Is your professor using Zoom, WebX, or another online platform to teach your course live? Here are some best practices for presenting yourself professionally and having the best learning experience in your online classroom.
Test out Zoom with your computer before it’s time for class. Many universities give students access to Zoom, WebX, or other online classroom accounts. Set up that account in advance, and practice using it. Make sure that you have your computer set up properly: explore how to mute and unmute your microphone, activate your camera so that you show up in the class on video, raise your hand and use the chat features. Make sure your internet works properly with the platform, and fix any problems you identify before it’s time for class to begin.
Realize that you have a significant problem accessing the course online? Reach out in advance to your professor, your law school’s IT department, or the Dean of Students to identify solutions for those problems as soon as possible to ensure that you maintain access to the course materials and don’t fall behind.
Find a distraction-free environment for taking classes on Zoom or other platforms. It’s important to use these platforms in a distraction-free environment, so that you can focus on what your professor and fellow students are saying. Eliminate background noise in your own environment, such as the TV or music playing, people talking, or a dog barking. If you unmute your microphone to respond to a professor’s question or ask your own question, anything sound in the background will be picked up by your microphone. The best place is a quiet room where you can shut the door and not be interrupted. Don’t forget to tell anyone that you live with not to interrupt you during class time, and silence your phone as well.
Take your online class as seriously as you would if it were held in the law school classroom. Moving a class online doesn’t change your professor’s expectation of the level of preparation you have done in advance, your willingness to participate in class, or your ability to answer questions if you are called on. Engage in your online classes fully and be prepared to get the most out of them possible. Not only will you do better in that particular class and on the exam, but you will carry more knowledge and skills from that course into your other academic and professional endeavors.
Use a computer for live online classes, not a cell phone. Although a one-on-one Zoom/WebX meeting may be effective using the app on your phone, phones are really not useful for online classrooms. A cell phone is just too small to see Powerpoint slides, documents, or websites that your professor may share with the class through the platform, and some features are hard to find and use in the cell phone app.
Makesure youfollowappropriate online classetiquette. Sign in with video so classmates and your professor can see you. Keep your microphone muted unless your professor calls on you in class. Dress as you would for an in-person class, considering what you want your professional reputation to be. Be on time entering the class, stay engaged with the class for the entire time, and don’t leave the online classroom until your professor has ended class (unless you’ve told your professor in advance why you have to arrive late or leave early). Show respect for your professor and your fellow classmates by paying attention, just as you would in the physical classroom.
If you follow these best practices, you will set yourself up for getting the most out of those live online classes, and you will demonstrate your professionalism to your professor and fellow students.
Many law schools have made an abrupt shift from face-to-face to online instruction in the past week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and more will be joining them in the upcoming days. These changes can be stressful for law students, and it is hard to stay focused on your studies in times of uncertainty. Today, I want to focus on six key strategies you can use for successful online learning. Implementing these strategies will help you get the most out of your studies, stay focused and motivated, and make sure that you continue to make progress on your academic and professional goals. And there is an added bonus – taking charge of your academic plan can also help reduce your stress in an uncertain time.
Strategy #1: Know the Facts. Check your email regularly (at least twice a day, but I recommend more often on days that you have online classes – your professor may communicate specific instructions to you before class time begins). Read every email coming from your university, your law school, and your professors carefully. Have classes been suspended while your law school prepares to transition to remote learning? If so, when do classes resume?
What format will each of your classes take, and what learning platforms or technology will your professors use? Make yourself familiar with them. Make sure that your computer is set up properly and that you can access class resources, video, etc. from home. If you identify any challenges that would make it difficult for you to access online learning materials, reach out as soon as possible to the Dean of Students at your law school, as well as your professors.
Will your classes be synchronous, held at the same time on line as they were regularly scheduled in the classroom, or will they be asynchronous, where material will be posted online for you to complete on your own schedule? Are there classes that will have to be made up because they were suspended during a transition period? If so, when and how will those classes take place?
