and board members before the public announcement of the federal loan. The CEO had only had the job for a year. I haven’t seen any news reports of insiders complaining or refusing the grants. In fact, the day after the announcement of the loan, a Kodak board member made a $116 million dollar donation to charity he founded. Understandably, the news of the deal caused Kodak’s shares to soar. Insiders profited, and the SEC started asking questions after looking at records of the stock trades.
Alas, the deal is on hold as the SEC investigates. The White House’s own trade advisor has said that this may be “one of the dumbest decisions by executives in corporate history.” I’m not sure about that, but there actually may be nothing to see here. Some believe that there was a snafu with the timing of the announcement and that the nuances of Reg FD may get Kodak off the hook .I wonder though, what the gatekeepers were doing? Did the GC, compliance officer, or any board member ask the obvious questions? “Why are we doing something so far outside of our core competency?” They didn’t even get the digital camera thing right and that is Kodak’s core competency. Did anyone ask “should we really be issuing options and grants right before the announcement? Isn’t this loan material, nonpublic information and shouldn’t we wait to trade?”
I’ll keep watching the Kodak saga and will report back. In coming posts, I’ll write about other compliance and corporate governance mishaps. In the meantime, stay safe and please wear your masks.
September 5, 2020 in Compensation, Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Lawyering, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 3, 2020
Drake University invites applications from entry level and lateral candidates for a tenure-track Assistant/Associate Professor of Law position beginning in the 2021-22 academic year. We are interested in candidates with demonstrated interest or experience in Technology Law. Applicants must hold a J.D. degree (or the equivalent) and should have a record of academic excellence, substantial academic or practice experience, and a passion for teaching. Appointment rank will be determined commensurate with the candidate’s qualifications and experience.
In addition to service and scholarship, this position involves teaching courses such as Legal/Ethical Issues in Technology, Technology Law, Privacy Law, and related areas in both the Law School and the College of Arts & Sciences as well as advising law and undergraduate students and serving as a University resource on technology legal issues.
Drake University sustains a vibrant intellectual culture, and Des Moines has been recognized as the Best Place to Live (US News), the Best Place for Young Professionals (Forbes), and as the #1 Best U.S. City for Business (MarketWatch).
Drake University is an equal opportunity employer and actively seeks applicants who reflect the nation’s diversity. No applicant shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, religion, age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information or veteran status. Diversity is one of Drake’s core values and applicants need to demonstrate an ability to work with individuals and groups of diverse backgrounds.
Confidential review of applications will begin immediately. Applications (including a letter of interest, a complete CV, teaching evaluations (if available), a diversity statement, and the names and addresses of at least three references) should be sent to Professor Ellen Yee, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Drake University Law School, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311 or e-mail: email@example.com.
Drake University Law School invites applications from entry level and lateral candidates for a tenure-track or tenured Assistant/Associate/Professor of Law position beginning in the 2021-22 academic year. We are especially interested in candidates with demonstrated interest or experience in Contracts, Sales, Tax, Intellectual Property, and Family Law. Applicants must hold a J.D. degree (or the equivalent) and should have a record of academic excellence, substantial academic or practice experience, and a passion for teaching. Appointment rank will be determined commensurate with the candidate’s qualifications and experience.
Drake University Law School sustains a vibrant intellectual culture, and Des Moines has been recognized as the Best Place to Live (US News), the Best Place for Young Professionals (Forbes), and as the #1 Best U.S. City for Business (MarketWatch). The Law School features innovative and nationally recognized programs in agricultural law, constitutional law, legal research and writing, and practical training.
Drake University is an equal opportunity employer and actively seeks applicants who reflect the nation’s diversity. No applicant shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, creed, religion, age, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, genetic information or veteran status. Diversity is one of Drake’s core values and applicants need to demonstrate an ability to work with individuals and groups of diverse socioeconomic, cultural, sexual orientation, disability, and/or ethnic backgrounds.
Confidential review of applications will begin immediately. Applications (including a letter of interest, a complete CV, teaching evaluations (if available), a diversity statement, and the names and addresses of at least three references) should be sent to Professor Ellen Yee, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee, Drake University Law School, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, IA 50311 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of Black entrepreneurs sponsored by the Miami Finance Forum, a group of finance, investment management, banking, capital markets, private equity, venture capital, legal, accounting and related professionals. When every company and law firm was posting about Black Lives Matter and donating to various causes, my colleague Richard Montes de Oca, an MFF board member, decided that he wanted to do more than post a generic message. He and the MFF board decided to launch a series of webinars on Black entrepreneurship. The first panel featured Jamarlin Martin, who runs a digital media company and has a podcast; Brian Brackeen, GP of Lightship Capital and founder of Kairos, a facial recognition tech company; and Raoul Thomas, CEO of CGI Merchant Group, a real estate private equity group.
These panelists aren't the typical Black entrepreneurs. Here are some sobering statistics:
- Black-owned business get their initial financing through 44% cash; 15% family and friends; 9% line of credit; 7% unsecured loans; and 3% SBA loans;
- Between February and April 2020, 41% of Black-owned businesses, 33% of Latinx businesses, and 26% of Asian-owned businesses closed while 17% of White-owned business closed;
- As of 2019, the overwhelming majority of businesses in majority Black and Hispanic neighborhoods did not have enough cash on hand to pay for two weeks worth of bills;
- The Center for Responsible Lending noted that in April, 95% of Black-owned businesses were tiny companies with slim change of achieving loans in the initial rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program;
- Only 12% of Black and Hispanic business owners polled between April 30-May 12 had received the funding they requested from the stimulus program. In contrast half of all small business had received PPP funds in the same poll.
