UCI Law Continues to Raise the Bar in Remote and Online Instruction During COVID-19


An unexpected need arose in March with the COVID-19 global pandemic, when in just a matter of days University of California Irvine, School of Law (UCI Law) faculty members faced the difficult task of creating virtual classrooms and carrying out teaching, supervision, and client representation responsibilities remotely.

“The IT Services team already had some experience helping faculty deliver instruction remotely for a handful of students due to accommodations. But, we started planning for what instruction would look like if we had to do that school wide,” said Patty Furukawa, Assistant Dean for Information Technology Services & Chief Information and Operating Officer at UCI Law.

Originally planning for a phased-in approach, they asked some faculty members to test out a few class sessions with complete remote instruction to see if they had any issues that could be shared with the rest of the team. As UCI Law started the phased-in approach, CA Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order and the timeline was quickly accelerated to move all faculty to remote instruction in a matter of days.

“Since we had already had the training session and had already starting putting training materials together, the transition wasn’t as difficult as it could’ve been. The faculty and students were resilient and patient as the IT team helped with any technical glitches that they experienced. Our community really worked together to make this happen,” said Furukawa.

In addition to the swift response from the UCI Law IT team to get things up and running, earlier in the year UCI Law Dean L. Song Richardson had constituted the creation of the “Teaching and Learning Committee,” which explores best practices for course design and learning activities and encourages innovations in teaching. It immediately became a resource for UCI Law faculty members during this unprecedented time. 

Chaired by Clinical Professor of Law Jane Stoever, the committee creates resources, offers faculty workshops on topics ranging from addressing microaggressions to effectively using technology, facilitates the creation of peer teaching groups, and responds to faculty and student needs.

“I think one of the most wonderful things, as stressful as it was and notwithstanding lack of sleep and meals for what seemed like almost an entire week, was that everyone stepped up in amazing ways,” said UCI Law Vice Dean Chris Whytock. “We have an amazing team of senior administrators who worked tirelessly on all of this and a faculty that demonstrated the deepest commitment to our students.”

Not only has the Teaching and Learning Committee been able to provide key initial instruction, the committee quickly created a series of workshops to help faculty adapt and develop their teaching while responding to students’ needs. Workshops have focused on multiple assessments, trauma-informed pedagogy, learning theory for virtual teaching and learning, and techniques for effective remote synchronous teaching.

“As we grapple with a situation that causes faculty to reexamine our teaching and really show up for our students in every way possible, the Teaching and Learning Committee has helped our faculty navigate challenges, innovate for and with our students, and be stronger than ever as a community of educators,” said Prof. Stoever. 

The committee encourages faculty to share strategies and innovations for teaching and for creating community. One of the ways professors are adding creativity to their online instruction is by turning the key points of their lectures into songs. UCI Law Professor Omri Marian has recorded videos of his teaching materials – guitar in hand – turning them into songs as a unique way of getting the lesson to his students.

“I was just trying to come up with a way of teaching that is more engaging for both myself and the students. Talking at a computer screen is boring for all involved. Singing at a computer screen is much better,” said Prof. Marian.

Additionally, the committee will be working intensively with faculty over the summer.

“This is aimed at supporting faculty as they adopt research-based best practices for online instruction, to ensure the highest quality legal education for our students even if the public health situation requires fall semester courses to be partly or fully online,” said Vice Dean Whytock.

And throughout it all, students have been resilient -- adapting quickly to an online learning environment. Every UCI Law 1L student was able to complete their mock oral argument via video conferencing, despite having to argue from living rooms, kitchens, and patios. Associate Dean for Lawyering Skills Rachel Croskery-Roberts explained that students were always well-prepared, and many even voluntarily engaged in multiple practice sessions via Zoom prior to their final arguments, serving as mock judges for each other or having upper-division research fellows serve as judges.

“I've never been prouder of a group of students for remaining engaged and working so tirelessly even in the midst of such an unprecedented situation,” said Prof. Croskery-Roberts.

“UCI Law was founded with a vision to transform legal education, and we continue to do so. Our faculty and students are resilient, hopeful, determined, and caring, and I couldn’t be prouder of how UCI Law is navigating this global health pandemic,” said Dean Richardson.