Are your professors making any changes to course requirements or assignment dates? Make sure you are aware of any changes to your courses, and seek clarification if you are unsure of your professors’ expectations for online attendance, participation, or other requirements.
Strategy #2: Plan Your Days. Just because you are studying at home rather than at the law school, it doesn’t mean that you throw away your study schedule. To stay on track with what you need to learn and accomplish over the upcoming weeks, you must develop a study plan. But this isn’t something new – you already know how to do this. Think of your study and class schedule as a regular job that you have to do every day. Create a daily schedule, with blocks of time that you are “in class,” times that you are preparing for class or reviewing and synthesizing material after class, and time that you are working on other class assignments (such as those you may have for a legal writing course). Need an online template for creating your new study schedule? I really like Free College Schedule Maker, which allows you to break your schedule down into half hour increments, can be color coded, and expands to a 7-day schedule.
Don’t forget to include breaks in that schedule that you’re creating. Schedule regular breaks to get some exercise, take a walk outside in the sunshine, eat healthy meals, etc. When we are at school, we naturally move around more, and it’s important to keep that up at home – for your health and to maintain focus in your studies.
Strategy #3: Eliminate Distractions. If you don’t usually study at home, it will be easier to become distracted when you are trying to get work done. Look for ways to reduce or eliminate distractions, to the extent that it’s possible. Try to create a dedicated study space that is not in the main traffic zone if at all possible, and communicate the importance of not being interrupted to anyone that you live with. (Obviously if you have children, this may not be that simple! But think about what strategies you can use to create as much distraction-free time as possible.) Share your study schedule with friends and family so that they know when you need to be focused on your work, and ask them to text, call, or talk to you during the times that you’ve scheduled for breaks. Turn off the TV while you are trying to get work done as well.
Make sure that you avoid the distractions of texting and social media during your study blocks. There are some great apps out there to lock down your phone or computer when you want to study, such as Pocket Points, Forest, and Flipd, and if you have a hard time resisting the urge to check out social media or news outlets when you are studying, it is worth exploring them. (I’ll discuss more strategies for avoiding distraction in a later post.)
Strategy #4: Keep Priorities in Focus. The routine of going to law school every day helps to establish discipline and accountability, and you may feel less motivated without that structure in place to support you. But it’s important to keep your larger priorities in focus during this time, and make sure that your efforts reflect those priorities. Don’t reduce your efforts when no one is watching you. You are going to law school because your professional goals are important to you, and you need to remind yourself that these final weeks of the semester are still an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills that will help you achieve your academic and professional goals. For those who are graduating and taking the July bar exam, this is particularly important. Don’t lose momentum now, at this critical point.
Strategy #5: Stay Engaged with Your Professors. Your professors are still among your most important resources in law school, and it’s important that you stay engaged with them. Come prepared to online classes, and participate fully in any class discussion. As you review course materials and synthesize what you’ve learned, reach out to your professors with your questions. You can always email any questions, but your professor can also schedule phone calls or Zoom or Skype meetings. If your professor hosts virtual office hours on line, I recommend participating. It’s a good way to stay connected with your professor and your classmates, and you will enhance your understanding of course materials in the process.
Strategy #6: Stay Engaged with Your Classmates. Your classmates can be your greatest resources and support system during law school, and remote learning has the potential to isolate you if you don’t take active steps to stay engaged. In a study group? Brainstorm ways to maintain your meetings remotely. There are all kinds of resources out there, from Zoom or Skype to shared folders in OneDrive or Googledocs. Reach out periodically to check on your law school friends and classmates. Take the time to touch base with people you’d normally sit next to in class. Support each other, encourage each other, and as you find strategies that help you study effectively in the online environment, share those strategies with others.
A move to remote learning may require some adjustment, but taking intentional steps to maintain your studies and stay engaged with your professors and fellow students will ensure your continued success. Stay tuned over the upcoming days and weeks as I write about additional tools and strategies for academic and professional success.