Because we only had an hour for the panel, we didn't cover as much as I would have liked on those statistics. Here's what we did discuss:
- the failure of boards of directors and companies to do meaningful work around diversity and inclusion- note next week, I will post about the spate of shareholder derivative actions filed against companies for false statements about diversity commitments;
- the perceptions of tokenism and "shallow, ambiguous" diversity initiatives;
- how to get business allies of all backgrounds;
- the need for more than trickle down initiatives where the people at the bottom of the corporation/society don't reap benefits;
- the fact that investing in Black venture capitalists does not mean that those Black VCs will invest in Black entrepreneurs and the need for more transparency and accountability;
- whether the Black middle class still exists and the responsibility of wealthier Black professionals to provide mentorship and resources;
- why it's easier for entrepreneurs to get investments for products vs. services, and a hack to convince VCs to invest in the service;
- whether a great team can make up for a so-so product when a VC hears a pitch;
- why there are so many obstacles to being a Black LGBTQ entrepreneur and how to turn it to an advantage when pitching; and
- whether reparations will actually help Black entrepreneurs and communities.
If you want to hear the answers to these questions, click here for access to the webinar. Stay safe and wear your masks!
July 24, 2020 in Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Family Business, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Private Equity, Service, Shareholders, Technology, Venture Capital | Permalink | Comments (0)
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, 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.
Friday, May 8, 2020
After finishing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I devoured Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Published in 1985, Postman’s thesis is that Huxley in Brave New World, not George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, more accurately predicted life in the modern United States. In the forward to his book, Postman writes:
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history, As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (xix).
Postman argues that we have moved from an Age of Exposition--where print-based works encouraged logic, order, relevant criticism, and deep learning--to an Age of Show Business, dominated by "the language of headlines--sensational, fragmented, impersonal.” (55-70). This shift, according to Postman, has led to a focus on applause over reflection, a focus on image instead of ideas. He compares a 7-hour Lincoln-Douglas debate in the Age of Exposition (44-45) to the 1984 Age of Show Business presidential debates with 5-minute addresses and 1-minute rebuttals (97). Given the biases of the medium of television influencing the 1984 “debates,” Postman argues that:
in such circumstances, complexity, documentation, and logic can play no role, and, indeed, on several occasions syntax itself was abandoned entirely. It is no matter. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with “giving off” impressions, which is what television does best. Post-debate commentary largely avoided any evaluation of the candidates’ ideas, since there were none to evaluate. Instead, the debates were conceived as boxing matches, the relevant question being, Who KO’d whom? The answer determined by the “style” of the men--how they looked, fixed their gaze, smiled, and delivered one-liners. (97)
Having watched a number of political “debates,” I must say Postman nails it here, though 5-minute addresses may have shrunk to 2-minutes by 2020! In contrast, on October 16, 1854, Douglas received 180 uninterrupted minutes before Lincoln was given a chance to respond. In a shorter debate on August 21 1858, Douglas received 60 minutes to speak, followed by a 90 minute reply from Lincoln, and concluding with a 30 minute rebuttal by Douglas. Unfortunately, in the modern United States, Postman convincingly argues that “the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial….on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people...the commercial disdains exposition, for that takes time and invites argument.” (126-31)
Those who run television do not limit our access to information, but in fact widen it. Our Ministry of Culture is Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical, and noncontextual: that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves. (141)
According to Postman, the Age of Show Business influences everything from how modern books are written to how our education is shaped. His tenth chapter is entitled “Teaching as an Amusing Activity” and starts with intense criticism of Sesame Street. Postman claims, “[w]e now know that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” (143). Postman cites no evidence to support this claim and the research on Sesame Street’s impact seems varied. Nevertheless, Postman argues that the material in the Sesame Street shows is not nearly as important as the way it is taught. Postman writes “the most important thing one learns is always something about how one learns," not the content of the lesson. (144). In responding to television's increasing influence, Postman argues that teachers are increasing visual stimulation in the classroom and “are reducing the amount of exposition their students must cope with; are relying less on reading and writing assignments; and are reluctantly concluding that the principal means by which student interest may be engaged is entertainment.” (148-49).
Postman admits that he doesn’t have strong solutions for the shriveling cultural spirit that he observes (155-63). He is not optimistic about Americans abandoning television nor about attempts to improve the programming. The only hope he sees is education, though he admits that even education may be powerless. Interestingly, Postman (in 1985) claims that he “believe[s] the computer to be a vastly overrated technology.” (161). More accurately he predicted:
[Americans will give computers] their customary mindless inattention, which means they will use it as they are told, without a whimper. Thus a central thesis of computer technology--that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data--will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved. (161)
I need to do a lot more thinking about this book. Postman makes a compelling case for the shallowness of the Age of Show Business, but I am more hopeful than Postman that students, with the help of professors, can see this shallowness and work in more meaningful directions. While many of us have been immersed in the Age of Show Business for our entire lives, we professors should aspire to much more than mere amusement in education. There is great value in working through dense, difficult material over long periods of time. This difficult work may not be enjoyable in the short-term for students, but it is indispensable for deep work and growth to maturity. Sadly, the pull of the Age of Show Business is quite strong, and maybe the amusing Matt Damon will be cast for the role of professor in future classes. For all our sake, let's hope not.
Monday, May 4, 2020
In two earlier posts (here and here), I addressed a number of issues and tips related to the emergency remote online teaching that became the norm for most of us in the law academy back in March. I finished my "classroom teaching" for the semester two weeks ago. My online timed exam was given last week. My take-home project in another class is due this week. I survived; the students survived. That may be the best I can say for all that.
However, a larger, long-term issue looms in the background relating to the online teaching we did--and may continue to do--as a result of COVID-19. That issue? Whether our current remote teaching will catalyze a movement in higher education, including legal education, to teach more classes online. If university and law school budgets continue to contract, administrators may see cost-savings in moving more courses online.
This issue has engendered much debate among educators generally. I bring it to the fore here for consideration in the business law teaching context. I have mixed feelings about moving clinical, simulation, and standard doctrinal business law courses online. The reasons vary from course to course. And there is no doubt much that I likely do not see or anticipate that I would want to take into account.
