Sunday, March 22, 2020

Coronavirus Have You Self-Isolating at Home? No Need to Be Bored


There are so many online educational resources being made available during this time of coronavirus, and they possibly may only be available for free right now.  So we’re compressing our blog posting schedule to make sure you have access to this incredible material.  What follows is just a random list of things that have come across my inbox or social media feed in the past week.  Feel free to email me here with additional resources you’re aware of, and we’ll post them in a future blog.

School children stuck at home

Reading matter

Museums

Music / Films / Shows
·      Musicians are performing concerts in their homes (available on Instagram)

Exercise
·      Nike training club
·      Wakeout!

Adult continuing education classes
·      The Science of Wellbeing (Yale U’s most popular class ever
·      Basics of coding (7 different courses recommended by Bill Gates)

Just plain fun
·      Lunch doodles with Mo Williams (sponsored by Kennedy Center for Performing Arts)

And finally, up-to-date information about coronavirus cases:

What would we do without the internet?!  And the creativity and generosity of all these content contributors?  So much to be grateful for …

Stay safe, readers.  Wash hands, practice physical distance from others, avoid groups, practice self-isolation if you’re exhibiting any symptoms.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

How to Engage First Year Law Students in Online Law School


Engaging First Year Law Students in Online Law School

I have been teaching law almost exclusively online at CQUniversity, Australia, since 2011. Prior to that I taught face-to-face lectures and seminars in both Australia and the UK.  Earlier this year I was asked to share with colleagues my best practices for engaging first year students in law in the online learning space. I share some of that work here in the hope that it may be useful for those currently transitioning to the online teaching format.

By way of background, the law degree at CQU is fully online. We have no face-to-face (on campus) students, and both our staff and students are geographically dispersed across the country (and occasionally the world). Our meeting and teaching spaces, for the most part, exist solely within the virtual world of Zoom videoconferencing and Moodle (our University wide Learning Management System). Our Legal Clinic subject is also run in the virtual space as part of an agreement with a regional Community Legal Centre.

As a coordinator of two first year subjects in the online law degree, I have a unique opportunity to facilitate and encourage a positive transition to law school for our students. It is widely recognised that “first year students have special learning needs by virtue of the social and academic transitions they are making.”[i] Law students in particular are documented as being susceptible to distress and depression as they “struggle over ways of thinking, speaking and performing” in the law school environment.[ii] The well documented demands and difficulties of studying by distance and online are also inherent to the CQU law student experience. Additionally, our student cohort are predominantly mature-age students with competing demands on their time. It is rare to see a full time student enrolled in our program who does not already have multiple existing work, family and/or personal commitments competing for their attention. The benefit, however, is that students choose our degree for its flexibility in delivery methods.  

In light of current world events, lecturers are no longer hard pressed to find lists and advice on how to transition their curriculum online and foster engagement amongst online learners. One might assume that online learners – particularly those who sign up for online courses – are intrinsically motivated to study, learn and engage. What we find, however, is often the opposite. Like our colleagues delivering face-to-face, we continually encounter students whose learning is largely driven by assessment and a desire for good grades.

In my experience, there is no magic formula that will guarantee every student will become an engaged, active learner. However, one of the keys to fostering engagement, and fostering your chances of increasing engagement, is creating a sense of connectedness that is conducive to development.

Making students feel welcome, heard and included

One of my primary goals each year is to make students feel that their presence and development in the class matters – to ensure they feel welcome, heard and included.

Research consistently refers to the importance of increasing social connectedness and student engagement in improving law student well-being[iii]. As Nehme explains, “First-year law students are learning how to study independently and may find themselves in a foreign, intimidating environment. In an online class, such students may be out of their element because they are expected not only to understand the relevant concepts but to critically analyse them in a faceless and arid environment.”[iv] The research into online learning indicates that isolation is a significant contributor to student attrition: put simply, online learning can feel impersonal and lonely. My experience is that a greater provision of classroom support (in both synchronous and asynchronous forms) is required to help transition students into the online learning environment. Both lecturer and student need to work hard to bridge the gap created by the computer screen. 