Yesterday, we explored some of the benefits of study groups in law school, as well as some techniques to make your study group more effective. One of the challenges that study groups face is the difficulty of getting everyone in one place at the same time. This is especially true if members of the study group have a job, live further away from the law school, have to arrange for child care, or otherwise find it hard to come back to the law school outside of class times. When your study group has these kinds of challenges, you can find solutions by thinking outside the box—try harnessing technology to make your study group mobile and more effective. Here are three types of technology that may aid your study group:
(1) Video chat platforms: There are any number of free video chat platforms out there, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime, and many of them allow you to have several people participating in the same conversation. With a video chat, it doesn’t matter where the members of the study group are located—all each person needs is a good internet connection and a smart phone, tablet, or computer.
(2) Collaborative study platforms: There are also quite a number of free or low-cost collaborative study platforms that could be easily utilized by law school study groups. Some of these programs have some really good components. A non-exclusive list of platforms to explore includes mind42 (a collaborative mind mapping platform), Simple Surface (allows real-time collaboration and includes a digital whiteboard; can download what you’ve created to pdf), ThinkBinder (a free platform for study groups that includes text discussion, video chat, shared folders, whiteboard, etc.), and Scribblar (another collaborative platform with text chat, live audio, whiteboard, etc.).
(3) Study Apps: A number of study apps allow multiple people to collaborate in creating study tools and share what has been created. I’ve previously talked about some of the apps available for creating flash cards. There are also some programs that let you develop games that you could use to review material, such as FlipQuiz.
The key is to think more broadly about how you can use technology to maximize your study group’s efforts. Not only may these tools increase the opportunities for your group to work together, but they can capitalize on group members’ learning preferences and make studying more productive and enjoyable.
*Nothing in this blog post is meant to be an advertisement or endorsement of any of the referenced products.
When most people think of taking notes, they think of sitting in a classroom and taking notes while the professor lectures. In undergrad, note-taking is often a pretty passive task—students write down what the professor is saying without really processing what is going on in class. Once class has ended, the note-taking process has ended. Some students don’t take notes in class at all, instead relying upon other course materials when they study for exams.
Your approach to taking notes in law school should be very different. The first thing that new law students need to understand is that effective note-taking is a cyclical process. Your case briefs are the foundation for your class notes—by creating case briefs, you are creating a set of notes that you can rely upon in class. Then, when you go into class, you should take additional notes about what happens during class. Many law students stop at this point, but there is still a third step to creating good notes. After class is over, you should spend a little time reviewing your notes from class, elaborating upon things you didn’t have enough time to jot down during class and correcting any errors in your notes. You should also use your class notes to clarify your case briefs. Complete this review of your class notes as soon as possible after class has ended because your memory of what happened in class will still be fresh.
Should you take notes by hand or on your computer? There’s an ongoing debate over whether law students should take notes by hand or on their computers. Some professors don’t allow computers in the classroom, and in those circumstances your decision is simple—you will take notes by hand. Most professors do allow computers in the classroom, however, and that means you will have to make the choice about what is right for you.
There are studies that have found that students who take notes by hand are able to remember lectures better than those who type their notes. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that, when you handwrite notes, you are required to think more about what you are going to write—the cognitive process is different. Because most people cannot write as fast as they type, it isn’t possible to create a transcript of everything that is said during class. Instead, someone who handwrites has to process information differently so that they can write down the important things that were said in class.
Students who take notes on their computers have a tendency to try to write down every word. When you create a literal transcript of what happens in class, you are not really processing that information. Thus, if you choose to take notes on your computer, you will need to take a disciplined approach to your note-taking. Students who use computers also have to resist the urge to be distracted, as there is always the temptation to check social media sites, surf the internet, and message friends.
Check back in tomorrow for another blog post on this topic—I will be talking about what law students should include in their course notes!
