Law a university for the real world

A new normal: The shift to online learning for Law and Justice students

22nd May 2020

Now the new normal, the transition to online learning for the Faculty of Law didn’t happen overnight. Peter Black, Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching, has been at the forefront of the planning process, ensuring that both students and staff are equipped to handle and cope with the rapid changes.

“As a Faculty, we realised fairly early that it was possible COVID-19 would see us need to offer all of our units and courses online. We started providing additional training to staff while staff were still able to come onto campus, and we began planning for the transition online, from re-designing content delivery, to skill development, and assessment,” said Peter.

Academic and professional staff worked tirelessly to shift the learning experience online, including rethinking how to assess student learning in an online experience, how best to utilise Zoom, changing unit outlines and updating Blackboard sites. “The way staff in the Faculty approached this task was amazing. Everyone worked long hours into the night and over weekends to try and provide the best possible online experience. And of course this was made harder due to occasionally unreliable internet connections and the challenges associated with working from home with partners, children and pets amid the disruption and anxiety that we have all experienced as a result of COVID-19.”

Student Success Group and peer mentoring programs also moved online and more opportunities for synchronous learning have been embedded into first-year units to provide additional learning support. “For students who completed grade 12 last year they have certainly had a very different experience than what they would have envisaged and we have tried hard as a Faculty to provide additional support for our first-year students,” said Peter.

“Before COVID-19 changed everything, the university had been planning on investing in its online learning environments. This pandemic has accelerated the university’s ambitions in this space. The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Learning), Professor Kevin Ashford Rowe, is currently working with faculties across the university – including the Law Faculty – on plans for the university’s 'digital campus' that will go to the university’s council for approval in the next month or so,” he said.

Launching a series of videos called QUT Law Conversations Peter has been regularly interviewing Faculty staff. The initiative has been a real success amassing over 17,000 views on Facebook, providing students with not only a chance to learn new things about the members of the QUT community but also a way to connect during such unprecedented circumstances. In one of his videos Peter interviews Justice School Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Claire Ferguson. Filmed in mid-April, she mentioned how impressed she had been with the students’ ability to adapt and be understanding in the face of the pandemic. “Students and staff have done such a good job of rolling with the punches and being resilient through all of this,” she said.

As can be expected, student engagement has been a little inconsistent, however those who have been engaging with the online learning opportunities are engaging well and in record numbers. “We hope those students who aren’t as engaged, who may be struggling with motivation or opportunity during COVID-19 to take advantage of the support services and COVID-19 academic concessions that are available.,” said Peter.

“All students – especially first-year students – should take comfort in the fact that being able to continue to study – and hopefully succeed – in an online mode in the middle of a pandemic, demonstrates remarkable resilience and agility that will hopefully prepare them for future study and work,” he said.

Dihan Fernando, Bachelor of Business/ Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student said, “Being a final year student, I’ve been lucky enough to see the Law school implement online learning over the last few years. Because of this, the transition to purely online learning during COVID-19 hasn’t been a massive change for me. Although I prefer to learn in a face-to-face environment, the faculty has been really helpful. As all of the teaching staff have made a great effort to be easily accessible online I feel like I haven’t missed out on any learning opportunities.”

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