As a result, I have started reading up on online teaching and online course design, and I have been thinking through my personal experience with remote teaching this semester. Among the articles I read this past week is this one, which calls on us to push back against central administrative demands to move teaching online. In fact, I am not opposed to moving some of my teaching online. But I would want to be able to choose what to move online, when, and how based on quality information and my own assessment of the benefits to and challenges for our learners.
Have you thought about teaching all of your courses online? If so, I would be interested to know your views . . . Please share them below, or send me a message.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
This post comes to us from friend-of-the BLPB Nadia B. Ahmad. Many thanks to her for this contribution. Her post follows nicely on the spirit of my "Teaching through the Pandemic" posts, which can be found here and here. My favorite part may be the bit on "Troubleshooting Life and Expectations."
As I begin this post on Sunday, March 29, 2020, there are currently 674,466 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19). Immunology and infectious disease researchers are working round the clock with their heads down for a cure and a vaccine, but we have nothing in the near term for an end to this situation. The markets have been a tumbling since January 2020 and spiraling downward since March 2020. Even Brexit and the deceleration of China's economy could not have expected this downturn in the market.
On March 12, 2020, I taught my last in person Business Organizations class for the semester. For the first half of the class, I had the students complete a practice essay in Canvas on the business judgment rule. The remainder of the time, I had them join via WebEx on their laptops. In that class, approximately 40 percent of the students were able to login to WebEx via Canvas for a lecture of derivative litigation. The rest could join with a direct link. During that triage session while they were in the room, I learned how to troubleshoot connectivity issues with the help of my students. For the past two weeks of online learning, I have had 100 percent attendance in both my classes and student engagement is up as well.
I wanted to share some insights related to teaching via WebEx as well as online teaching generally.
Learning WebEx’s Virtual Classroom
Spending some time on YouTube helped me with figuring out how the platform works. The university also offered some training sessions, but I found YouTube video easier to help me.
Periodically, WebEx may be down altogether because of the load on its system, you can check WebEx’s global status here.
For troubleshooting WebEx audio issues, visit here.
For WebEx video support, visit here.
Some students may have a weak Wifi connection. To alleviate this issue, I also provide the dial-in number. Only one or two students have this issue, but it is also a reliable backup if students cannot connect via WebEx. To locate the dial-in number for your WebEx meeting, visit here.
Checking Hardware and Connectivity (WiFi and Audio)
Some issues with WebEx meeting will be unrelated to the platform itself. While your computer’s existing audio and video functionalities may work, I have found that using a microphone enhances the audio experience. I used Professor Josh Blackman recommendation of the Blue Snowball USB microphone.
Check your high speed internet connection here. You should be running at around 50 mbps. If your internet connection is slower, consider an upgrade in speed.
Troubleshooting Life and Expectations
As an introvert, I welcome this scaling back on social interactions on some levels. At the same time, I miss my students. I have chosen to do hybrid asynchronous/synchronous sessions. I record part of my lectures, but also have live class sessions as well. I was bit nervous to record the classes until I actually did do it and later read a post by Professor William Fischer (Harvard) on Emergency Online Pedagogy. Recording classes is considerate of not only students, but the server. Fischer writes:
First, the quality of a pre-recorded lecture is likely to be substantially higher than that of lecture delivered live. Pre-recorded lectures can be constructed in segments — which can then either be posted online separately (like this) or stitched together and posted online as a single unit. If you are not happy with one segment, you can discard and replace it. Equally important, it is much easier to integrate graphics and audiovisual material in a pre-recorded lecture. (Some techniques for doing this will be discussed shortly.) Last but not least, pre-recorded lectures can be edited.
Having used both formats, I am now strongly in favor of pre-recorded rather than live lectures. Feedback from my students over several years makes clear that they share this preference. My lectures are significantly tighter and clearer when I record them in advance. You may think that you can produce an elegant lecture in “one take,” and perhaps you are right — but I confess that I thought so as well until I watched a recording of one of my unedited presentations.
The second advantage of a pre-recorded lecture is that it is not vulnerable to a major technological threat posed by the sudden and massive shift to online education prompted by the pandemic. … Betting a class on the availability of Zoom [or WebEx] at a particular time is thus risky. By contrast, a pre-recorded lecture can be uploaded to the Internet at any time. In addition, students need not “stream” it, but instead can download it to their computers and then watch it at their convenience. This delivery method is far less vulnerable to technological overload. In addition, the larger the number of teachers who rely on pre-recorded lectures, the smaller will be the aggregate burden imposed on Zoom [and other platforms] and thus the greater the likelihood that it will be available when we need it.
Part of wanting to record a portion of the lectures is also a practical matter for me. I have three kids (ages 2.5, 6, and 9) and my partner is a health care worker and is still working. At any rate, I look forward to welcoming week #4 of online learning and will share tips on integrating current events into discussion on business organizations, the markets, and derivative litigation.
Monday, March 23, 2020
I write today to share some Zoom connectivity tips that I have accumulated since my first post on this topic. I spent class time before (and personal time during) Spring Break, which concluded for us yesterday, testing Zoom connections with students--working with them to overcome barriers to clear Internet communications using Zoom. My collected tips, which I shared with my students yesterday, are pasted in below.
Some items on my tip list may not be applicable to you and your students. Most are mentioned elsewhere; and if you already have been teaching using Zoom for a week or more, you may well have already figured all this out in any case. Nevertheless, I thought it might be useful to share my "top five" here.
