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I don’t care what you wear to an online class (but sitting at a desk is a good choice)

Work Desk
Sitting at a desk instead of somewhere more comfortable can put you in the right mindset for learning.

Over at the Law to Fact podcast, Professor Leslie Tenzer and I have a conversation with tips for law students about online learning. Every single law school in the country now has transitioned to online delivery for classes for the rest of the semester. No doubt, the change has been jarring to faculty, students, and staff alike.

I’m teaching my classes synchronously (via Zoom) and holding lots of virtual office hours. I encourage my students (here, for example) to “stop by” my online meeting room to say hello, tell me how they are, and talk about the class (or not). If a student reports having trouble with online learning, I have a few tips that might be helpful.  As I discuss in the podcast with Professor Tenzer, planning for successful online learning takes place in three phases: before, during, and after any on-line session.  Read on.

A few of my students are (understandably) reporting that they are having trouble with the transition to online learning.  Students report difficulty concentrating, trouble retaining information, and overall high levels of stress.  This is completely normal and understandable.  After all, you didn’t sign up for a distance education class. You didn’t choose this.  None of us did. 

Add to this that many of students are working in sub-optimal conditions. They may not have a reliable (or any) internet connection. Students may not have a quiet place to study. They may be unexpectedly sharing spaces with family members who have competing needs. Students may be worried about their own health or the health of their loved ones. 

In these unusual times, I have pledged to my 99 students in Corporations & Partnerships that I will do whatever it takes to get them to a place where they feel they have mastery over this semester’s material.  If that means that I need to write extra practice problems, conduct one-on-one sessions, schedule extra review sessions, I’m available.  In these uncertain times, we proceed together with compassion, understanding, and joint purpose.  The conditions may change but the students’ and faculty’s commitment to excellence does not.

How can students best position themselves for online learning?  Before classes progress much further in the semester, here are four things to keep in mind.

1.    Make a schedule. Block out times on your calendar for studying, attending classes (whether synchronous or asynchronous), reviewing material.  Otherwise, working and studying from home can be very difficult without the usual rhythms that propel us forward.

2.    Use Your Calendar. Whether you are fully digital, a paper-calendar type, or somewhere in between, put important school-related due dates, prompts, and reminders on your calendar.  Have a practice midterm due on a certain date? Write it down. Need to exchange drafts of a paper with a classmate on another date? Write it down. Professor’s office hours that you’d like to access? Write it down.  With new emails and reminders arriving every day, getting important deadlines and information down on the calendar can be a big help.

3.    Find a Space and Gather Your Materials. Bring to your online class everything you might need, i.e., casebook, statute book, highlighters, other materials.

4.    Sit at a Desk or Table.  I personally don’t care what you wear to an online class or where (or whether) you are sitting up or lying in bed.  But my students self-report that they feel more ready to learn when they are sitting at a desk or table.  Lounging in that recliner may feel great in the moment, but your actual physical posture and position may be working at cross-signals with your brain.  Ditto for taking a shower and getting dressed for class.  Highly recommended! No, this is not a recommendation to wear a ballgown or even business attire.  More that it helps keep you in “I’m in class” mode if you are wearing clothes similar to what you would ordinarily wear to class anyway.  Business casual on top, pajamas on the bottom?  I won’t ask and I won’t tell. 

I’ll follow up in the coming days with some additional posts about how to keep your focus during and after distance law school classes.