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A lonely march through the desert

The pandemic reminded us that law is about our social context and life in community.

laptop in a  desert

When I think about my semesters of law school online, I imagine a long march with little to drink. I spent hours a day at home reading assigned materials, wishing all the while that I could discuss the information with a living person. Sitting with my giant books of law was not enough to quench my desire to understand the intricacies of the jurisprudence. In this desert, live online lectures, and the chance to talk with instructors and classmates, were oases. Sometimes I pictured my class time as a cool glass of water, just out of reach, that I'd be allowed to sip from, once a day.

Some university professors offered what they call "asynchronous" course content. Lectures would be recorded and delivered for individual consumption, and class time would be used mostly for Q&A. I understand the idea was to provide flexibility to students to consume lecture content at their convenience, and to make teachers available for questions – a well-intentioned approach. But in my experience, asynchronous courses tended to have little or no class engagement. Students could fall behind on lectures and reading, and without a lecture to spur discussion, classes were quiet. I found this awkward and it chilled even my eagerness to join in. Nonetheless, I did look forward to my "synchronous" courses: lectures delivered live by Zoom, where instructors sparked questions and engagement, and used the chat feature with students.

In these class settings, I consciously chose to participate. I felt somewhat more exposed than I had in my in-person classes, where I hadn't given much thought as to whether or not to participate. Online, I couldn't gauge the crowd, as any person with a trace of social awareness would normally do. If my fellow students were tired of me, or disagreed with my argument, I couldn't tell. The Zoom layout didn't allow me to see all of my classmates in a larger class, and many had their cameras off at any rate. It was even hard to keep an eye on my instructors if I spoke up, because the Zoom tiles would sometimes rearrange. The slight visual and audio delays also made that normal social responsiveness impossible. Each time I spoke, I just had to take a risk and go for it.

I did this because I really needed to learn together with others. Law is, in large part, about our social context and life in community. Law is not a private language, it is a shared language, which the community is always shaping. For me, learning the legal trade alone does not make sense. For these reasons, as well as my awareness that online advocacy skills will be necessary in future practice, I participated in class discussions. Heading back into the classroom this fall, I could not be more pleased to jump into that deep pool I've been marching toward, with my classmates, together.