Pursuing Legal Education during the Pandemic
By Sahil Charniya
It has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic led to a prolonged lockdown in the country across various sectors which has been seen to be extending indefinitely in the education sector. With vaccines tuning up, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel and the stakeholders involved in the sector hope to see classes resume back on campus with the traditional face to face or F2F models. The general opinion of both the teachers and students with respect to online classes, which replaced the F2F method as a necessity, seems to be the one that would fit right in the context of the “something is better than nothing” phrase. It wouldn’t be a surprise to run into a student or a teacher with an opinion that considers online classes as a massive failure in replacement to the F2F model or even as a mere formality to keep the semester moving for that matter. It is thus no surprise that physical reopening of campuses is desperately awaited. However, it wouldn’t be true to state that campuses would abruptly see their gates flood with students and teachers to conduct classes F2F as was pre-COVID-19 given that we stand only at the initial stage of the inoculation. Online classes are likely to continue at scale for the coming few months which makes the discussion valuable particularly since now we have hindsight. Currently, being a college student who learns through online classes as well as being a tutor who teaches online, I believe I may be able to throw my two cents through this article and argue against certain misconceptions that many have with respect to the efficiency of online classes as a mode to impart formal education.
Largely, online method of imparting knowledge has been considered as a fall-back option to the tradition F2F method which has been used across cultures time immemorial. The sudden shift to the online method has taken the education sector by surprise and little investment has been put in terms of training the stakeholders to use it in the best possible manner. I argue that the online method must be seen as a different model altogether, with its own merits unique to itself, to impart education rather than an inferior substitute to the F2F method. To being with, the scarce use of infrastructure, the lack of the need of commutation, the choice venue to name a few not just provide the stakeholders with significant flexibility but also reduces cost, time and resources. This must particularly be considered when such online platforms can deliver to a very large audiences when compared to its F2F counterpart. The core criticism of the online model though is the one claiming that the lack of physical presence of both the teacher and the student at one venue significantly reduces the efficiency of the delivery of the lectures. I argue that this doesn’t necessarily need to be true. It is not to say that the aforementioned problem isn’t critical let alone real. However, when one considers the online method as a different option rather than a backup to F2F, one would explore that there are enough instruments available online that could greatly reduce this hindrance if not entirely do away with it.
There have been studies conducted on the use of online classes for teaching in both synchronous i.e. live lectures as well as asynchronous i.e. recorded lectures. Studies have shown “student engagement” to be the crucial problem. Student engagement is also considered to be the foundation of learning and can be understood as the connect between the teachers and students through the use of course material when delivering lectures. Thus, both research and general consensus reflect the same issue of student engagement as a problem which plagues online teaching and learning. The very fact that the teacher and the students are placed at distinct locations makes the entire process seem unnatural due to lack of physical contact and the fact that they ought to focus on a complex course in such a setup is further discouraging. This problem is primarily the responsibility of the teacher to be tackled. Research shows that proper planning, preparation and attention to detail is required by the teacher. The crucial question include: What? (regarding important learning outcomes and takeaways are from the course), How? (as to how these could be taught to foster student engagement with the course, student to student interaction and student to teacher interaction), and When? (as to the time of the assessments that must take place to determine if the outcomes have been met). Regular communication of the teacher with the students is imperative so as to keep track of the student’s progress which also helps find how far the objectives which were set by answering the aforementioned questions are being met. Regular quizzes at the end of every class can be a tremendously useful tool in this regard. This would help provide students with instant feedback, keep them encouraged and active and keep a check if they are going off-track or lost. Moderated group discussions could be another instrument. These activities ought to be preferred over a singular mid or end term exams which would result in disinterest and cramming. Designing the lecture which demands active participation of the students rather than theory could significantly improve student engagement. This could especially be done for law students where activities such as case studies or short moot problems could be designed on which students could work actively in the class itself. For the ones who have access to the learning management systems (LMS) use of discussion boards, regular updates, periodic reminders, discussions, questions and answers must be fostered so as to keep students engaged in the long run. Research suggest that organization, consistency and clarity is the key.
So far as the students are concerned, they must suggest their teachers to incorporate these styles and methods of teaching online. This is especially true when it comes to many sub-standard institutions where teachers cannot do justice to imparting education in F2F model let alone online teaching. Given that most of the institutions in India are sub-standard, it is not surprising to hear lots of criticism of online method of learning. If done right, however, the pandemic has been a big boon in revolutionizing the redundant practises in the Indian education system or good. When teaching methods such as the Socratic methods are incorporated and exams shift to open book exams with the right questions that require critical thinking, the true spirit of education can be realised and crippling practises like rote learning can be done away with for good. Essentially, one cannot do justice to a good curriculum without adopting an equally good pedagogy.
A student can take up this opportunity to become independent and be in charge of his learning since online method provides one with ample flexibility and time along with conserving his/her energy given the absence of commute and other miscellaneous tasks. One can take up various additional courses, read additional books or journal articles and try get oneself published just to name a few. I have always disliked to sit in classrooms where mere concepts that I can find from a textbook in my library are being reiterated to me. Although, I wouldn’t want to encourage, but on a lighter note if I may mention, I would simply keep the lecture on and not actually attend the class when it came to teachers following such poor practises and I would self-study with ample material available online or through books using that time. I am certain that most students do the same but unsure of how they use that extra time that they get by not attending. It is crucial for a student to realise that the pandemic provides him or her with the opportunity to be in the driving seat when it is about their learning. It can be seen as a time where one can teach oneself to learn on their own, learn how to learn and count on their own selves. The importance of self-study in today’s time cannot be overstated. I would like to end with the quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” and the pandemic gifts one the opportunity to learn just that!
- Yvonne M. Dutton, Margaret Ryznar & Kayleigh Long, Assessing Online Learning in Law Schools: Students Say Online Classes Deliver, 96 Denv. L. Rev. 493 (2019).
- Taryn Marks & Rachel Purcell, Enhancing the Online Learning Environment, 22 AALL Spectrum 21 (2018).
- Rebecca S. Trammell, Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning, 22 AALL Spectrum 18 (2018).
- John Vivolo, Understanding and combating resistance to online learning, Sage Publications, Ltd, Science Progress (1933-) , Vol. 99, No. 4 (2016), pp. 399-412.