Some practical techniques I incorporate into my subjects to help remove these barriers include:

-       Writing a brief weekly message every Monday which is posted to the top of my Moodle site and emailed out to students. This message introduces the topic for the week, where it fits in to the “big picture” of the subject, along with a short dot point list of activities called “things you might like to do this week.” Based on feedback from students, the weekly message helps keep students engaged and up-to-date. Often, if I am late sending it out, students will contact me asking if I will be sending a weekly message!

-       In my Tort Law subjects I create an asynchronous social forum on the Moodle site called the “Torte Café.” I use this forum to share memes about studying, students use it to form their own study groups and post less formal and non-content driven conversations. Similarly, an Icebreaker activity is set up for students at the start of term. This is one of the simplest, yet arguably most favoured, activity by students. Almost every student participates. The icebreaker gives students the opportunity to offer up a contribution to the class at a time that is convenient to them without the fear of having to demonstrate an understanding of content. As with the Torte Café, this helps reinforce to students that our learning space is a place of collegiality.  

-       Students are encouraged to reflect on and post about their learning styles/preferences as part of a Learning Diary reflective assignment. This task has multiple benefits. Firstly, it allows students to become familiar with their own learning personalities. Secondly, it allows me to identify the needs of students and adapt my instruction and support to their needs. I work hard to observe student behaviour, personalities and needs which in turn helps me tailor the educational experience to each student cohort and also individual students.

-       In a general sense, I offer positive reinforcement when I see them working hard, celebrate their “lightbulb moments” and offer reassurance when I see them succumbing to self-doubt. Students are encouraged to help each other out, share their study tips and techniques, and identify any particular skills they are bringing to the class that might not be readily apparent (e.g., IT skills, research skills, time management skills).  I also support students’ wellbeing through anecdotes and sharing of personal experience (as student and practitioner) to help build their resilience and internal motivation, and to transition away from a grade-based determination of self-worth. I emphasise that academic grades do not determine their worth as a person, nor do they always accurately capture their current abilities, nor do they have to determine a student’s future abilities. In the words of Danielle LaPorte: "absolutely everything is progress."[v].  I find this is a particularly helpful approach for those students juggling many hats whilst at law school; for those who suffer from perfectionism, “imposter syndrome” or what I refer to as the “constant comparison syndrome”; and for those who simply feel overwhelmed (particularly at the grading process).

-       I provide personalised, recorded audio feedback to each student in response to their court advocacy task. Audio feedback can convey tone more effectively than written feedback and students respond positively.

-       I am also fortunate enough to have access to student data analytics within my University. This allows me to identify students with minimal or no engagement with the Moodle site and resources. Within the first few weeks of term, I make a point of reaching out to those students to see if anything is impacting their studies and offer to help. This early intervention approach often prompts students to make important decisions about their study load (allowing them to avoid academic or financial penalty). Students often respond with a sense of relief that they have not been forgotten and that they do not have to face difficulties alone.  

Encourage student confidence and transformation

Personally, I love learning and education, and I want students to also walk away from my courses with the enthusiasm and skills of lifelong learners. First year law students often become very focused on rote-learning the law and searching for the “right answer.” They do not yet understand that success in law school is about becoming a whole package of knowledge, skills, personality and adaptability: 

      Knowledge of the law --> Mastery of core skills --> Self-management
This holistic approach to learning law is scaffolded into the activities and discussion points in my first year subjects. In Australian legal education, reflective practice is a core skill embedded in the Bachelor of Laws Threshold Learning Outcomes for promoting students’ self-management skills.[vi]   As part of a reflective Learning Diary assessment written during the term, my students complete a self-confidence questionnaire in week one, self-rating their confidence across a range of 25 skills and competencies relevant to the online study of law. Students are also required to set three goals for the term. At the end of Term 1, students revisit these goals and their original confidence ratings, and reflect on any changes. At the end of the year, students again review their goals, revisit their original confidence ratings, and reflect on their changes. The Learning Diary brings the relevance of skills and competencies and self-management into the process of learning law that might otherwise be overlooked or ignored.  As Leo van Lier points out, learning something requires that one notices it in the first place: “This noticing is an awareness of its existence, obtained and enhanced by paying attention to it.”[vii]  The Learning Diary provides a platform for fostering students’ confidence in identifying and acknowledging things they do well, and things that go well, in their learning.  Students regularly observe increased confidence across some or all of the skills and competencies.  Importantly, the Learning Diary helps students document their personal growth and transformation, which has a positive effect on their learning. 

