Colin Marks, Professor of Law

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the St. Mary’s University community has adapted — faculty stepping up to deliver quality education to students from a distance.

Colin P. Marks, J.D., Associate Dean for Graduate and Summer Programs, shared takeaways from his spring classes in a Q&A. Marks joined St. Mary’s in 2006. He specializes in contract law, commercial law, business associations and business torts. In Summer 2020, he taught Secured Transactions, a commercial law topic.

Q: What was your approach in switching to online learning in a short period of time?

A: I was already certified to teach online so the shift was pretty easy. I created short lectures for each week’s materials (usually two 15-minute videos) with a quiz after each video geared toward the materials to make sure the students had been paying attention, and then a once a week Zoom (a cloud-based videoconferencing platform) session with the class to go over the learning objectives and answer questions.

Q: What are some new teaching methods you’ve picked up along the way?

A: Using learning objectives for each assignment has been the biggest thing I have picked up. I create learning objectives and publish them at the beginning of each chapter/assignment. It really helps focus the class but also focuses my teaching on the truly important topics.

Q: What has been your biggest area or opportunity for growth in teaching online thus far?

A: Creating succinct video lectures while not talking too fast. Research shows that video lectures should be short due to normal attention spans. A normal live class would last 50 minutes but there is usually a lot of back and forth between the students. Creating learning objectives for each lecture has helped focus me on what is important so I can make the lectures concise without rushing.

Q: What has been most surprising?

A: I am teaching an online secured transactions class and the students have to do weekly discussion posts. I have been very impressed with the students’ thorough responses. The responses have demonstrated that the students are not just processing the material, but have thought about the policy underpinnings of the law.

Q: What has been the most beneficial experience of teaching online?

A: The freedom it gives the students and me with our schedules. COVID-19 has upended so many peoples’ lives. Schedules have been thrown into chaos and students who once could regularly attend a class at a set time every week pre-COVID-19 now find that more difficult. Online education gives more flexibility, especially when offered in an asynchronous format.

Q: Students look to you for guidance, for wisdom, especially during times of crisis. How have you managed your own challenges and anxieties during this time?

A: Keeping a regular schedule has helped as well as making daily to-do lists. Though live attendance at church has not been possible, I still pray for guidance. I also make a point of exercising daily and each night I walk my dogs, which is relaxing. I call my brother or parents often to keep up with them.

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