When Rutgers Law School switched to distance learning for the remainder of the spring semester, professors quickly learned how to use new technology to continue teaching their courses. Some classes were held synchronously – students logged in at the same time and participated in real-time lectures and class discussions, while other courses were conducted asynchronously (a video-recorded lecture), and the students followed along at their own paces.
It’s been over two weeks since the distance learning model began and professors have been sharing their feedback on the new way of teaching law school.
“I really expected to hate teaching on-line, I don’t use technology at all in the classroom, I like to feel connected to my students,” said Professor Chrystin Ondersma, who is using distance learning for her Commercial Law class this spring. “But so far it’s gone much better than I anticipated; the students say they really like it. I can still call on them, and the chat box function is great, as some students who are shy about speaking or asking questions are comfortable using that function.”
Professor Jacob Russell said, “Based on student interest, we’re using our live web-based meetings of Securities Regulation to focus on the financial dimensions of the coronavirus crisis. Students have been researching, presenting on, and debating aspects of the Federal Reserve’s response, the history of past financial crises, and the economic changes wrought by past pandemics. The first part of Securities Regulation in January had taught students about many of the complicated instruments that underpin global capital markets, so the students were well equipped to apply what they’d learned.”
Penny Venetis, who directs the International Human Rights Clinic said, “The International Human Rights Clinic faculty and students have been meeting remotely on almost a daily basis. The students have been working incredibly hard, and managing to turn in impressively solid work, even while under tremendous stress, including caring for family members who are ill.”
“For me, the most striking feature of the switch to online learning has been the students' resiliency,” said Professor David Noll. “At a time when all of all of us are re-learning how to "do" law school on-the-fly, the students have been nothing less than a force of nature. Their enthusiasm, good cheer, and hard work in the face of an unprecedented crisis makes me proud to be part of this community.”
Professor Victoria Chase said, “One positive note about teaching online has been positive student feedback from students about using Canvas Conferences or Webex for remote meetings with project partners. In the Interviewing and Counseling/Prisoner Reentry and Child Support clinical Practicum I co-teach with Ann Freedman, our teams that have used the tools have had very successful experiences.”
Students also appear to be having a positive experience. Carolyn Siditsky RLAW ’21, said, “Several of my professors are leading outstanding remote classes that, from my perspective, match the quality of the in-class experience, including in terms of student participation (via video feed and chat).”
Though there were some bumps transitioning to remote technologies that include Canvas, Zoom, and Webex, the law school librarians, computer services departments, and teachers who had mastered the technologies, served as mentors to others.
Russell commented, “I’ve been very impressed at their ability to jump into highly technical debates about how governments should use monetary and fiscal policy to minimize the economic damage from the coronavirus shutdowns. Although the crisis is both a public health and an economic tragedy, it also serves as a critical learning opportunity for students. They’re learning that they already have knowledge and tools that will be very much in need in our world in the coming months and years.”
Professor Ari Afilalo said he's even been able to feature outsie speakers,"Yesterday, a prominent immigration lawyer and Mayor of Englewood, NJ, gave a talk to both of my classes. Today, a lawyer specializing in tech startups will speak. I have a whole series lined up for April, with a view to showcasing various practices and helping the students network even now."
And while it’s not exactly the same as teaching in-person, professors say their students are still actively taking part in courses.
"Chat works surprisingly well,” said Professor Steve Gold. “Students who would never open their mouths in class are happily posting messages in chat, and more than one student can participate at a time. It's still not the same as being together in a room, but we're making the best of it."
Ondersma credited some of the success to the bond students built during the first-half of the semester when they met in person, “I would never want to teach exclusively on-line because I think it’s important to build rapport in the classroom--I think it’s worked so well for this class because we had time in the classroom first to connect and build that sense of community.”
Professor Vera Bergelson credited the students for sticking with their law school education through the end of the semester, “I can just say that I am deeply impressed by how committed to their education our students are. Many of them work remotely, which takes more time and effort. Many have significant family responsibilities. The internet connection is not always reliable. And yet, practically all of them are well prepared for and actively involved in every class. They all deserve huge respect for that.”
And the appreciation appears to be mutual.
“I am so grateful to these professors for their efforts to maintain the quality of our education and a sense of normalcy during this difficult time,” Siditsky said. “(It) would be wonderful to see an expansion of remote learning in the future, building on the success of this emergency experiment.”
Anna Esposito RLAW ’22 said, “As our country and world continues into the unknown in the midst of this pandemic, I know that I can count on the Rutgers Law community to be communicative, open, and honest with students as we break through these obstacles together in order to continue our legal education.”