Be the teacher you wanted and needed as a student

My third goal or reminder for anyone in a teaching role is to be the teacher you wanted and needed as a student.

Almost every one of us has had a teacher who positively influenced our life or created a class environment that really stoked the passion for learning. Much of what I do is a direct reflection of my most engaging and supportive teachers; I have even adopted some of their techniques. For me, being the teacher I needed as a student means “bringing the enthusiasm,” being authentic, personalizing my learning space, and setting clear expectations at the outset.   

Each week I try to be enthusiastic, approachable and sincere in my capacity as teacher, which in turn positively feeds the student response and engagement within the subject.  I find that students respond positively when they feel you are as invested in their development as they are.  I also personalise my learning space with the class motto “We love Tort Law” (imagine a school teacher decorating their classroom if you like). Every time my students log into the class Moodle site, they are greeted with a colourful reminder of our motto. For the record – and using a technique from one of my most engaging university lecturers – we also chant this motto in our Zoom sessions throughout the term. It can add some light relief to some of the more difficult topics.  

Early on in my career I was very self-conscious that my age and gender might be perceived by students as a lack of authority. I often over-compensated, which translated to an overly formal and stiff approach to instruction. I was terrified of giving the wrong answer or making mistakes and not “knowing enough.”  It was after I participated in a masterclass for distance education that I started to see the value in owning your experiences and showing up in ways that reflect your personal ethic. Being authentic really does makes you more personable and approachable. In showing up authentically, I also embody the very principle I set for my students - you don’t have to be perfect to show up.


[i] S Kift, ‘The Next, Great First Year Challenge: Sustaining, Coordinating and Embedding Coherent Institution-Wide Approaches to Enact the FYE as ‘Everybody’s Business’ (Proceedings of the 11th International Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, Hobart, 30 June − 2 July 2008) 4.
[ii] C Sharp; M Bond; T Mundy; K Murray and J Quilter, 'Taking hints From Hogwarts: UOW's first year law immersion program' (2013) 6 (1/2) Journal of Australasian Law Teachers Association 127-139.
[iii] See, for example, L S Krieger, ‘Human Nature as a New Guiding Philosophy for Legal Education and the Profession’ (2007) 47 Washburn Law Journal 247; and above n ii.
[iv] M Nehme, ‘E-Learning and Students’ Motivation’ [2010] Legal Education Review 11 (http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/LegEdRev/2010/11.html)
[vi] Rachel Field and James Duffy, ‘Better to Light a Single Candle Than to Curse the Darkness: Promoting Law Student Well-Being Through a First Year Law Subject’ (2012) 12 Queensland University of Technology Law and Justice Journal 133, 145-6.
[vii] L van Lier, (1996) Interaction in the language curriculum. Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. Longman, London, 11.


Guest blog author Anna Farmer joined the CQUniversity School of Business and Law in 2010 as a Lecturer in Law.  She is the First Year Coordinator for the fully online LLB programs and teaches Torts. She was admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 2004 and is the Vice President of the Central Queensland Community Legal Centre in Rockhampton.  Her current research interests include the transitional and transformational learning of first year law students; online teaching technologies and clinical experience. Anna has received multiple commendations in the CQU Student Voice Awards for Educator of the Year and Distance Educator of the Year.  In 2017 she received a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Practice in Learning and Teaching.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Scholastic is offering free online courses so your kids can keep learning while schools are closed

