Ultra Vires


The Zoom Awards

Showcasing good examples of online learning experiences at the Faculty

With the recent shift to remote delivery for the fall term, Ultra Vires wants to highlight some of our students’ favourite experiences of Zoom law school. From incorporating asynchronous components to being receptive to feedback, there are many ways in which professors have created an effective online learning experience. 

Avoiding Zoom Fatigue

Since the pandemic began, the phrase “Zoom fatigue” has risen in prominence. It’s no secret that video calls can be exhausting, especially when you have multiple throughout the day. To combat this, some professors are incorporating asynchronous material to reduce the amount of time spent on call. 

In her Evidence Law class, Professor Martha Shaffer provides a mix of synchronous and asynchronous lecture material. There are live classes twice a week with the remaining material delivered in recorded lectures. All lectures, including the synchronous ones, are recorded and uploaded so students may review the material at their own pace. This is a significant inclusion, given the Students’ Law Society’s ongoing request for the Faculty to adopt recorded lectures.

Professor Shaffer intentionally researched best practices for online teaching and its effect is clearly shown through her students’ rave reviews. Ema Ibrakovic (2L) writes, “I really like this format because we get through a lot of content and I’m not exhausted after a lecture. It’s way easier to focus this way.” 

For his Administrative Law class, Professor Andrew Green also provides students with recorded PowerPoint lectures. This, along with his proactive approach to soliciting and incorporating feedback, led Flint Patterson (2L) to write, “Andrew has been flexible, adaptable, and compassionate throughout. He is deserving of recognition.”

Similarly, students in Professor Angela Fernandez’s Legal Process class watch a recorded lecture before their half-hour live Q & A session, twice a week. Notably, Professor Fernandez’s recorded lectures are accompanied by an auto-generated audio transcript, an important consideration for students with accessibility issues. 

Using Visual Aids and Other Tools

Many students cited the effectiveness of lectures involving visual aids like Powerpoint slides and other tools like online polls.

For example, Professor Rory Gillis’ frequently makes use of PowerPoint in his Canadian Income Tax Law classes. Andrew Easto (2L) writes “Professor Gillis keeps it simple. Shared-screen PowerPoint presentation with helpful excerpts from cases and secondary materials. Just having the names of cases and judges is a huge help. Given that this is a tax course, he also makes good use of tables with figures to illustrate the implications of a given rule in real terms for taxpayers.” Adding on, Molly (2L) writes “Professor. Gillis elicits student participation and engagement by relating the contents of the course to big-picture topics and events. This is particularly useful when you’re at home and can be easily distracted by the contents of your fridge. His slides are also useful learning aids which provide key material without being the main focus of the lecture. Additionally, he makes sure to check on-line participation so students at home can actually be involved.”

Commenting on Professor Brenda Cossman’s Family Law class, Joseph Mercado (2L) writes “Her use of slideshows, engaging polls, and amazing commentary make family law online classes a pleasure to attend. She engages with student comments and is responsive to class feedback (she became very cognizant of her paper-shuffling after the class pointed it out). Plus, her sense of humor always makes my day — and I am not alone in thinking this! I think it is her openness with the class and enthusiasm for the content (combined with very structured, but simple, slideshows) that make online family law classes great.” Similar to Professor Shaffer, Professor Cossman took an online course about online teaching to prepare for remote delivery. Many students commented on their enjoyment in her class. 

Other innovative tools include interactive PowerPoints, online polls, and “word clouds”. Emily Albert (1L), commented that she enjoys when her Constitutional Law professor Ian Lee “fills in PowerPoints interactively as we go”. For Legal Ethics, Justice Lorne Sossin and Professor Moya Teklu “monitor the zoom chat well [and] have online polls that facilitate discussion” (Liam Turnbull, 3L). Finally, in International Law Theory and the Rule of Law, Professors Jutta Brunnee and David Dyzenhaus “constantly check for messages and raised hands (literal or Zoom). They encourage participation and discussion between seminars and create word clouds which are shared in class. Most importantly, they are both great at facilitating discussion by relating comments to one another, adding additional commentary, and thanking the speaker.” (Lauren Lam, 3L). It’s clear that students enjoy the use of these tools. 

Mimicking the In-Person Experience

Overall, what impressed the majority of students was when the remote learning environment matched the in-person experience as closely as possible. This includes professors engaging in discussion, being receptive to answering questions, and employing the same effective tactics used in the classroom. 

Rebecca Xie (2L) is in Professor Jim Phillips’ Trusts Law class, which has been delivered remotely since the beginning of the semester. She writes, “His classes are always interesting, engaging, and full of Professor Phillip’s trademark humor and personality. He’s very responsive to chats and raised hands, and he always stays behind after lectures to answer questions just like many professors would for in-person courses.” These sentiments are echoed by Caroline (3L) who writes, “Professor Philips records every lecture which is incredibly helpful if your internet cuts out. He also has not had any technology issues and seamlessly transitions between screen sharing, monitoring the chat for questions, and lecturing. Professor Phillips provides the same high quality of teaching via Zoom as he does in person.”

Dominique Wightman (1L) may have put it best when he writes about Professor Peter Benson’s Contract Law class, stating that “His energy is not even slightly dampened by virtual education. I’ve been in class with Professor Benson in person, and he is as engaging and direct over Zoom as in the classroom. His approach to online pedagogy isn’t particularly unconventional or creative — it’s really the same format as an in person lecture — but I remain engaged and leave every lecture fulfilled. Something has to be said for a Professor who can maintain the attention of Gen Z students on MacBooks without fundamentally altering their teaching style. Professor Benson has an energy that punches through any impediment presented by online learning.”

Making Connections

In the era of online learning, it can be difficult for students to connect with their professors as they would in an in-person setting. Likewise, it can be difficult for professors to “teach into the void.” Good online learning experiences ultimately require both students and professors to make an effort to connect. 

Some professors have gone above and beyond in doing just that. In my Tort Law class, Professor Bruce Chapman has done an incredible job at keeping students engaged and excited for class. Graeme Wyatt (1L) writes, “I think online teaching can make it difficult for professors to connect with their students on a personal level. Professor Chapman is not scared to make jokes in a class where he can’t see everyone smile or hear everyone laugh, and that requires some serious courage in the face of potential awkwardness. His efforts to keep the tone of the class light and welcoming actually make me want to leave my camera on because I feel like he wants to connect with me. Also, he did an entire class with a snail as his background.” 

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