1. Close out of open files and applications before you join in on our class meeting. Allow your computer to focus its activity on our class exclusively.1
2. If you are sharing bandwidth in your household, ask your household members if they can schedule their usage around your class meetings. Internet speed issues can have a real effect on the performance of video conferencing software.2
3. Log in through the campus's Zoom page, [the url for that page was included here in the original]. It seems to work better than than logging in through the Zoom app directly. But each of us may want to try each way on our own to see if it makes a difference.3
4. Download the Zoom app for your phone. If your Internet connection fails, you may be able to join or re-join class from your phone, assuming your data plan can support that use.4
5. Remember that you can test your audio or video on Zoom by clicking on zoom-us in the tool bar and clicking on Audio or Video. You will see the test options there. Please run those tests before class!5
I also reminded my students to log into class about ten minutes early to best ensure that their links to the class meeting are as strong as possible once class begins.
Nothing in my tip list is Earth-shattering. But if you are troubleshooting Zoom connection issues with a student, perhaps one or more of these tips will help. Regardless, I hope that everyone settles into a productive, happy online teaching experience. If you are like me, you'll figure out a way to ensure that your students are getting what they need, one way or another.
Leave your own tips in the comments. They are appreciated. Footnotes are included below.
1 From the Zoom blog:
During a meeting, other applications have a way of intruding and asking for attention from your CPU or broadband connection. While downloading information through a broadband connection, the application doing the downloading is competing with Zoom. The same occurs when you use CPU-intensive applications: they steal precious ticks from your processor.
When streaming 30 frames per second, your camera is taking 30 pictures of you each and every second, then sending them to the processor with instructions to forward the images through Zoom. Zoom uses your processor to send the images to your network card, which transmits the data to its destination. This process requires the energy of your CPU. To engage in the smoothest possible meetings, close any applications you don’t need to use for the meeting itself. It’s that simple.
2 Zoom's recommended system requirements can be found here.
3 Our campus has a super webpage dedicated to Zoom with a list of linked support documents. Yours probably does, too.
4 Zoom has a webpage dedicated to information for mobile users.
5 Zoom offers a streamlined process for testing audio and video from the view screen at this webpage (which includes, among other things, a brief video).
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Friend-of-the-BLPB Seth Oranburg informs me that the call for papers is now open for the #Futurelaw 4.0 Junior Faculty Workshop, offering newer scholars the opportunity to present and respond to research and writing in law-and-technology areas of endeavor. Details (including how to apply for inclusion) are available at www.duq.edu/future-law-4. The workshop is to be held on November 22, 2019. Submissions are due on October 14, and complete drafts are due on November 8.
Please spread the word quickly! This sounds like an exciting opportunity, but there is a short fuse on applications.
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Have you ever wanted to learn the basics about blockchain? Do you think it's all hype and a passing fad? Whatever your view, take a look at my new article, Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain to Benefit Business and Society, co-authored with Rachel Epstein, counsel at Hedera Hashgraph. I became interested in blockchain a year ago because I immediately saw potential use cases in supply chain, compliance, and corporate governance. I met Rachel at a Humanitarian Blockchain Summit and although I had already started the article, her practical experience in the field added balance, perspective, and nuance.
The abstract is below:
Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management, and to assist governments and businesses in mitigating human rights impacts. This Article will discuss how state and non-state actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency. Part I will provide an overview of blockchain technology. Part II will briefly describe how public and private actors use blockchain today to track food, address land grabs, protect refugee identity rights, combat bribery and corruption, eliminate voter fraud, and facilitate financial transactions for those without access to banks. Part III will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility initiatives that currently utilize blockchain or are exploring the possibilities for shareholder communications, internal audit, and cyber security. Part IV will delve into the business and human rights landscape and examine how blockchain can facilitate compliance. Specifically, we will focus on one of the more promising uses of distributed ledger technology -- eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena thereby satisfying various mandatory disclosure regimes and shareholder requests. Part V will pose questions that board members should ask when considering adopting the technology and will recommend that governments, rating agencies, sustainable stock exchanges, and institutional investors provide incentives for companies to invest in the technology, when appropriate. Given the increasing widespread use of the technology by both state and non-state actors and the potential disruptive capabilities, we conclude that firms that do not explore blockchain’s impact risk obsolescence or increased regulation.
Things change so quickly in this space. Some of the information in the article is already outdated and some of the initiatives have expanded. To keep up, you may want to subscribe to newsletters such as Hunton, Andrews, Kurth's Blockchain Legal Resource. For more general information on blockchain, see my post from last year, where I list some of the videos that I watched to become literate on the topic. For additional resources, see here and here.
If you are interested specifically in government use cases, consider joining the Government Blockchain Association. On September 14th and 15th, the GBA is holding its Fall 2019 Symposium, “The Future of Money, Governance and the Law,” in Arlington, Virginia. Speakers will include a chief economist from the World Bank and banking, political, legal, regulatory, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals from around the world. This event is sponsored by the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis (CINA) Center, and the Government Blockchain Association (GBA). Organizers expect over 300 government, industry and academic leaders on the Arlington Campus of George Mason University, either in person or virtually. To find out more about the event go to: http://bit.ly/FoMGL-914.
Blockchain is complex and it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's not the answer to everything, but I will continue my focus on the compliance, governance, and human rights implications, particularly for Dodd-Frank and EU conflict minerals due diligence and disclosure. As lawyers, judges, and law students, we need to educate ourselves so that we can provide solid advice to legislators and business people who can easily make things worse by, for example, drafting laws that do not make sense and developing smart contracts with so many loopholes that they cause jurisdictional and enforcement nightmares.
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding blockchain, I'm particularly proud of this article and would not have been able to do it without my co-author, Rachel, my fantastic research assistants Jordan Suarez, Natalia Jaramillo, and Lauren Miller from the University of Miami School of Law, and the student editors at the Tennessee Journal of Business Law. If you have questions or please post them below or reach out to me at email@example.com.
September 7, 2019 in Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Financial Markets, Human Rights, Law Reviews, Lawyering, Legislation, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, August 2, 2019
Later today, the students in my nine-week online Transactional Lawyering: Drafting and Negotiating Contracts Course will breathe a sigh of relief. They will submit their final contracts, and their work will be done. They can now start reading for their Fall classes knowing that they have completed the work for their required writing credit. My work, on the other hand, won’t end for quite a while. Although this post will discuss teaching an online course, much of my advice would work for a live, in person class as well.
