Emergency Remote Teaching? Meet True Distance Learning.

Like many other legal educators, I recently took part in an online survey administered by CALI—the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. The survey was designed to gather data about our recent unplanned-for mass experiment with online legal education. (Because: pandemic!)

In an emailed cover letter that invited us to take the survey, CALI’s Executive Director, John Mayer, bluntly summarized the situation: 

“[W]hat you accomplished was not true distance learning. It was Emergency Remote Teaching.” 

This distinction matters.

We can embrace it without needing to feel defensive about it. As Mayer reminded us: “You didn’t have time to plan, create new materials, train or set up infrastructure.”

To put it in my own words: we did not have time to thoughtfully, collaboratively redesign our courses with online end-users in mind.

I am grateful to Mayer and the good folks at CALI for gathering data at this time when so many others would perhaps like to—but are focused on more pressing ongoing crisis-response initiatives. This data can be an important part of a larger, more deliberative process of reflection, feedback, learning, and planning that we will undertake this Summer.

Over the coming weeks, as we move toward a Fall semester that may possibly be online….or partially online….I will be interested to see what happens when we do have time to plan, create new materials, train, and otherwise design our courses with online end-users in mind.

As part of that process, I hope to check-in with students—the end-users of my courses. They have a point of view that I need to take into account if I am to make meaningful, substantive improvements to my course design and delivery….before giving instruction and feedback online again.

I’m curious, readers. Following our recent, emergency move to online teaching, what did you learn?

How, if at all, do you plan on changing your courses based on newly-acquired information and experience? 

Follow me on Twitter @profcorts, where I will be happy to collect/retweet responses.

As we move forward, let’s share information, swap stories, collect data. It would be optimal to hear from the broadest possible coalition of innovative educators. Let’s embrace this challenge: encourage, challenge, and hold each other to account.


An Ugly Stepchild in Law Schools?

Yes, in many law schools there are whispers (or loud proclamations) by law school faculty and administrators that when students don’t opt to use their J.D. to practice traditional law – and sit for the bar exam – it’s because they can’t/couldn’t cut-it in law school.

Popular conceit holds that law school is for a single purpose: professional training for the barred practice of law. Law schools (and their requirements and curriculums) have a bias against students who choose distinctive career paths and decide not to sit for a bar exam. Students who find a different purpose for their J.D. are often viewed as less intelligent law students (untrue). J.D.s who do not sit for the bar are viewed as failures (they are definitely not!).

Is advice to not take the bar given to students as an equal alternative career choice or the path to salvage something from their J.D.? This myth of “lesser” careers is perpetuated by the divisive distinction between “J.D. required” and “J.D. preferred” jobs that occurs for law school ranking and accreditation purposes. It’s a vicious circle of negative reinforcement that curtails innovation and growth in law schools.

It’s time to recognize not just the equality of J.D. students who choose not to follow a traditional barred career path, but their importance to the success of law schools in the future. As we look to the impact of technology and innovation in the legal industry – whether alternative dispute resolution or legal AI – they have the right idea. The legal industry is growing – the traditional role of the attorney is shrinking. Law schools that wish to remain relevant must address this change in both their curriculum and most importantly their treatment of the non-traditional career paths taken by some of their J.D. students.

If we can’t allow room within our curriculums for non-traditional career paths with a J.D. – perhaps we need an ALT JD?