Monday, March 30, 2020

Virtual Travel: Enjoy the World (and Beyond), Even if You’re Living Under a Stay-at-Home Order

“Travel is not reward for working, it’s education for living.”  The Travel Channel, July 10, 2017.

I love to travel, and have had to cancel some trips recently due to coronavirus stay-in-place restrictions.  Many others around the world don’t have the privilege that I do, and can’t afford the time or money to travel under the best of circumstances.  At this virus-alert point in time, we are all in the same boat (pun intended).  We are all relegated to being armchair travelers.

There are a lot of virtual travel resources available, no passport or ticket required:

Virtual tours:
·      National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian, Washington DC)
·      The Louvre (Paris)
·      Great Wall of China
·      US national parks
·      Hawaii landmarks
(of anywhere)

Live webcams:
·      I Love You Venice
·      Eiffel Tower (Paris)
·      Zurich
·      Bavarian Alps
·      Copacabana Beach (Rio de Janeiro)
·      Jigokudani Monkey Park (Japan)
·      Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Florida)
·      Arosa Bear Sanctuary (Switzerland)
·      San Diego Zoo (California)
·      Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta GA)
·      Monterey Bay Aquarium (San Diego CA)

Take a virtual trip just for fun, learn a little something about yourself and others along the way.  Safe travels – bon voyage – buen viaje – buon viaggio – gute Reise -- добре поїздка -- 旅途愉

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


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

·      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 (
[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.