by Alicia Lee, CNN: As schools across the nation close because of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of students are stuck at home with their classes on hold. But before your child gets too excited about not having to study, rest assured, parents, Scholastic has got your back. The educational company has launched a "Learn at Home" website that has daily courses for students from Pre-kindergarten to grades 6 and higher. From learning about why zebras have stripes to math lessons based on K-Pop stars, Scholastic's learning plans cover all the subjects your student would be taking at school. " As more and more teachers, students, and families around the world are affected by the coronavirus, our priority is to support them in the best way we know how -- by providing them with rich stories and meaningful projects that will keep kids academically active," Lauren Tarshis, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Scholastic Classroom Magazines said. The website, which is divided into four sections based on grade level, currently has five days' worth of content. An additional 15 days of content is on the way, Scholastic said in a news release. The courses provide approximately three hours of learning per day, including writing and research projects, virtual field trips, and geography challenges. The website is accessible on any device that has internet and no sign up is required. It will remain free and open indefinitely, Scholastic said. © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc. A WarnerMedia Company. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Coronavirus May Increase Exposure to Online Learning


My daughter’s fiancé is a middle school teacher at a private school in New Jersey.  He was telling me recently about the school’s plans for dealing with a coronavirus outbreak:  online learning.  Come to find out, online learning is the go-to contingency plan in multiple contexts.

In California, K-12 schools and colleges are “repurposing” their existing online teaching programs to accommodate F2F students who may choose or be forced to stay home.  Some schools, especially at the college level, are anticipating increased enrollment in online classes.  Others, especially K-12, are considering allowing students to do independent study at a distance, with online teacher support.  New Jersey Department of Education has determined that, in case of corona-related closures, online learning will count toward minimum hours of classroom instruction.

In states where their governors declared a state of emergency, universities in the state have shut down classes until at least April.  The University of Washington will hold remaining classes and final exams for the spring semester remotely.  Stanford University is also closed to F2F classes, and will finish out the winter quarter remotely. 

Chinese campuses of US universities are not holding classes since the Lunar New Year, and have moved their classes online.  NYU Shanghai moved around 300 classes online.  The university I am affiliated with (University of Utah) has moved all classes at its Asian campus in South Korea (except lab classes) to online status until April 6, and will reconsider next steps after that date.

Emergency responders are being trained about the coronavirus through online courses by the World Health Organization and others.

Educational and other institutions are using online town halls and other virtual communication methods to keep their constituencies informed about the situation, without risking any germ transmission through F2F contact.

This is all a good thing.  Don’t get me wrong – the corona virus is NOT a good thing.  But it IS good that curricula and techniques to facilitate online learning are readily available, as is fast internet access in many locations.  For instructors who are not familiar with providing their subject matter online, this will be a quick introduction to the possibilities and may help them overcome any hesitation they originally had to incorporate online technology into their regular curricula.  And, perhaps more importantly, because the availability and nature of online learning is driven by demand, more students will find out about online learning and perhaps look to incorporate it into their future studies.

Dear readers, stay healthy by washing your hands often and not touching your face.  The Singapore Health Minister shares the simple steps each of us can take to protect ourselves and others from coronavirus in this video.   

Additional Resources:

Saturday, February 29, 2020

School, the way we know it, is passé.