By now, those of you who are studying for the July bar exam should be settling into a regular study routine. As you discovered during your time in law school, there are some legal concepts that you just have to memorize to be successful on an exam, whether it is the final exam in Torts or the bar exam. As a result, you may want to pull an old tool out of the study toolbox—flashcards. Flashcards can help you memorize important rules, tests, and definitions that you will need to recall during the bar exam. They can be especially helpful as you juggle learning and reviewing material from numerous bar subjects. Flashcards can also help you assess what you know versus what concepts you need to spend more time on, allowing you to make efficient use of limited time.
There are two possible approaches to flashcards: (1) the old school, index card type of flashcard that is either handwritten or typed (the “traditional” flashcard); or (2) digital flashcards that can be viewed on a computer, smartphone, iPad, or other digital reader. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, as discussed below. You just have to decide which type will work best for you.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
First, let’s talk about the traditional flashcard. For those of you who do not like to study from a digital screen or aren’t as comfortable using technology, the traditional flashcard may be your default approach. One of the benefits of the traditional flashcard is that many students find that the process of writing out each card actually helps them to remember concepts better, even before they actually start studying from the cards. For people who like a visual reference of what has been accomplished and what is left to learn, stacks of flashcards satisfy that need. It is possible to carry around a small number of traditional flashcards regardless of where you go, and you don’t have to worry about low batteries, loss of internet connectivity, etc.
On the flip side, making handwritten flashcards can be a tedious process, especially when you are creating them for every bar subject. They are easily lost or ruined (such as when your elbow catches that cup of coffee and knocks it over). And if you are one of those people who tries to reduce the entire BarBri outline to a comprehensive series of flashcards, you may take so much time on one subject that nothing else gets done before it’s time to take the bar.
So what about digital flashcards? Digital flashcards also have their benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits of digital flashcards is their portability. If you have a smartphone with a flashcard app, you literally can carry your flashcards with you everywhere you go. As I’ve talked about before, there are any number of basic flashcard apps available on the internet for free or at a low cost, such as Flashcard Machine and Quizlet. You may have already discovered a program that works really well for you. Depending on the program, there may be limitations though. It may be difficult to separate out cards that you want to concentrate on for a single study session, or the ability to temporarily combine particular subjects together in a random way (how it will be on the MBE) may be limited. Not all apps work on all devices either. Some only work on Apple devices, while others work with android platforms. Very few seem to work with Blackberries, if you happen to have one of those.
Another benefit—and drawback—to many digital flashcard programs is that they allow you to share your flashcards with others. On the plus side, this means that you and two of your best friends could divide and conquer the flashcard creation process . . . if you trust those people’s judgment calls about what is flashcard-worthy. On the negative side, most people end up knowing best the cards that they created themselves.
A New Type of Digital Flashcard for Law Students and Bar Takers: SeRiouS:
There is also a new digital flashcard program specifically for law students and bar takers called SeRiouS.
Here’s a video explaining how SeRiouS works:
From my exploration of the SeRiouS platform, there are two different ways that you can use it. First, you can utilize flashcards, created by law professors, on a variety of bar subjects. As it stands right now, there are over 600 different flashcards on mostly MBE topics, but it appears that more will be added over time. Second, you and your friends can create your own cards as well. The benefit to SeRiouS is that it draws upon scientific research regarding memory. As you go through each flashcard, you rate how confident you felt about your answer. Based upon your level of confidence, SeRiouS applies an algorithm to determine how often you see that flashcard as you study—a process called spaced repetition. The principle is that, as you start studying a topic, you need to review it frequently in order for it to be stored in your memory. As you continue to review that same topic over time, however, you need to see it less and less often to maintain it in your long-term memory. (I’m not an expert on the subject, but this is how I understand it.) One of the drawbacks to this program is that the website is a little hard to navigate at first until you figure out where everything is located, but it shows a lot of promise. A plus is your ability to chart your mastery of the cards (it gives you an update about your status) as well as gentle reminder emails to get back to reviewing your flashcard deck. At this point, SeRiouS is in the beta stage and available without cost to law students and bar takers at least through the July bar exam period.
**This blog post is not an endorsement of any product mentioned herein; I am just providing some suggestions of resources that are available for you to explore.