If you’ve ever taught a transactional drafting course, you know that’s a lot of work. You are in a seemingly never ending cycle of developing engaging content, teaching the material, answering questions, reviewing drafts, and grading the final product. Like any writing course, you’re in constant editing and feedback mode with the students.
If you’ve ever taught an online course, you know how much work it can be. I taught asynchronously, meaning I uploaded materials and the students had a specific time within which to complete assignments, typically one week or more. Fortunately, I had help from the University of Miami’s instructional design team, otherwise, I would likely have been a disaster. They provided me with a template for each module, which forced me to really think through the objectives for each class session, not just the course as a whole. In my traditional courses I have learning objectives, but I have never gone into so much detail either in my head or in writing about what I wanted the student to get out of each individual class.
Teaching a drafting course online was much more work than I expected, but I can’t wait to do it again. If you’re thinking about it, learn from my travails and triumphs. First, here are my suggested “Do’s”:
- Find a way to build community: I wanted to ensure that students felt connected to me. I scripted a welcome video and the instructional design team filmed and edited it. This way students saw my face. I wanted the students to see each other as well, so I required them to film a 2-minute introductory video of themselves and upload it so that students could “see” their classmates. Students then commented on their peers’ videos welcoming them to the class. I did short videos for most of the modules, but these did not always show my face. No video was more than 10 minutes long because apparently today’s students can’t pay attention for too much longer than that.
- Have students work in groups (at first): I divided the 16 students into 4 law firms based in part on what I saw in their videos. I wanted some diversity of gender, race, and experience in the groups. Students drafted a law firm agreement outlining how they would interact with each other, meet deadlines, and resolve disputes. They also picked a firm name and managing partner. They assessed themselves and each other as group members based on criteria that I provided. The group work minimized the amount of feedback that I had to provide. As a group, they drafted the law firm agreement, a client engagement letter, and worked on a short contract. Some assignments were graded and some were ungraded. The group work counted for 10% of the grade. This percentage wasn’t enough of the grade to cause panic, and the team assessment ensured that they didn’t slack off and benefit from their peers’ hard work.
- Mix it up: For each class, I had students review a presentation on Echo 360. Often, they answered questions that I posed in the presentation or did exercises from Tina Stark’s contract drafting book. On other occasions, they posted responses to prompts on the discussion boards and commented (constructively) on other responses, citing the rule or principle that buttressed their position.
- Make them keep track of their time and do a bill: Every lawyer hates tracking time, but it’s a necessity. I tell the students that they’ll thank me later. Each student, even on group assignments had to track their time and turn in a bill. This helped me gauge how the groups and students compared to each other. I also knew which student worked on which parts of the contracts.
- Let them negotiate: After the group work portion of the course ended,the students negotiated the terms of their final contract using a set of secret facts. I required them to develop and turn in a negotiation strategy using materials and videos that I put together. Armed with their BATNAs, WATNAs, and ZOPAs, I told them to spend no more than one hour negotiating. I required them to film their negotiations, upload them, and send them to me. They then worked on individual term sheets (for a grade). After the negotiations ended and I had received all term sheets, I released the secret facts and had the students assess themselves and their opposing counsel on their negotiation skills and tactics. I also provided feedback to each student on their negotiation performance and term sheets.
- Require them to communicate with the client:I required a 1-2 page client cover memo or email for almost every assignment focusing on tone, language, use of legalese, etc. In my comments, I explained the importance of this type of legal writing and of tailoring the language to different types of business clients. When they worked on NDAs, I reminded that them that client may never actually read the contract, so they needed to ensure that the cover memo was sufficiently detailed to provide material information without being overwhelming.
- Make them teach: They say that when you teach, you learn twice. I required the each student to develop a 5-7 minute video on an assigned topic. Each student “presented” to either a group of lay/business people or a group of junior associates attending a CLE. They then had to write a blog post of between 750-1000 words. I required students to watch each other’s videos and comment as either a business person or a junior lawyer. This provided a review of the class for the viewers. This assignment counted for 10% of the grade, but as an extra incentive to take the assignment seriously, the student with the “best” video received an extra week to turn in the joint final contract, meaning that the opposing counsel also benefitted. FYI, I was generally blown away by the videos.
- Allow them to use precedents and then instruct them on the limitations: Many of the students had never seen an NDA, and I allowed them to use precedents. Most were surprised by how many comments I had on their final products, especially since many of the precedents came from big firms. This was a valuable lesson for them on precision and the dangers of blind cutting and pasting.
- Make them redline and draft a contract with opposing counsel:The final assignment required them to draft a contract based on their negotiated terms. They soon realized that they had to do additional negotiation because some of the terms did not make sense once they started to memorialize them.
- Have office hours and use video conferencing:I practically had to beg the students to have office hours with me. They had no problem emailing with questions, but generally didn’t utilize my office hours, which were incredibly flexible. I offered online and in person hours, but only two students met with me during the semester outside of the live mandatory office hours. I had a mandatory live grading session by video to discuss their NDAs, their upcoming negotiations, and any questions they had about the course. During that live grading session, I acted as a partner in their law firm and then stepped into professor role.
What didn’t work as well? As you can imagine, to do the job correctly, I had a LOT of work to do. I clearly gave too much work over a nine-week period, because I know much work I had to do to give them feedback. I just wanted them to be armed with the skills they will need in the real world, but I overdid it. And this meant that sometimes I did not meet my own deadlines for getting feedback to them. Truthfully, I imposed some of that burden on myself. I offered students the chance to turn in drafts of almost every assignment for feedback. About 25-30 percent of the students took me up on that offer, but every week, I emailed all of the students with tips to improve based on the trends that I saw. In retrospect, I would give fewer assignments over a longer period of time, and would better utilize the discussion boards to foster that sense of live class discussion.
