Moving courses from a face to face or blended environment to fully online typically includes challenges, but when the class has an intricate fixed schedule and multiple moving parts the challenges increase exponentially.
My name is Katie Bridges. I’m a Learning Experience Designer working with the College of Law (COL). I came to GSU in August 2019 from another USG school, Georgia Highlands College. I currently work exclusively with law faculty and Jennifer Chiovaro and Maggie Vath from Lawyering Foundations Department at the COL are two faculty that I’ve worked closely with.
Lawyering: Practice Ready Writing is a law practice simulation class and was scheduled to be taught fully online Summer 2020. Knowing this class was going to take time to build, Jennifer and Maggie began working with a me in October 2019. This class is designed to simulate what new lawyers can experience when working in a firm. The students act as these new lawyers and receive work to complete during the class. When the class met face to face, the class time operated as the firm and there were frequent interruptions and changes to work priority, just like in a real law firm. The challenge for us was to determine how to integrate these elements in the online environment.
Where to start?!?
Fortunately, this course had been taught for many semesters so the schedule, materials, and structure were well defined and the faculty did not want to stray far from this established success model. This well established foundation of materials, structure, and schedule allowed us to work on the functionality of the course within iCollege.
Our design process for this class was entirely centered on the schedule of the course and the student interactions. The course included three groups, called Law Firms, and each firm had a different function. The Dobbs Firm and Parks Firm represented opposite parties in three different kinds of cases. The class size is kept small, under 20 students. The class was divided into four groups where two groups worked for Dobbs and two worked for Parks. The Wesley Firm, where all students worked together, served as the source of interruptions for the students’ work in Dobbs and Parks.
The course consisted of 20 assignments, where some assignments could not be completed until certain conditions were met. Other assignments had to be completed in very short time frames, simulating an urgent interruption that needed immediate attention. Here’s an example:
In mid-June, the students were working with several different clients on several different cases. Pre-determined cases were competing with each other for the student lawyers’ attention and students had to work with their firms (Dobbs or Parks) to figure out how to best manage their time. Meanwhile, student lawyers would receive intermittent and unexpected work from the Wesley Firm.
Then there was COVID
COVID 19 had a significant impact on this project. Before COVID, the faculty and I were meeting regularly in a room making notes on white boards and post-it notes. When meeting face to face was no longer an option, the faculty grew concerned as the course start date moved closer. The faculty knew “on paper” that the course worked but did not know if online would yield the same results. To help out here, we began to meet weekly on Webex.
We survived and came out stronger
Once the course launched, there were some bumps along the way, centered mostly around creating breakout rooms in virtual meetings, but by the end of July, when the semester ended, we felt that the course was a success. Because we had to move immediately from summer courses to fall and now spring, there has been no opportunity to debrief fully with the faculty yet. However, because of the faculties’ confidence in their improved ability to create and design online courses, they asked me to help them build a master-type class for Lawyering Foundations I and II, a first year required course. Working together with the other Lawyering Foundations faculty and the COL staff, a consistent, well-structured course was built for the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters.
So, while COVID-19 created some early panic and stress, the Lawyering: Practice Ready Writing faculty found that they can do this online teaching thing and students are learning and growing in their profession. It was harder and a lot scarier, but nothing good ever came easy. As a designer, I am proud of our work.