FROM CRISIS TO TRANSFORMATION: The legal industry in 2020 - A vision of Latin America
By canceling face-to-face classes in March 2020 due to the pandemic, it was thought that the great challenge for law schools was to temporarily teach courses by videoconference, in order to fulfill their academic program in the best possible way. In principle, this should not be a problem, since technology was already present in legal training. In fact, of the 2 law degree programs offered in Mexico, 498 percent are normally taught using semi-schooled, open or distance technology platforms. Even many of the universities that have undergraduate programs in a school-based modality also offer the same degree in some non-classroom variant.
However, as the confinement and therefore the virtual education were prolonged, other problems began to arise. Some of these are new, a product of the great changes that we are experiencing both in the educational, professional, economic, social and personal fields. Other problems were already present in legal education, but the sudden changes from the pandemic made them evident or accentuated them.
At the Center for Studies on the Teaching and Learning of Law, AC (CEEAD) we organize various meetings to identify these problems, reflect on their causes and develop some recommendations for law schools. How can we go from a reactive, short-term damage control plan to a planning, action and transformation strategy, in the short, medium and long term?
The following recommendations are the product of these collective reflections. We consider that these are aspects that law schools must take into account when designing a new development plan, focused on the new reality in which they will be located and to which they will have to respond, both in legal education and in the professional practice of law.
- Think long term.
We do not yet know what the duration and magnitude of the contingency will be, but physical distancing measures are likely to continue or be intermittent over a long period. Universities are required to define short, medium and long term strategies that allow communicating action plans at the right time for the entire community and guidelines to easily transfer all their activities from the physical campus to remote education.
- Be sensitive to the needs of the entire community.
Moving to remote education is a great challenge for those who make up the academic community. Going from teaching and receiving face-to-face classes to an online format implies an adaptation process for students and teachers. Having patience and understanding that this is something new for everyone is a fundamental element to better navigate this situation.
- Put physical and emotional well-being at the center of decisions.
The pandemic makes all of us feel more physically and emotionally vulnerable. We cannot ignore or underestimate the stress and anxiety generated by confinement and the risk of contagion. Therefore, although we must make an effort to continue with our activities, the most important thing is well-being. In any tension between productivity and well-being, the well-being of the student body, faculty, directive and administrative personnel must be deprived.
- Consider that staying at home does not mean having more free time.
For many people, confinement means working a lot more than usual. Care tasks (cooking, cleaning, caring for girls, boys and the elderly) are combined with student or work obligations. This disproportionate burden affects the productivity of people, especially those who commonly take on caregiving tasks. It is important to understand this and not assume that being at home implies being able to dedicate more time to studies.
- Use evaluation mechanisms sensitive to differentiated impact.
Teaching and distance learning poses new challenges. Not all people can confront them on equal terms. There are digital gaps - there are those who do not have a good internet or a good computer - sometimes there are no physical spaces inside the homes where it is possible to study in a quiet way, access to educational materials with which to study is unequal and some people may find it difficult to get used to online learning. Due to the above, evaluations of both students and teachers should be sensitive to this to avoid unfair results.
- Adapt protection policies and protocols to the integrity of the university community.
Online education implies an interaction normally not contemplated by the protocols and protection policies that benefits the university community and that is based on social coexistence in a physical way in the facilities. Therefore, it is necessary to adapt these mechanisms to current circumstances. Some recommendations are:
- Privilege institutional channels to communicate with students (platforms and email). Avoid interactions through WhatsApp, Facebook groups or other channels that may be invasive to people's privacy.
- Enable a permanent communication channel for the entire university community so that its members can freely express any situation of harassment or ciberbullying.
- Avoid making the access link to classes via video conferencing public, especially when using open platforms, such as Zoom or Meet.
- Volunteer to turn on the camera during classes. Although its use can favor a warmer and “closer” interaction, or encourage student participation, making it mandatory can violate the privacy of those people who for different reasons do not feel comfortable doing it.
- Establish clear rules about screenshots and their subsequent dissemination. Remote teaching increases the risk of remote teaching being used to ridicule people (eg memes or stickers) and to use your image without your permission.
- Define the rules for the directive and pedagogical staff to supervise and evaluate the development of online classes. The objective is to guarantee the quality of the courses without affecting academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas typical of a university classroom.
- Consider the advantages of asynchronous teaching.
Promote the asynchronous teaching-learning process. This allows continuous access to information and facilitates continuing with the teaching and learning processes when the internet connection is not adequate or when the responsibilities of the teaching staff and the student body are varied due to confinement reasons.
- Strengthen and facilitate self-employment.
Forced distancing from the pandemic will promote autonomous learning. This implies that teachers give students greater control over when, where and how they engage with the learning process, without forgetting that this involves content-guided induction, performance monitoring processes, and assignment of tasks that require specific instructions and expectations. clear and relevant performance standards. It is recommended that you first work on understanding concepts prior to the session —it may be through readings, videos or journalistic notes—, then clarify doubts in the virtual session and, finally, request an analysis or reflection activity.
- Accompany the teaching staff closely and continuously.
Educational institutions must assume the responsibility of providing teaching staff with the tools and training in the use of technologies necessary to teach distance courses and not assume that it is something they know and for which they are already prepared. The shortcomings that may exist in distance education may be based more on a lack of adequate preparation of the teaching staff for these environments, than on an inability to adequately deliver a distance course. Training and support must be present throughout the academic cycle and not only at the beginning of it.
- Invest in the technological training of students.
Schools and teaching staff should not assume that students have technological knowledge and skills just because they are younger or because they have constant interaction with the internet and technological devices. As with the teaching staff, training and support must be present throughout the academic cycle and must be adjusted to the context and the different levels of mastery of the student body.
- Maintain open and constant communication.
An important part of caring for personal well-being in times of crisis is accepting changes and new realities. In this sense, law schools must carry out a task of communicating their action plans and the benefits of the virtuality of the teaching process. This encourages the acceptance of the transition of educational models, both by teachers and students. However, it is very important that the new measures are not taken without a prior dialogue. The joint discussion (students-teachers-managers) of the transition from the face-to-face model to the remote model will allow understanding the limitations and opportunities that arise from each of the roles, as well as finding sustainable solutions and prioritizing.
- Include COVID-19 in the subjects.
Although one of the main objectives of the schools has been to comply with the academic program, a space must be created to deal with the situation that exists. Likewise, depending on the subject that is addressed, it is suggested to discuss with the students how the health emergency affects the right and its exercise and how these two should contribute to improve the situation.
 The researchers from CEEAD participated in the reflection and writing, especially Sergio Anzola, Siania Cobos, Ana Luna, Sofía Flores, Eduardo Román, Rosalba González and the author.
Luis Fernando Perez Hurt
Director at CEEAD - Center for Studies on the Teaching and Learning of Law, AC