The end of the 2019/20 academic year saw significant changes when lockdown was imposed and universities shifted their content online, severely affecting students. Many law students were required to sit online exams, and some first-year law exams were cancelled. The change happened quickly, with campuses closing and all facilities such as the library, gym, and shops shutting. The next academic year 2020/21 will similarly suffer a major change if law schools suspend face-to-face teaching and move everything online. This includes lectures, seminars, workshops, meetings, and other sessions. There are many mixed feelings on how effective this will be and whether online will be as effective as face to face teaching.
Universities such as University of Cambridge were the first to announce that all lectures are online next year. The primary reason for this is that social distancing is required, which will be hard to maintain within lecture halls, where large numbers of students crowd into one room. Moreover, on campus the crowds can be very large, increasing the risk to everyone. However, there is a possibility to permit smaller teaching groups if the requirements are met.
Many universities may put entire terms online, and reevaluate whether to open for the second term as the year goes on. Some seminars may continue in person, but with smaller groups that meet the social distancing guidelines. Some students may not feel it is safe to return to campus, and some may still be facing travel restrictions, therefore the majority of law schools are putting content online to make it accessible for everyone and ensure that every student receives the same opportunities, whether online or face-to-face.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to online teaching. Online teaching allows students the flexibility to study and attend classes virtually from their own home. There will be accessible e-books, case notes, video lectures, mini forums to discuss any issues, alongside continuous support via email. Students can also interact with tutors through video calls and gain technical support when necessary. The commuting stress for some students will also be reduced – the days of long hours and delays will be gone and the morning rush is safely avoided!
However, some drawbacks may include the difficulty in joining societies, attending meetings and participating in student events. This is particularly relevant with regard to the vital role that law society events play, as they permit students to partake in negotiation, mooting and debating competitions. This will be harder online for students, and the law school community to engage in teamwork and meeting new people. Some may face technology issues with screens freezing constantly and crashing, which will cause problems. Moreover, part time jobs, where students take on roles at their university to earn and save money, such as customer service working in shops and cafes, will be scarce – therefore this will be a huge disadvantage. Hence, face-to-face teaching allows students to develop their interpersonal abilities and communication skills by talking to peers and joining different societies, events, and in general enjoying the campus life. However, the problem of social distancing persists for institutions who have to implement social distancing standards, which means less gatherings and imposing more safety measures.
The shift has been difficult, but some students may be used to it, whereas some will miss the university campus life. The preference relies on the individual, but some campuses will start to open slowly, adhering to Government guidelines, and therefore the option of both is available to all students.
~ Zahra Javed, The Student Lawyer