I hope you and yours are staying safe and well during this extraordinary time. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted lives in countless ways, with the changes in higher education among the most visible. Here at the Blewett School of Law, we continue to teach and learn, although in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few short months ago.
As the full magnitude of the crisis became apparent earlier this month, I asked our faculty to begin making preparations to teach remotely. I am incredibly proud of how they responded. Collectively, we took the spring break week and pivoted from our traditional modes of instruction—built around in-person lectures, discussions and experiential exercises—to delivering coursework through a combination of modalities, including Zoom and Moodle, our existing online learning platform. Beginning Monday, March 23, we closed our classrooms and moved all instruction online.
Just a few days into this grand experiment, the initial results are promising. Most of our classes are going forward in a “synchronous” format, meaning class “meets” at its usual time, with faculty and students logging in through Zoom. Some classes, notably Legal Research & Writing and Trial Practice, are less conducive to that method and have moved to “asynchronous” formats. All of our clinics have also moved to remote work arrangements. The vast majority of students have been able to continue with their course work in these ways.
Both because of the uncertainties surrounding the sudden move online and because of the added stresses our students are feeling, we, like many other law schools, have decided not to grade on the traditional scale this semester and instead to award only Credit or No Credit. We also recognize that for some students, because of personal or practical reasons, remote participation may not be possible. With guidance from our accreditor, the American Bar Association, we have worked out policies to allow those students to continue in modified ways so that they can continue to progress toward their degrees. Our goal is to keep our students safe and health while causing as little disruption to their education as possible.
Beyond the classroom, life at the law school has undergone major changes. Consistent with the guidance we are receiving from federal, state and local authorities, our building is closed to the public and most of our faculty and staff are working remotely. We are very much still on the job, though, and are available by email, phone and the now-ubiquitous Zoom! That’s also true of our law library, which remains available to serve the public remotely.
I’ve always believed that our single biggest differentiator is the community we foster here at “ABIII.” In some ways, this crisis has challenged our community by forcing us to distance ourselves. But it has also shown how we can come together to do things that seemed insurmountable just a few weeks ago. That’s the spirit we hope to maintain in the uncertain weeks and months to come.
Paul F. Kirgis