Or could be! Maybe should be! For centuries teaching was done by teachers in classrooms (from one-room school houses to multi-layered brick-and-mortar lecturing facilities), facing their students, teaching by telling their audience, writing on blackboards, asking questions and making sure they understood, comprehended, and hopefully retained the knowledge presented. To a large extent today, that’s still pretty much the way general education works. No advantage has been taken of technology which has come a long way to facilitate the learning process, even improve it, speed it up, and make it more accessible geographically. Actually, there are educators stuck in their antique mode of operation who detest the idea of using technology in the learning process. They are of the opinion that a live teacher in a classroom of live learners is the only way that knowledge can be transmitted. That’s like saying, at the time of Gutenberg, that the introduction of the printed word in books is the work of the devil, and only in-person classroom teaching can truly transmit knowledge, an argument which was made then. Of course we know that transmitting knowledge via books did catch on, and has been used as technological help teaching in countless ways. A few hundred years later, now, no doubt the time has come to utilize electronic media in teaching and learning. For instance, here is what it could do today, right now, but isn’t done: In Japan schools have suddenly been closed, at least temporarily, because of the coronavirus. What if schooling there were done electronically? It would be a far safer and better way of teaching and learning than the old-fashioned way of sitting in classrooms. Here, for your examination, is one example of learning with electronic help which does exist and is making inroads into otherwise conventional education: Supporting digital inclusion Verizon Innovative Learning is giving middle school students the opportunity to explore emerging tech in the classroom, from augmented and virtual reality to 3D design and robotics. See https://www.verizon.com/about/responsibility/verizon-innovative-learning

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Reflections from Both Sides of Online Learning (Student and Professor)


For some, graduate school flows naturally from their undergraduate experience.  I’ve completed the “pre-med” slate of courses, so I will go straight to medical school.  I’m sure I want to practice law, so I’ll head for law school.  For others, myself included, the path is less obvious.  Having attended private school my entire life, I convinced myself I needed schooling from the “real world” beyond the peaceable kingdoms of my formal education before picking an area for deeper study. 

That decision proved to be correct.  I took a journalism job with NPR and learned about inequity in schools and neighborhoods, the ins and outs of land use and zoning, tradeoffs in transportation, and the impact of the rise and fall of bedrock industries.  I also encountered one particular story out of the ordinary: the re-emergence of conversations about a shooting involving the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Klan labor organizers on the streets of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.  I had never heard of the incident before living in the Greensboro area, and no wonder—it occupied the front page of newspapers for one day, followed immediately thereafter by the Iran hostage crisis.  More importantly, the five shooting deaths captured by television cameras embarrassed Greensboro, many of whose residents dismissed it as the work of outsiders using their community as a battlefield. 

But it was more than the historical aspect of the shooting and its aftermath that interested me; it was the decision of a local grassroots committee to create America’s first “truth and reconciliation commission (TRC).”  Patterned after similar commissions in South Africa and elsewhere, Greensboro’s TRC engaged seven volunteers (rather than judges or jurors) to hear voluntarily provided testimony in private and public and deliver a report documenting their findings and recommendations.  I covered the story for NPR and focused less on the shooting and more on the divided opinion over the notion of a truth and reconciliation commission.  Why dredge this up again? argued some, including the then-Mayor.  We can’t afford not to, argued others. 

The eventual formation of the Greensboro TRC and the completion of its work over the next two years remained a fascination for me.  Eventually, after a job change, I realized I had a broader fascination with resolving conflict, and that led me to explore graduate schooling in that field—one I hadn’t known existed when I graduated from college.  I later discovered that while the number of conflict resolution degree programs today is substantial, there were fewer such programs ten years ago.  I also was newly married and settled into a home, with hopes (later realized) of starting a family, so the notion of relocating to a new city for study felt impractical and unwise. 

Those considerations drew me to Nova Southeastern University’s online master’s (and eventually PhD) in conflict analysis and resolution.  As it turned out, NSU was a pioneer in distance learning and had one of the first degree programs in conflict resolution.  Its main campus also happened to be around the corner from my in-laws’ home.  But the notion that I could participate in classes from anywhere and, in some cases, at any time of the week or semester was very appealing.  I also met and befriended students from all corners of the world—from Saudi Arabia to Sudan—who may never have been able to enroll in a program that required a visa.  Our twice yearly “residential institutes” gave us unique opportunities to interact and practice our skills in person, and I was fortunate to receive some tuition reimbursement and paid time off (without sacrificing vacation days) to attend. 