After all of that, I’m gearing up to do it again for the Fall, this time over a 15-week period. Even though I will have more time, both I and the students will have other classes. I’m also teaching business associations and legal writing, and the students will have their own classes, jobs, law reviews, and extracurricular activities to contend with.
If you have any questions or tips, leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I plan to learn more about course development at the University of Denver hybrid/online learning conference on September 26th. I’ll update this post after that conference. In the meantime, this weekend, I’ll be retooling my syllabus based on my summer experience and what I’ve learned this week at SEALS. Correction, I’ll retool in between grading the joint contracts.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Last week, a wonderful man in my life died. Jonathan Spencer, a classmate from and fellow class leader for Brown University, died unexpectedly a week ago. He collapsed while exercising and was unable to be revived. At the time of his death, he was the General Counsel of the Museum of Science Fiction in Washington, DC, a museum that he helped to found. The above photo was taken last year at our 35th reunion celebrations. Although we did not see each other a lot in between reunions, we shared a passion for Brown and our class.
We also shared a professional connection, as the title of this post indicates. Jonathan was a fellow business lawyer. He focused on communications technology for much of his career. His formal professional bio as currently posted at the Museum of Science Fiction is as follows:
Jonathan Spencer, General Counsel. Jonathan is a technology and transactional attorney with over 25 years of experience having held senior and executive level positions with several Internet and telecommunications companies. Jonathan has also representedtechnology and media companies, financial institutions and nonprofit organizations. Jonathan is a former chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s IT, Privacy and E-Commerce Committee and has spoken at programs for the American Bar Association, the Association of Corporate Counsel, the American Society of Association Executives and the International Technology Law Association. Jonathan is a graduate of Brown University and Duke University School of Law.
I can assure you, as impressive as his professional accomplishments are, Jonathan was far more than an impressive business lawyer. He had a seemingly boundless intellectual capacity. At his memorial services in Falls Church, Virginia yesterday, it was noted by family that "Before Google and Wikipedia, there was Jonathan." That rang so true to me. But more importantly, perhaps, Jonathan had an incredible joy for life. He was "all in" when he chose to do things--from simple conversations with friends and classmates about mutual interests through event planning and fundraising work for Brown to world travel (and much more in between). He lived life--making sure that he enjoyed the present moment as he strived to achieve all that he accomplished. His altogether too-short life reminds me to do the same.
The photo below was taken of the two of us at Brown Homecoming back in 2007. We were on campus for a leadership weekend and attended the football game while we were there. A fellow classmate found this picture for me a few days ago. I will treasure it and all of the memories of our times together. Jonathan, may you rest in eternal peace, and may your family be comforted in their time of grief. You will be missed by us all.
Friday, May 3, 2019
I blogged two weeks ago about whether we were teaching law students the wrong things, the wrong way, or both. I’ve been thinking about that as I design my asynchronous summer course on transactional lawyering while grading asset and stock purchase agreements drafted by the students in my spring advanced transactional course. I taught the spring students face to face, had them work in groups, required them to do a a negotiation either in person or online, and am grading them on both individual and group work as well as class participation. When I looked at drafts of their APAs and SPAs last week, I often reminded the students to go back to old PowerPoints or the reading because it seemed as though they missed certain concepts or maybe I went through them too quickly— I’m sure they did all of the reading (ha!). Now, while designing my online course, I’m trying to marry the best of the in person processes with some of the flipped classroom techniques that worked (and tweaking what didn’t).
Unlike many naysayers, I have no doubt that students and lawyers can learn and work remotely. For the past nine years, I have participated as a mentor in LawWithoutWalls, a mostly virtual experiential learning program started by University of Miami professor Michele DeStefano. Also known as LWOW, the program matches students from around the world with business people and practicing lawyers to develop a project of worth over sixteen weeks. Team members meet in January in person and never see each other in person again until April during a competition that is judged by venture capitalists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and academics. I mentored a team of students from Bucerius in Germany, Wharton in Pennsylvania, and the University of Miami. Banking behemoth HSBC sponsored our project and staffed it with lawyers from Singapore, Canada, and the UK. Other mentors on the team hailed from Spain and the UK. On any given week, 7-10 people joined Skype calls, chatted in WhatsApp, drafted on Google Docs, and accessed Slack. They attended mandatory webinars weekly via Adobe Connect on developing business plans, pitching to VCs, and working with clients. Seventy percent of the people on the seventeen teams spoke languages other than English as the first language.
How did this virtual experience work? Extremely well, in my view. After some growing pains, students adjusted quickly as did the business partners, who are used to setting up conference calls and working across borders. Some of the winning teams developed projects that provided virtual reality training on implicit bias for police officers; informed consumers about food freshness to combat food waste; and organized health information for foster care children on a blockchain-powered platform. Humble brag- my team won best overall project by developing a solution to use blockchain and smart contracts in syndicated lending that has the potential to save the bank almost 2 million per year. I also mentored last year’s winner, Team Spotify, with students from Miami, Colombia, and Chile and lawyers housed in Sweden, California, and New York. Each year, teams do almost all of this hard work remotely, across time zones, and with language differences. Students collectively interview hundreds of subject matter experts over 16 weeks, and the vast majority of those interviews take place via phone or video and with people in different countries. Other sponsors for LWOW included Accenture, White and Case, Pinsent Mason, Microsoft, Cozen O'Connor, LegalZoom, Eversheds Sutherland, LatAm Airlines, and Legal Mosaic-- all companies and law firms that see the benefit of these skill sets. Significantly, every year, a cohort of teams does all of the work virtually, never meeting in person for a kickoff. That virtual team winner competes in person with the traditional teams each April, and often wins the whole competition. Clearly, these students develop special skills by necessity. I plan to learn from those experiences as I design my course.
