We’ve heard it all before, but it’s true: these are unprecedented times. With the spread of Covid-19, law schools across the country have moved their tuition online. For students, this tends to mean listening to classes in pajamas and trying to avoid cold calls by turning video off. For professors, the move to Zoom School of Law presents a number of unique challenges: how to ensure that you can continue to guide students through the material? How to field questions when you can’t see the students? And how to effectively speak to a webcam instead of a room full of people?
I’m a Cornell Law School student, and after three weeks of Zoom-learning, I have made a number of observations. Here are my ten tips for professors as they adapt to the new normal:
1. Relax. Don’t worry if technology doesn’t work quite as planned. Technology has glitches. It’s not a reflection of your technical/computer skills if something goes awry. If the class has to stop for a few minutes so that you can sort out a problem with the technology, it’s ok. Students expect it.
2. Adjust Your Camera. Make sure your screen is tilted far down enough that your full face shows on the video feed. It can be disorienting for students if they can only see your forehead/have a strange angle up your nose, which will likely happen if your laptop camera is at the top of your screen and you don’t tilt the screen down a bit.
3. Set the Ground Rules. Communicate to the class how you want students to participate. If it’s a small class, do you want the students to simply unmute themselves and speak? Do you want students to use the raise hand function in Zoom? Or comment in the chat if they want to participate? For large groups, the raise hand function works well, as does asking students to include an asterisk in the chat to indicate they have something to say. Whatever you choose to do, communicate it to the class to avoid everyone speaking over each other or no one speaking at all.
4. Watch the Chat and Hands Raised Functions. Keep an eye on the chat function if you’re using it as well as the function where students can raise hands. If they ask questions or comment on the class, you’ll want to see it before the hour is up so consider building in a minute after each segment of the class to look at the chat and see if there are any hands raised.
5. Give Students Time to Ask Questions. Similarly, build in time periodically for questions. It is harder for students to engage with the material virtually, and so periodically stopping and opening the floor for questions, then waiting a bit, can help students connect to the presentation.
6. Make it More Interactive. Consider building in class participation in the form of quizzes. This can also increase engagement in the material. It is easy for students to end up on the news/Facebook in these distressing times, so explicitly incorporating participation can mitigate the temptation of distractions. Zoom has a useful yes/no function (accessed through the participants’ window) – if you can build in a series of yes/no question throughout the class then students can answer them simply by clicking a button. Alternatively, iClicker is free to purchase until the end of the semester and allows you to build in multiple choice questions.
7. Office Hours. Hold office hours via Zoom so that students can still make use of valuable 1-1 time that they would get in person.
8. Students Have Technological Glitches Too. Be prepared for students’ internet to be weak or event to cut out. Sometimes a student will have a lag and not be able to participate at the same moment as everyone else. Other times students may need to access the virtual classroom without video feed. cut. Acknowledging to students that you understand these technical glitches happen can ease students’ anxiety.
9. Feel Free to Share. Don’t be too concerned if you have children/grandchildren/pets whom the class may hear (or even see). We’ve all seen this video and, for the most part, people’s reaction is one of amusement. Students will also be amused if your children accidentally appear on camera or can be heard from the next room. Everyone is learning to be accommodating of others’ private lives. Similarly, be accommodating of students who have to deal with the occasional interruption from children/pets.
10. Virtual Background. Use a pre-prepared background if you don’t have a workspace you’d be fine with your whole class seeing!