All of that said, online education as I experienced it as a student came with challenges and limitations.  Some professors chose to have no “live” sessions or provide any significant course content beyond the assignment of readings, online discussion board posts, and a final paper.  Other professors would post written lectures but not interact with students except for a short session at the residential institute.  Still others used their “live” sessions online to review the contents of our assigned reading or to deliver a lecture with limited or no student interaction.  Some of this may have had to do with the particular online platform we were using and its limitations, or it could have related to the difficulty of creating a more interactive class session in the face of all the other responsibilities facing a full-time professor with other, face-to-face classes to prepare for and teach.

As someone who has designed an online graduate school course and delivered or hosted numerous webinars, I now believe that online education holds tremendous promise and power, along with challenges that educators and students must work to overcome. I believe that just as in face-to-face educational opportunities, interaction in an online setting is key—whether through poll questions, a chat window, or the solicitation of comments from students who can be seen and heard (or a combination of these).  I also believe that most learners in any setting benefit greatly from small group discussion.  Despite the potential for an online classroom to accommodate even larger crowds than a physical lecture hall, it is critical to make use of online “breakout rooms” to allow for deeper and more meaningful interaction than is ever possible in a bigger group. 

It is worth considering the blend of live and asynchronous content as well.  Most professors who lecture, which in my view remains a valuable teaching tool, do so without interruption for questions or discussion.  This content could easily be recorded and viewed whenever convenient for the student, with perhaps a quiz included to check comprehension.  That said, students learn from each other differently than they learn from a professor; in fact, the best professor helps stimulate and facilitate that form of peer-to-peer learning.  As such, any live/real-time gathering of students online should include opportunities for them to learn from one another. 

I also think that the traditional notion of “office hours” common on college campuses should endure online—perhaps in the form of an online “room” that one can enter (log in) at a designated weekly time to meet with the professor, perhaps in the company of classmates.  This form of informal learning can be deeply valuable, even in ways not possible in the formal class session, and online technology should accommodate it. 

I also want to make mention of the technical aspects of the online education experience.  While many of us, including you reading this blog, have easy access to the Internet, many around the world do not.  Some may also only have access to the Internet via a mobile phone or a public space like an Internet café or public library.  This demands of those of us in online education to consider how a web-based application might work on a mobile (whether there is a mobile app, for example, or at least a mobile friendly website).  But we also have to consider the possibility that someone may only be able to login briefly each day or each week, so our content should be easy to print or download for review at another time.  Furthermore, we have to consider that some of those students whom we want to reach simply cannot access the Internet.  Most of them, however, will have access to text messaging or telephone calls, and they can interact with their classmates and professors via group texts, conference calls, and perhaps materials sent by mail.  As archaic as this may sound to some, it remains an important consideration if this form of education is to live up to its promise of broadening access to education.

We must also consider the amount of time often wasted (in my view) on technical difficulties encountered by teachers/presenters and students alike in an online setting.  While I have encountered these myself and occasionally technical difficulties cannot be avoided or predicted, they nearly always can, and it is incumbent upon anyone hosting such a session to make time for students and presenters to test their technology.  We also must ensure that the technology required to participate is either limited to that which comes with most computers or mobile phones, or is made widely available to the students whom we want to reach. 

I am pleased to have taken advantage of the opportunity to study in an online program with a face-to-face component and to have the opportunity to teach online.  All of us who have either learned, taught, or experienced online learning can easily see its potential to help more of us learn.  We must only ensure that access to the education we provide online remains widespread, and that we maintain a commitment to student-to-teacher and student-to-student interaction. 

About Blog Author Dr. Larry Schooler:
After an award-winning career as a journalist across the globe, Larry Schooler became a mediator, facilitator, public engagement consultant, and educator. He works with agencies around the world to resolve disputes, build consensus, and involve the public and stakeholders in decisions that will affect them. He also specializes in land use mediation, strategic planning, and visioning.  Dr. Schooler holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale and a doctoral degree in conflict resolution from Nova Southeastern University.  He is the author of a manual entitled “Keys to an Effective Public Meeting” and a forthcoming book on truth and reconciliation commissions.  Larry is married to award-winning businesswoman Jolie Schooler and father to Sammy & Robby.