My experience with LawWithoutWalls and as a former compliance officer (where we often did training online and via video) makes me optimistic about online learning and working. In my summer course, I will have students work in groups, where they will use the latest virtual teaming tools. I will have live office hours via Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime, and I will require that some of the groups do their meetings via video as well to have a connection outside of email. Students will draft and edit on community bulletin boards. They will post their own video presentations and "webinars" geared toward fictitious business clients. Working collaboratively and creatively are key skills in the real world, and they will be key in my class.
But there is a lot of resistance in both the legal community and academia regarding the online world. Last week, I attended a seminar at a law firm and met a member of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. I asked his opinion on the state of students and young lawyers. I was particularly interested in his thoughts because he’s also a partner at a large law firm in our state. Like some quoted in my prior post, he believes that online coursework is a poor substitute for face to face learning. He further opined that when people don’t work in offices, they miss the camaraderie of being around peers and their work suffers. These are valid concerns. Many lawyers are unhappy in general, and the way people hide behind digital devices (even when in the same room/office) can lead to isolation, depression, and poor networking and social skills.
But these drawbacks should not doom online learning and remote working. Most of my graduating 3Ls will take their bar prep courses online. They claim that it makes no sense to drive to campus “just to watch a video of a professor speaking.” They also like the idea of being able to rewind videos to take notes. The indicated that they will meet up with friends when they want to study together and may even come on campus to watch their online coursework for a sense of community. But significantly, they don’t see the need to learn in the traditional ways. Personally, I love good online courses but I also love the ability to have face to face interaction with teammates- even if that’s via video. Being in the same physical space also allows for chance interactions that can lead to enriching conversations. On the other hand, sometimes there's no choice. Many readers may remember that years ago, in harder economic times, companies cancelled non essential business travel and people got used to video meetings. Many employers now interview candidates by Skype first before bringing them in. Learning and working virtually is no longer a novelty. Some of our students will work in co-working spaces for firms or companies where everyone works from home.
Change is coming and in many places, already here. Law professors must prepare students to practice in this new world while not sacrificing pedagogical gains. This requires training on project management and effective communication with team members— all non-substantive topics and that will give many people pause. We also need to make sure that students know how to communicate with clients and employers face to face in business and social settings. Some professors will say- correctly- that they have enough to contend with making sure students understand the law and can pass the bar. But, for those of us interested in online learning, we need to do more. We have to make sure that we prepare students for both the "hard" and "soft" skills. Most important, we need to make sure that these online courses have the rigor of traditional classes-- US News is watching.
I’m open to suggestions of what has worked for you and what hasn’t so please feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com.
Friday, December 21, 2018
If you are looking for podcasts over the break, I recommend Professor Brian Frye's Ipse Dixit. I have only listened to a handful of the 75 episodes, but I learned something new in each one.
A big thanks to Brian for putting all of these podcasts on legal scholarship together. The podcasts cover a wide range of legal topics, mostly in an interview format with other professors.
Monday, September 24, 2018
This past Friday, Burr & Forman LLP and the Clayton Center for Entrepreneurial Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law (including its business law journal, Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law), cosponsored a conference entittled "Law and Business Tech: Cybersecurity, Blockchain and Electronic Transactions." This was, as you may recognize, the second business law conference UT Law sponsored in a week's time (the first being the Business Law Prof Blog symposium, "Connecting the Threads II," the week before). It has been a busy time for business law faculty and students at UT Law!
(Parenthetically, I will note here that one of the attendees at Friday's event, who also had been at the Business Law Prof blog symposium, came back to this past week's conference because he was so jazzed up about Marcia's presentation at the first event--which she mentions here and here. Thanks, Marcia, for encouraging this interest in blockchain technology in our legal community!)
At Friday's conference, I moderated and participated in a panel on "The Coming Second Wave of Digital and other Electronic Signatures in Commerce." The panelists included Ed Snow of Burr & Forman and Katy Blackwell from SIGNiX. The panel walked through a history and course of conduct from handwritten signatures to electronic signatures to digital signatures, discussing the transitions from one to another (which are, as yet, incomplete). Interesting questions emerged as among us as to, e.g., why banking/credit transactions and mergers/acquisitions tend to lag behind in the adoption of new signature technologies. (Your thoughts are welcomed.)
At the end of the prepared program, my co-panelists asked me to speak about Tennessee's adoption of a digital signature statute back in the spring. This was another of the legislative review projects that I have undertaken as a member of the Tennessee Bar Association Business Section Executive Council. We were given 24-48 hours to comment on a digital signature bill that had been introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly based on an Arizona statute adopted in 2017 (information available here). Although I personally thought the bill/statutory revision was likely unnecessary and would have preferred to spend more time studying it before commenting on it, two of us on the Executive Council pooled comments on the draft bill, which also received comments from other quarters.
The ostensible legislative policy was to ensure the enforceability of legally valid and binding transactions occurring in a distributed ledger environment. Tennessee proponents of the bill wanted to support business in this environment, as I noted in commentary quoted in this article. With that in mind, two issues were, in the short time we had, important.
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Did I lose you with the title to this post? Do you have no idea what a DAO is? In its simplest terms, a DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization, whose decisions are made electronically by a written computer code or through the vote of its members. In theory, it eliminates the need for traditional documentation and people for governance. This post won't explain any more about DAOs or the infamous hack of the Slock.it DAO in 2016. I chose this provocative title to inspire you to read an article entitled Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution.
The authors Mark Fenwick, Wulf A. Kaal, and Erik P. M. Vermeulen discuss how technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and blockchain will change how we teach and practice law related to real property, IP, privacy, contracts, and employment law. If you're a practicing lawyer, you have a duty of competence. You need to know what you don't know so that you avoid advising on areas outside of your level of expertise. It may be exciting to advise a company on tax, IP, securities law or other legal issues related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, but you could subject yourself to discipline for doing so without the requisite background. If you teach law, you will have students clamoring for information on innovative technology and how the law applies. Cornell University now offers 28 courses on blockchain, and a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business has 235 people in his class. Other schools are scrambling to find professors qualified to teach on the subject.
