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How law students can find success in online classes

Remote Learning
Remote controls: Planning and preparation—especially where technology is concerned—can ease a hasty transition to remote learning.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, law schools across the United States are closing their physical doors and opening their virtual ones by moving classes online. This means a lot of things must change in a short amount of time for both professors and students.

But some of the most successful attorneys are ones who can adapt to changing circumstances. So now is a good opportunity to test your ability to adapt as the remainder of the semester is in flux. But how can you continue to be successful in this new environment?

What is videoconferencing and Zoom?

Videoconferencing is a way for you to see, hear, and communicate with your professor and classmates remotely. This is how many classes will meet in real time (i.e., synchronously). A common platform used by law schools is Zoom.

Zoom is a web conferencing platform that has screen-sharing and other capabilities that allow you to collaborate similarly to the way you would in a traditional classroom.

Professionalism in the online classroom

Taking classes in different locations can feel different, whether you’re in a different physical location or whether you’re taking a class online. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the better it becomes. Additionally, it is not uncommon to work in different spaces as modern legal practice is moving toward telecommuting, and using technology like videoconferencing (e.g., Zoom). This is a good opportunity to learn and use skills that you will use in practice.

As a result, you are expected to do the following:

  • Use a laptop or desktop that have the following capabilities:
    • A camera for your professor and classmates to see you;
    • A mic so you can speak and be heard; and
    • A speaker (or similar device) for you to hear;
  • Be in a quiet, private space with appropriate lighting so you can be seen;
  • Be mindful of your appearance. Ideally, you want to dress the way you would normally dress for work or class;
  • Be in a space with an appropriate background. With video, your professor and classmates will be able to see what’s behind you;  
  • Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes before your class starts to do some quick tests: audio (ensure that your mic works and that your speakers work), video (that it works and check what is visible behind you), and login (that you have the proper information and system requirements). Don’t wait until the last minute;
  • Mute your audio as soon as you log in;
  • Remember to unmute yourself when speaking and then immediately mute yourself when done;
  • When talking, be clear and concise. Don’t talk over other students; 
  • Don’t access class from a vehicle or from public transit. These locations aren’t sufficiently conducive to a professional learning environment; and
  • If you don’t have access to a computer to attend your class virtually, it’s likely that you may use a conference call-in number made available to you. Check with your professor first. However, you will get the most out of class by participating via video to better engage with the group and to receive all of the relevant class information.

Additional tips

There are a few more things to consider when taking online classes that will help set you up for continued success:

  • Remove distractions while you’re in class. This means turning off notifications on your laptop or desktop, and putting your phone out of view and on silent for the duration of class. Most videoconferencing platforms have chat features, so limit your chatting to class-related topics only;
  • Create a dedicated workspace for yourself that’s separated from the rest of your living area. This will help increase focus and reduce stress, because once you’re done for the day, you can physically separate yourself from your work;
  • As always, treat your studies like a job. Create a schedule for yourself that includes class time, study time, breaks, meals, exercise, and times when you start and stop each day;
  • And don’t forget to take breaks! This means short breaks, meal times, and time for yourself—including full days off. Your brain needs rest to recharge and to work well, so breaks are a must!; and
  • As always, be patient and kind.

What if I have technical difficulties?

You can contact your campus IT department, so have their information available. If your school uses Zoom, you can also contact their 24/7 for technical support. Don’t rely on your professor or classmates to troubleshoot any technical difficulties you may encounter.

Do you have tips you would like to share? Put them in the comments below!

Heather Varanini Heather Varanini is the Associate Director of Academic Achievement at the Golden Gate University School of Law. She specializes in time management and creating successful study plans for students with disabilities. Heather also hires, manages, and trains groups of TAs each semester, developing their leadership and teaching skills.