Friday, December 11, 2020

My journey this semester from "hating" Zoom to "OK, I can make this work . . . ."

Over the fall semester that just concluded, I've been blogging about my experience teaching a legal research and writing course via Zoom for the first time due to the pandemic. As I explained in the first of these posts, last spring our LRW department elected to teach the course entirely online as opposed to adopting a hybrid approach where we'd be in a classroom teaching to students who wanted to attend in person while simultaneously broadcasting the lessons to those at home who preferred to attend via Zoom.  I also taught one of those hybrid courses this semester too (an upper-level seminar using what our school calls the "BlendFlex" model) but unlike some other schools, the LRW profs here had to teach the course entirely online without the option of being able to broadcast from an actual classroom (due to the demand on classroom space because of social distancing requirements, once our department made the decision to teach the course online, we forfeited the ability to do it from a classroom).  

For me, teaching LRW from my office desk without the physicality of a normal classroom presented real challenges given the way I like to teach.  By the end of the first class or two, I already knew it wasn't going to work to my satisfaction and that I'd have to make some changes if I wanted the class to be a success. I used this blog to document my journey from not liking Zoom at all at the start of the semester to begrudgingly embracing it by the end. Indeed, in one of my final posts on the topic, I talked about discovering how much I liked Zoom for holding individual students writing conferences and may continue to offer that as an option once we return to "normal" teaching. 

I think many of us over the past semester have faced the dilemma of whether to bend our teaching style to fit the constraints and limitations of Zoom, or instead whether we should try to bend Zoom to better fit the way we like to teach. I choose the latter and documented that journey in the posts below. By the end of the semester, I was "OK" with the way things had worked out. My overall impression is that for the most motivated students, they can still learn well via this platform (though I think all of us would much prefer to be in a traditional classroom). The downside I observed is that with less motivated students, or the ones who have more difficulty staying on task, they can more easily get lost and fall behind in a Zoom class. This was reflected in my grades for the semester. In years past, the final grades would typically reflect a relatively even distribution from a few students at the very top, to the majority in the middle, and another small group at the bottom. But this semester, the distribution looks much more like a bimodal one with a larger group of students at both ends while there are few in the middle. Of course one semester is not dispositive and my observations are merely anecdotal but I share them nonetheless. 

Insofar as any readers would find the journey I document below either interesting or would gain something from the challenges I faced and tried to overcome in teaching a hands-on, legal skills course via Zoom, I've collected those posts that start with me "hating" Zoom to eventually making my peace with it. They are organized chronologically starting with the beginning of the semester to it's conclusion a few weeks ago. At the very least, it was a good learning experience for me that required me to reflect on nearly everything I was doing in the classroom, more carefully plan each lesson to maximize efficiency and impact, and forced me to stretch as a teacher. I'm sure my teaching will be incrementally better going forward as a result of this experience. 

So without further ado, below is a recap of my posts from the semester that just concluded documenting my journey using Zoom for the first time to teach a hands-on legal skills course along with other relevant notes and observations tossed in along the way.

Stay safe during the break!


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