To understand the hype, read the article on the future of legal education. The abstract is below:
The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. The rise of Legal Tech, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and, most importantly, blockchain technology is changing the practice of law. The sharing economy and platform companies challenge many of the traditional assumptions, doctrines, and concepts of law and governance, requiring litigators, judges, and regulators to adapt. Lawyers need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to operate effectively in the new world of disruptive innovation in law. A more creative and innovative approach to educating lawyers for the 21st century is needed.
For more on how blockchain is changing business and corporate governance, come by my talk at the University of Tennessee on September 14th where you will also hear from my co-bloggers. In case you have no interest in my topic, it's worth the drive/flight to hear from the others. The descriptions of the sessions are below:
Session 1: Breach of Fiduciary Duty and the Defense of Reliance on Experts
Many corporate statutes expressly provide that directors in discharging their duties may rely in good faith upon information, opinions, reports, or statements from officers, board committees, employees, or other experts (such as accountants or lawyers). Such statutes often come into play when directors have been charged with breaching their procedural duty of care by making an inadequately informed decision, but they can be applicable in other contexts as well. In effect, the statutes provide a defense to directors charged with breach of fiduciary duty when their allegedly uninformed or wrongful decisions were based on credible information provided by others with appropriate expertise. Professor Douglas Moll will examine these “reliance on experts” statutes and explore a number of questions associated with them.
Session 2: Fact or Fiction: Flawed Approaches to Evaluating Market Behavior in Securities Litigation
Private fraud actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act require courts to make a variety of determinations regarding market functioning and the economic effects of the alleged misconduct. Over the years, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to guide how these inquiries are to be conducted. For example, courts look to a series of specific, pre-defined factors to determine whether a market is “efficient” and thus responsive to new information. Courts also rely on a variety of doctrines to determine whether and for how long publicly-available information has exerted an influence on security prices. Courts’ judgments on these matters dictate whether cases will proceed to summary judgment and trial, whether classes will be certified and the scope of such classes, and the damages that investors are entitled to collect. Professor Ann M. Lipton will discuss how these doctrines operate in such an artificial manner that they no longer shed light on the underlying factual inquiry, namely, the actual effect of the alleged fraud on investors.
Session 3: Lawyering for Social Enterprise
Professor Joan Heminway will focus on salient components of professional responsibility operative in delivering advisory legal services to social enterprises. Social enterprises—businesses that exist to generate financial and social or environmental benefits—have received significant positive public attention in recent years. However, social enterprise and the related concepts of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are neither well defined nor well understood. As a result, entrepreneurs, investors, intermediaries, and agents, as well as their respective advisors, may be operating under different impressions or assumptions about what social enterprise is and have different ideas about how to best build and manage a sustainable social enterprise business. Professor Heminway will discuss how these legal uncertainties have the capacity to generate transaction costs around entity formation and management decision making and the pertinent professional responsibilities implicated in an attorney’s representation of such social enterprises.
Session 4: Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management
Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, Professor Marcia Narine Weldon will discuss how the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management. Companies and stock exchanges are using blockchain for shareholder communications, managing supply chains, internal audit, and cybersecurity. Professor Weldon will focus on eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena. Professor Weldon’s discussion will provide an overview of blockchain technology and how state and nonstate actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency.
Session 5: Crafting State Corporate Law for Research and Review
Professor Benjamin Edwards will discuss how states can implement changes in state corporate law with an eye toward putting in place provisions and measures to make it easier for policymakers to retrospectively review changes to state law to discern whether legislation accomplished its stated goals. State legislatures often enact and amend their business corporation laws without considering how to review and evaluate their effectiveness and impact. This inattention means that state legislatures quickly lose sight of whether the changes actually generate the benefits desired at the time off passage. It also means that state legislatures may not observe stock price reactions or other market reactions to legislation. Our federal system allows states to serve as the laboratories of democracy. The controversy over fee-shifting bylaws and corporate charter provisions offers an opportunity for state legislatures to intelligently design changes in corporate law to achieve multiple state and regulatory objectives. Professor Edwards will discuss how well-crafted legislation would: (i) allow states to compete effectively in the market for corporate charters; and (ii) generate useful information for evaluating whether particular bylaws or charter provisions enhance shareholder wealth.
Session 6: An Overt Disclosure Requirement for Eliminating the Duty of Loyalty
When Delaware law allowed parties to eliminate the duty of loyalty for LLCs, more than a few people were appalled. Concerns about eliminating the duty of loyalty are not surprising given traditional business law fiduciary duty doctrine. However, as business agreements evolved, and became more sophisticated, freedom of contract has become more common, and attractive. How to reconcile this tradition with the emerging trend? Professor Joshua Fershée will discuss why we need to bring a partnership principle to LLCs to help. In partnerships, the default rule is that changes to the partnership agreement or acts outside the ordinary course of business require a unanimous vote. See UPA § 18(h) & RUPA § 401(j). As such, the duty of loyalty should have the same requirement, and perhaps that even the rule should be mandatory, not just default. The duty of loyalty norm is sufficiently ingrained that more active notice (and more explicit consent) is necessary, and eliminating the duty of loyalty is sufficiently unique that it warrants unique treatment if it is to be eliminated.
Session 7: Does Corporate Personhood Matter? A Review of We the Corporations
Professor Stefan Padfield will discuss a book written by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.” The highly-praised book “reveals the secret history of one of America’s most successful yet least-known ‘civil rights movements’ – the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for corporations.” However, the book is not without its controversial assertions, particularly when it comes to its characterizations of some of the key components of corporate personhood and corporate personality theory. This discussion will unpack some of these assertions, hopefully ensuring that advocates who rely on the book will be informed as to alternative approaches to key issues.
September 1, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Real Property, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)