Backwards Design, Forward Thinking
By: Abigail Perdue (Wake Forest)
For the first time in a long time, I find myself teaching a brand new course. Not only is the course outside my discipline, but also I’m offering it virtually. And while I feel far more confident with regard to virtual teaching than I did last spring, I still consider myself a novice.
But instead of battling anxiety and fear like I did during my first semester of teaching, I feel energized, excited, and cautiously optimistic. All this “newness” is invigorating. Why? Because the events of 2020 have shown me that I grow the most when I venture outside the reassuring confines of my comfort zone, and the lessons learned from that challenging year have made me a stronger teacher and a better human being.
When I first started teaching, I had no idea how to design a course. Thankfully, I had seasoned mentors who generously shared their syllabi, course materials, and thoughtful advice with me. But in the process of pouring over how others taught the course, I risked losing my authentic self. Self-doubt sometimes led me to secondguess myself, deleting innovative ideas that seemed to contradict others’ approach. If left unchecked, eventually those doubts can cause you to unintentionally erase yourself entirely, fashioning a copycat course that doesn’t reflect your signature style or personal goals.
Backwards design is an approach to course design that enables you to emulate the best practices of your colleagues while remaining true to your pedagogical objectives and teaching style. I first learned about backwards design at an excellent training given by Dr. Betsy Barre of Wake Forest’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching. Later, I had the good fortune of hearing this concept reinforced and endorsed by our Dean and Teacher Extraordinaire Jane Aiken. To my understanding, their remarks derived heavily from a book entitled Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.
In this post, I’ll briefly explain my personal understanding of backwards design and then share how I recently used it to design the virtual Professional Responsibility course that I’ll be teaching for the first time this spring. (more…)
Discussing Imposter Syndrome
By: Professor Amanda Peters (South Texas College of Law Houston)
Like most of my law professor colleagues, teaching online is new to me. One of the many options unique to virtual teaching is the discussion board, which has been touted as a tool to keep students engaged. While I was unsure how my online class discussions would go, I was especially pleased with the discussion board responses I recently received on the topic of imposter syndrome, which involves the belief that you do not deserve to be where you are, that you do not belong.
At the online LWI Conference this summer, one of the presenters mentioned a TED Ed talk on imposter syndrome. I heard about this syndrome for the first time on NPR many years ago. Although I had never put a name with it before, I immediately recognized it from my own experiences, and I knew how harmful it could be.
I remember feeling uneasy about my abilities as I began law school. Two women in my 1L study group were ranked 2nd and 4th in the class after the first semester. I remember wondering whether my good grades were a product of studying with them or whether I alone was capable of earning those grades. I questioned whether I really belonged on Law Review.
When I became a lawyer, I doubted I was talented enough to work among the best litigators in Houston or whether I was smart enough to move from litigation to appellate work. As a new law professor, I remember feeling insecure that my office neighbors went to Harvard when the diplomas that hung on my wall came from Texas Tech. In each of these situations, I would eventually come to realize that I had earned my place, but that realization took time. (more…)
Using Padlet to Create Community
By: Professor Heather Gram (Wake Forest)
Like many educators this past summer, I found my days consumed by webinars, conferences, and virtual meetings all designed to introduce me to new technology for the fall. While most were helpful, I still felt overwhelmed at times. Would I be able to figure out my third Learning Management System in five years? Could I learn how to effortlessly pop into pre-designated breakout rooms without accidentally ending the session for everyone? And if I taught online, how could I build that same rapport with students that comes naturally with face-to-face classes?
Luckily, I stumbled onto a demonstration of Padlet™ and recognized that it might be what I was looking for. According to a 2018 article, “Padlet began as a free digital bulletin-board where teachers and students could exchange ideas, materials, and comments.” It has “a simple interface that allow[s] users to drag and drop files from their desktop and add links from the web onto a web-based canvas (called a ‘padlet’).” While Padlet™ originally offered the unlimited creation of padlets, two years ago it capped the number of free padlets per person to five.
Padlet™ immediately reminded me of the high school locker that I shared with my best friend. That locker had been a place where I could post notes to her about assignments (“Do you understand the reading for tomorrow’s class?”), questions (“When is our AP History test?”), and articles about movies, music, and more. Padlet™ seemed to provide a similarly creative way to reach my students in a less formal manner than just posting announcements on Canvas™. (more…)
My Virtual Conversion
By: Abigail Perdue (Wake Forest)
If you had asked me last August whether I would like to teach my fall Appellate Advocacy course fully online, I would have said, without hesitation, “Hard pass.” Jaded by my own scant experience with online education (primarily in the form of mind-numbing CLEs), which had always been vastly inferior to face-to-face learning, I had honestly never given distance learning a second thought. Although I rarely speak in absolutes, I was wholeheartedly convinced that online teaching could never be as effective or rewarding as an in-person experience. And then COVID happened.
Bracing ourselves for the great unknown, educators across America immediately took drastic, emergency measures to minimize COVID-related course interruption, hurriedly transitioning our classes online. Most of us entered this new frontier without the benefit of formal training, preparation, equipment, or intention like astronauts sent to the moon without spacesuits. And although I did my best under the extenuating, unforeseeable circumstances, I found myself eager and anxious to “get back to normal” this fall.
And then COVID continued. Looking back, I realize that I, like so many others, was probably working through the stages of grief in a way. Armed with the flexibility and power of a growth mindset (thank you Dr. Dweck!), over the weeks that followed, I moved from denial that COVID would prevent face-to-face teaching in the fall all the way to acceptance of the “new normal” (that I needed to plan a virtual course).
Over the summer, my law school, like many others, provided countless workshops on virtual teaching and launched small learning communities about best practices in online education. I participated in a fabulous conference about remote teaching held by William & Mary. On my own initiative, I underwent other training as well. Applying the principles of positive psychology, I framed each training as an opportunity to learn something new, to innovate, and to reexamine longstanding notions about how and what I should be teaching.
Then something remarkable happened. (more…)
Let’s Listen to the Quiet Ones: How Quiet Students Thrive in Remote Learning
By: Professor Heidi K. Brown (Brooklyn Law School)
Midway through pandemic lockdown in New York City, my television was tuned to CNN one Saturday morning while I exercised in my kitchen. My ears perked up at hearing an elementary school principal in Washington, D.C.—Dr. Sundai Riggins—relay in an interview how students who were not talkative in in-person classes were expressing themselves more frequently in distance learning. I thought, Wow, I wish every educator (and politician) could hear that message!
When the law school where I teach switched to “emergency remote learning” in March, I too noticed students who rarely raised their hand in our live classroom quickly embracing online communication tools such as the “hand-raise” and “chat” features in Zoom. These electronic functions enable quiet students to signal a desire to contribute without having to interrupt their more voluble classmates or teacher to be heard. (Introverts resist interruption—to themselves and others.) This got me thinking, Are other educators across the country noticing an uptick in participation by quiet students during the pandemic? (more…)
Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Three)
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. (more…)
Self-Made: Introducing Avatars in the Online Law Classroom (Part Two)
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. (more…)
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.
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.
What is an 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
How Courts are Coping with the Coronavirus
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.