Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Three)

By: Joy Kanwar and Kim D. Ricardo

This is the final installment in our three-part series on avatars in the classroom. In Part I, we introduced the avatar framework.  In Part II, we encouraged faculty to use avatars early in the semester to create an inclusive classroom culture, and to eventually help students build toward professional identity. Here, we provide specific details for when and how to create avatars for these purposes.

Law School Avatarification

 Although our ideas are new in a law school context, scholars in other disciplines have found it useful to consider the avatar as an extension or an agent of the individual in virtual spaces.  One study coined “avatarification” in the undergraduate classroom as the “utilization of virtual self-representations within a mediated environment in order to facilitate interactions in that environment.”  Avatars can assist in making the online classroom a space where students can express multiple, overlapping identities (or intersectional identities) and form part of a community.  As discussed in Part II, avatars allow for students to not only express the qualities of their current selves, but also as their aspirational or evolving lawyer-advocate selves. Continue reading “Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Three)”

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Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Two)

By: Joy Kanwar and Kim D. Ricardo

Image Credit: Lunalavandula                      Student-Created Avatar

In Part I, we introduced the idea of an avatar and described how Joy has used avatars to help students prepare for oral argument in the physical classroom as well as an online one.

In Part II of this three-part series, we re-envision the avatar as a tool to enhance law student engagement in the online classroom, as well as how it can be useful to build professional    identity.  First, we focus on how avatars can be used right at the start of the semester for community-building purposes.  The local culture that we create in the (online) classroom matters.  The social norms that we establish can assist students in identifying and addressing inequities in the law.  Here, we encourage faculty to build classroom norms that challenge the notion of objectivity and that value subjective perspectives.  Second, we present reasons that avatars can also help enhance professional identity building during the semester as well, a purpose that is enhanced further if community has already been built in the classroom. Continue reading “Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Two)”

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Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom

By: Joy Kanwar (Brooklyn Law School) and Kim D. Ricardo, (UIC Law) (JMLS Chicago)

This article is the first in a three-part series.

Photo Credit: Lunalavandula

Law school in Fall 2020 will be different.  Many law teachers will meet their students for the first time through an online platform because of COVID-19.  And following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain and the reinvigorated social movement led by Black Lives Matter, our society is also reckoning with systemic racism more profoundly than ever in the past.

This historic moment presents challenges for both law teachers and their students.  How can you genuinely get to know your students at a distance?  Are there ways to facilitate student interactions to replicate the social networks of support that otherwise would have happened organically in the physical law school?  What is the best way to create a classroom culture online?  In what ways do the norms established in the online classroom either reify or help dismantle oppressive power structures?

Drawing on Joy Kanwar’s 2018 article, and in this series of three blog posts on Teach Law Better, we use the avatar framework to address these questions about online course development.  The avatar framework offers research-backed and field-tested strategies to foster law student socialization and community building in the online classroom.

In Part I, we define “avatar” and describe how Joy has used avatars as scaffolding for professional identity development in her classroom.  We then propose extending the use of avatars to frame all community-building efforts in an online class.

In Part II, we will contextualize our proposal to introduce law school avatars early in the year by diving into the relevant literature on distance education.  We specifically consider how the local social norms that faculty establish in the online classroom can help address inequities in the legal system and in law school.  In Part III, we will provide model avatar design guidelines with step-by-step instructions. 

Part One

What is an Avatar?

Joy’s Avatar

Avatar (pronounced “Ah-vuh-Thar”) originates from the Sanskrit language and Hindu Mythology and is defined as “the descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god.”  In the non-Hindu context, an avatar is “an embodiment or personification, as of a principle, attitude, or view of life.”  A third definition, and the one that may resonate the most for our students, is that of an avatar in the digital space: “a graphical image that represents a person, as on the Internet.”  In this last context, the avatar is a character that “stands in” for the real person and may or may not resemble the actual physical person. Continue reading “Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom”

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Legal Citation and Pop Culture

By: Jan M. Levine, Professor of Law and Director, Legal Research & Writing Program, Duquesne University School of Law

Every academic year, legal writing professors grapple with the problem of how to best teach citation to 1L students.  Although several print- and computer-based sources of exercises are available for students, regardless of the citation guide the school requires (such as the ALWD Guide and the Bluebook), many professors develop their own exercises to expose their students to the myriad complexities of citation.  Experienced teachers know that the most enduring lessons on citation come from students preparing actual documents, such as office memoranda and appellate briefs, because students understand the issues and analysis being explored and have read the sources to be cited.  However, stand-alone exercises are helpful for introducing basic concepts of citation and explaining the more technical aspects of citation, such as full citations, short citations, signals, citation relationship to text, abbreviations, and parentheticals.  To be successful, stand-alone exercises need to have some “hook” that engages students in the otherwise dry topic of citation.

In an effort to make stand-alone citation exercises more enjoyable and realistic I have for many years created exercises based on aspects of media and pop culture that are familiar to me and to my students. I couple them with PowerPoint presentations that include associated visuals and music.  As a long-time science fiction and fantasy fan, in the past I used Star Trek and Lord of the Rings in my exercises. My latest citation exercises are based on case law and other sources that cite to the omnipresent Star Wars franchise and the DC and Marvel comic books, movies, and television shows. Continue reading “Legal Citation and Pop Culture”

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How Courts are Coping with the Coronavirus

By: Judge Richard Dietz and Judge Philip Berger, Jr.  (North Carolina Court of Appeals) with an introduction by Professor Abigail Perdue

As courthouses across America work tirelessly to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 era, I asked two judges how the coronavirus has impacted the work of their court as well as their expectations of and relationships with their law clerks.  Their valuable insights are excerpted below.
Continue reading “How Courts are Coping with the Coronavirus”

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