The last two years have been unprecedented for most legal skills faculty. Having to flip the legal writing classroom and teach in online Zoom rooms became the norm. Gone were the days of seeing colleagues in the hallway, faculty lounge, or stopping by someone’s office. It became harder to stay connected and build relationships. But to a select few, such as myself, the asynchronous and synchronous online teaching modality is where we began.
I write, yet again, from the once uninhabited corner of my New York City living room that is now my office/classroom/yoga studio/homeschool hub. Formerly, it was known as a bookshelf. It is over two years into a pandemic that has crystallized the razor’s edge upon which we exist, skirting the periphery of the random chasm of death, all the while indulging the urgent desire to be alive. As we cycle through the Greek alphabet with terrifying speed, Omicron now looms large. And normalcy seems an ever more elusive phantom.
Lawyering skills professor, law librarian, licensed attorney . . . and video producer? The COVID-19 pandemic caused most of us to take on unexpected roles, both inside and outside of the classroom. Even so, I never would have predicted that one of my new roles would be a combination of screenwriter, actor, director, editor, and producer of a series of video lectures that I used in my newly-flipped lawyering skills classroom.
COVID-19 has caused havoc in the world as we know it, altering every aspect of life, including education. The pandemic forced me and other educators to teach online, and by doing so, it has made me a better teacher. I now (1) employ more teaching techniques; (2) assess more frequently; and (3) engage every student. As I emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, I have reflected on the positive lessons I learned from teaching online, lessons that I plan to bring with me when I return to the classroom.
Like most of my colleagues who switched to Zoom classes almost overnight in March 2020, my life changed very dramatically when quarantine began. The various conferences I had planned to attend fell like dominoes, and our University announced a policy that it would not approve any travel for the foreseeable future. The school was locked down overnight. Thus, with all of my plans cancelled indefinitely (including going anywhere at all), I was left with a lot of scheduled time that suddenly became unscheduled time.
The 2020-2021 academic year felt like an eon. It was an eeeeeeeeoooooooonnnnnn—a tiny word, suspended, stretched into an unrecognizable form.
That eon ran its course in a flash. Time flew even as it stood still, with every moment predictably offering novel and surprising challenges. Somehow, the spring semester abruptly ended when we were simultaneously hitting our stride and suffering burnout. A seventy-five-minute class on Zoom often felt equivalent to twenty minutes in a physical classroom.
Can I Teach You in a Hall? Can I Teach You on a Call? Can I Teach You from My Room? Can I Teach You on a Zoom?
Professors—and perhaps law professors more than most—can usually rely on the architecture of the place, the costuming of the participants, and even the nature of our audience for at least some of our success in the classroom. In a normal year, I know I benefit from the kind of people in the room: a captive audience who have been rewarded for sitting quietly and attentively for sixteen years. I benefit from the students’ relationships with one another: they enliven and enrich the class discussion and the classwork.