July 14, 2020
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.
Angela Walch, J.D., Professor of Law, shared takeaways from her spring classes in a Q&A. Walch joined St. Mary’s in Fall 2012. She specializes in contracts, contract drafting, jurisprudence, law of money and governance of blockchain technology . In Spring 2020, she taught Contract Drafting and Jurisprudence. She is currently teaching Contract Drafting this summer.
Q: What was your approach in switching to online learning in a short period of time?
I wanted to give students a sense of continuity and for them to know that I would continue to be there for them throughout the semester. We really drew on the social bonds the class had formed before going online, and I tried to adapt the types of exercises we previously used in a classroom setting.
Luckily, both my Jurisprudence and Contract Drafting courses seemed to lend themselves to the online format, as we were able to continue to have discussions and to utilize the reflection questions that I ask students to prepare for class.
It was also critical for me to include humor and an acknowledgement of the strangeness and challenges of the pandemic, so I let students see a bit of my crazy home life by occasionally hosting Zoom (a cloud-based videoconferencing platform) sessions from my kids’ playroom, with a Barbie dream house in the background. I wore a gold sequined dress to our final Zoom class to honor the moment and liven things up. It was important to me to be flexible and understanding with students, given the difficulties they were facing.
Q: What are some new teaching methods you’ve picked up along the way?
I love using breakout rooms in Zoom to facilitate the small group discussions that are a key part of my in-person classes. They help to build a sense of community and ownership among students and ensure that every student is actively learning during the session. I was concerned about losing these valuable teaching techniques in an online setting, but Zoom breakout rooms will enable me to continue to do small group work in an effective way.
Q: What has been your biggest area or opportunity for growth in teaching online thus far?
I am still working to figure out the right amount of work for students in an online setting. It is challenging to make it line up seamlessly with the in-person credit hour arrangements, so I am learning what is too much and what is too little.
As for my teaching tools, I am working to master the more sophisticated features of the learning technology, such as being able to edit videos. I use the whiteboard and a document camera a lot in my in-person classes, and I want to better simulate that experience in the online setting for class discussions.
Q: What has been most surprising?
What has been most surprising to me is that it is hugely time consuming to transition an in-person course to an online course. It requires rethinking the course from the ground up —identifying what I hope my students will take from the course, and then thinking carefully about the activities and materials that will help students to master the targeted skills and knowledge. It is a break-it-down and rebuild project — one that is incredibly valuable from a pedagogical perspective, but one that takes sustained thought and redesign.
It is useful for teachers to have to do this self-scrutiny periodically, but it is rather challenging, of course, to have to do it during a pandemic!
Q: What has been the most beneficial experience of teaching online?
For me, it has been seeing that education can continue to function, even if we cannot all be together in the same classroom. Learning and a law school community can continue to grow and flourish, even in the face of extreme disruption and hardship.
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?
This is an incredibly hard time for everyone. Each person faces their own unique set of challenges. One of the things I have done is to try to prioritize what is actually important, and to let go of some of the “nice to haves.” This means that my house is not as straight as I might like it, but I read a book with my daughters every night before bed. I also cope by trying to understand the science of COVID-19 and have followed research about transmission and risk closely.