By Lécia Vicente*, Henry Plauché Dart Endowed Assistant Professor of Law, LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center
The Covid-19 pandemic threw us out of our game. It obligated us to change, readjust, compromise, quit, and reinvent ourselves in a new world where connection and communication are necessarily conducted at a meta level—online. However, there was one thing I maintained -regular and structured student check-ins. I ask my students to “check-in” by meeting with me at some point of their choosing during the semester. All students would plan to meet at least once during the semester, if only to let me know how things were going. These spaces for connection, reassurance, and validation became invaluable during the pandemic.
Connection is important. At a meta level, our relations are framed by dystopia and misconception of reality. Our relations are characterized by information overload. Very little sticks after the laptop is shut down and closed. Learning behind the screen makes it difficult to express our feelings or voice our questions.
Check-ins are an effective pedagogical tool which I have used for my doctrinal courses. I believe regular check-ins with built-in student group discussions can be useful in legal research and writing courses as well. These sessions allow me to meet students where they are and surmount some of the learning tribulations and challenges that they face behind the screen. I have been holding this format of office-hours in small groups. Students sign up for the meetings through a sign-up platform online where they can choose time slots of their preference. We meet via Zoom or in person, depending on the size of the group. During check-ins, students can interact not only with me but also with each other. It almost resembles a small discussion group to which I serve as a facilitator. I ask questions such as “What makes you learn better in this course?,” “What improvements would you like to see?,” and “How is law school going?”[†]
The conversational dynamic of the group creates an opportunity for my students to explore topics they are curious about. Some questions relate to the course materials and subject-matter. Others relate to their professor’s profile and choices she made when she was in their position, pursuing her law degree. Some of their common questions are: “How did you learn to speak six languages?” “What was it like to work with multinational companies with subsidiaries in Europe?,” and “Why did you want to become a law professor?” I facilitate dialogue that is deep, humane, and relatable. This conversation allows me to understand what helps my students learn better, what they are eager to learn, what is meaningful for them, and what is needed to build a relationship beyond the meta connection that the pandemic has imposed on us.
After each meeting, I process the students’ comments, questions, and instructional concerns. The results in my business law courses have been overwhelmingly positive, despite the pandemic and the challenges inherent to it for both students and professors. Regular, structured student check-ins have become a great source of feedback. Additionally, check-ins also provide a layout for meaningful connections which are essential for excellent learning outcomes.
[*] Henry Plauché Dart Endowed Assistant Professor of Law, Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center. Research Fellow, Law & Economics Center at George Mason Antonin Scalia Law School.
[†] See Gregory S. Munro, Outcomes Assessment for Law Schools (2000). Available at: https://www.law.du.edu/documents/assessment-conference/munro-gregory-outcomesassessment2000.pdf (accessed on November 11, 2021).