Classes in the time of Coronavirus: How to virtually thrive in your IP classes online

Author: Program on IP & Technology Law

Student And Computer

On Wednesday March 25th, the Program on IP & Technology Law inaugurated a webinar series to address the unexpected circumstances associated with the coronavirus. These weekly webinars spotlight areas of the student experience that have changed or become increasingly important as law schools, IP law firms, government agencies such as the USPTO, and courts address the risks and mitigate the impact associated with COVID-19. The webinar topics range from classes to the job market and the importance of an online or digital presence. The first webinar addressed best practices of teaching and taking online courses; faculty shared their insights and students shared their reactions to the current online teaching environment and teaching methods. As you take classes online and confront any anxiety or uncertainty in this new digital teaching environment, consider these takeaways from our discussion to thrive in your IP classes online.

#1 Breaking up may be hard to do, but it can certainly help

As a faculty member, directly transposing your in person classroom experience may at first seem to be the best way to transition to online teaching: keeping those lectures as synchronous as possible, cold calling the same students, and fostering discussions in a virtual environment.  Since IP classes usually have a lot of visuals, the temptation to stay synchronous might be especially great. How will students understand likelihood of confusion or substantial similarity unless those marks or works are analyzed in real time? 

In reality, maintaining online synchronous lectures for the same period of class time may frustrate rather than support the teaching and study of IP legal analysis. Students may find it hard to concentrate on an online lecture for 75 minutes and professors may find the experience draining. Consider breaking up your lecture into audio and video, and asynchronous and synchronous segments. Professor Mark McKenna is lecturing over images of his slides in shorter time blocks in asynchronous audio files and then meeting with students in sections for Q&A sessions. Using text and video is another way to keep students engaged. Break up your sessions into problem-solving segments inside and outside of class. Consider assigning problems on likelihood of confusion to students, asking for the problem set answers before class, and then discussing them in a synchronous lecture setting. This model also helps students who find themselves in less than ideal learning environments and professors with technology challenges.  

#2   Make notes, not war

No matter how great it may seem to have everything recorded and all your Professor’s wisdom available at the touch of a button at any time and anywhere, consider that note taking still helps you pay attention and process information. Without human interruption through discussion, audio files may seem never ending, while synchronous videos may easily become distracting (who knew your Professor had that adorable dog?). Taking notes helps you stay focused and invested in the substantive legal issues. 

But once you appreciate the importance of continued notes, the next great divide appears: should they be handwritten or typed? As Professor Jim Farrington notes, handwritten notes will save you screen space, and will also help you process information better. At the same time, especially in law school, where lectures with lots of information are plentiful, creating a verbatim rough first draft outline in class with typed notes may assure that you are not missing anything while forcing you to pay more attention. No matter which option you choose, the important thing is to review your notes and have that second pass through to select the most important information, and to review. Some students also find that reviewing audio files as they review their notes is helpful to assuring accuracy.   

#3 The one thing you can embrace now: technology 

Take advantage of settings on Zoom, such as those cool backgrounds, the gallery view, breakout rooms, the virtual hand-raising, and (if you are a host) even the mute button! Technology is your friend and partner now - allow it to support you.

As Professor Jodi Clifford notes, an increased use of technology is not just confined to law schools. Students in the Notre Dame IP & Entrepreneurship Clinic are getting experience working with clients and the USPTO using remote technology, something that is common in IP practice as clients may be anywhere in the United States or in the world. As the USPTO requires electronic filings and is continuing normal operations, the skills students develop now won't be wasted but will be used in practice.

#4 We’re all in an episode of The Ultimate Race, not Survivor

In other words, professors and students are all on the same team during these unexpected and extraordinary times. We are all in the same boat. While students may find themselves at home with wifi connectivity issues, so may professors. Moving courses online is just as unexpected for professors as it is for students.  Know that your professors can empathize with the stress and anxiety you may be feeling- reach out and connect with them to share any challenges you may be facing that affect your ability to study or participate in class. The mentoring relationships you create with your professors are often just as (if not more) important than your grades. Professors notice the students that demonstrate interest and put effort into preparing for class, and networking, job opportunities, and other career moves are often helped by professors who see a strength in students they may not even notice themselves. Your fellow students and colleagues can also be of support at this time. Reach out for a virtual dinner or study session. We’re all in this together.