Preparing to Teach Remotely (Part 1): Where Do I Begin?

Professor Nick James

The focus of many law teachers at the moment is upon successfully navigating the transition to remote delivery of teaching. For many of us, the challenge is a significant one: not only do we have to learn a new set of skills, we also have to have to find a way to provide our students with a personalised learning experience that is as engaging and rewarding as what they would have received if they were on campus. We are assured by our institutions and by many of our colleagues that it is possible to do so. However, the sheer quantity of information, advice and support available to us can sometimes appear overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know where to start. In this post I will share my own experience in addressing this challenge.

Next semester, I will be teaching a brand new subject, Enterprise Law. This is a compulsory subject in Bond University’s new Transformation degrees, including the Bachelor of Legal Transformation. Fortunately I have most of the content ready in the form of lecture slides, tutorial problems and the like, but now I need to think about how I am going to deliver the subject remotely next semester, including how I want my subject website to look. It will be a Blackboard ULTRA site as well, and it will be my first time setting up a site on that platform, so that is an added challenge. Where should I begin?

I decided that a good place to start would be with a broad overview of remote teaching. There are many such overviews available online, and it is likely that your own University has produced such a guide for the academics at your institution. At Bond, our Office of Learning and Teaching has produced an excellent guide to remote teaching, called ‘TLC: Teach-Learn-Connect’. It contains clear and concise explanations and lots of good insights and advice, such as:

  • we should keep it simple, be flexible, and embrace the opportunity;
  • ‘good teaching is good teaching’;
  • there are several differences between synchronous delivery (educators and students gather and interact in “real time”) and asynchronous delivery (educators prepare subject materials and activities that students can access and interact with at any time), but both are important;
  • it is critical to create a ‘sense of belonging’, i.e. ensure our students feel respected, valued, accepted, cared for, included, and that they matter;
  • virtual ice breakers can be used to help break down barriers and build rapport with, and between, our students; and
  • when planning to transition to remote teaching delivery, we start by examining the existing subject structures and assessment tasks to determine their suitability.

Reading that sort of overview was very helpful … but now what?

It seemed to me the next step was to reflect on my learning outcomes. I decided it would be helpful for me to remind myself what it is I really want my students to know and be able to do as a result of completing my subject. My learning outcomes should inform all of the decisions I make about remote teaching.

The learning activities I choose to use, whether synchronous or asynchronous, should help my students achieve the learning outcomes. If I like the look of an online learning activity, but it has nothing to do with achieving the learning outcomes, I should think carefully about whether or not to use it. (Of course, there are other reasons for using a learning activity – it might enhance overall engagement or build a ‘sense of belonging’.) If I have identified a particular learning outcome but I don’t actually do anything with the students that relates to that outcome, I should either review my learning outcomes or review my learning activities.

Similarly there should be a clear and direct relationship between my learning outcomes and my assessments. The assessments should measure the extent to which my students achieve the learning outcomes. If I have stated a learning outcome but I don’t assess it, or if I have an assessment task that measures something other than a learning outcome, I really should reconsider either the learning outcomes or the assessment tasks. All this is known as ‘constructive alignment’. Watch this Prezi presentation by Eric Orton for a clear and concise explanation of the concept

In my subject, Enterprise Law, I have a fairly clear idea about what it is I would like my students to know and be able to do. My students are not enrolled in a traditional law degree, and are not training to be lawyers. They are doing this subject to learn about the legal and ethical rules that apply to running or participating in an enterprise. The goal is to teach them enough for them to organise their own affairs and the affairs of their enterprise in such a way that they don’t get into legal or ethical difficulties or if they do get into difficulties they recognise that fact and have an idea about what they and those around them need to do. I would also like them to not only know what the law is, but also appreciate its imperfections and form views about how it might be improved. 

I expressed my learning outcomes as:

  1. Explain and critique the law regulating enterprises in Australia, including tort law, contract law, consumer protection and competition regulation, IP law and business law
  2. Communicate their knowledge of the legal system and enterprise law effectively and appropriately, in writing and verbally
  3. Identify, analyse and solve authentic legal problems, taking into consideration their ethical dimensions

Now, as I move into making some important decisions about how I will teach and assess remotely, I am going to keep these learning outcomes close to hand to remind me what it is I am trying to achieve in teaching this subject.

  • This video explains how Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to write learning outcomes.
  • This useful handout issued by the University of Melbourne contains some very useful tips for drafting learning outcomes, drawing upon the AQF and Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • These resources offered by the University of Toronto include a long list of examples of learning outcomes.
  • This blog post explains why many learning outcomes are badly written.

My next step will be to review my proposed learning activities. That will be the subject of a future post.

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