Elon law student Ayowunmi Kuforiji brought just two weeks of clothes when she returned home to Dover, Delaware for spring break in March 2020. She packed the light for the trip, s ‘expecting to briefly relax with her family and return to Greensboro to complete the final term. of its first year.
However, as cases of COVID-19 begin to increase across the country, Elon Law has announced that he will wait two more weeks before the students return. Shortly after, the school announced that the spring term would be held virtually.
Elon Law has faced many challenges in his transition to an online learning environment, including moving classes to a hybrid model, preparing students for a virtual bar exam, and adjusting his mentoring program. student.
Kuforiji said the transition to online classes for the spring term was scary, especially as a freshman. For her, the hardest part was not being able to be physically in a classroom with her teachers and peers.
“You really get a different experience in law school when you’re in person versus online,” Kuforiji said. “I think a lot of the learning happens when you’re in class, like taking cold calls and having discussions with your professors and peers, and when you’re online you don’t really get that connection with everyone. ”
Elon Law has implemented a hybrid format for courses throughout the 2020-21 academic year. Students can attend classes in person or online, depending on their preference.
Luke Bierman, Elon Law’s dean and professor of law, said he is confident the school has taken the appropriate steps in its transition to a hybrid format to ensure students have the best possible experience while remaining safe, which included adjusting the program.
“We’re used to challenges and having to change things,” Bierman said. “We weren’t worried about it because we have a great system. ”
Although Bierman said he was happy with the adjustments Elon Law made, casual interactions were difficult due to physical distancing protocols and virtual events, which took the interactive environment away from the school.
“The informal meetings that we usually have, the informal meetings, the study groups, these things are much more difficult to organize, and I think that has certainly had an impact on the way students and faculty feel.” , said Bierman. “I think the community is not as rich for these reasons.”
Kuforiji said she preferred to attend classes in person because it is easier to connect with her peers.
“Face-to-face contact is really important for the law school,” Kuforiji said. “It’s mentally exhausting. It gets stressful and it’s always nice to talk to someone and say, “Hey, you’re going through this too. ”
Daniel Esposito, a sophomore from Elon Law, said one of the biggest challenges this year is student mentoring. In a typical year, second and third year law students hold informal office hours at the library for first year students who need help or advice. However, due to physical distancing protocols, student mentors are no longer allowed to organize these impromptu sessions, and first year students must instead register for a time in order to meet them.
Esposito, also a student mentor, said this has led many freshmen to be reluctant to seek help from their peers at the start of the school year because signing up for a date takes away the atmosphere. relaxed office hours provided.
“The biggest obstacle they’ve had is getting help because it’s something everyone struggles with at first,” Esposito said. “You don’t realize that being a lawyer is like being dumped on an island and everyone speaking a foreign language, but I think it’s even more difficult for them because we’re not there. . ”
Esposito said that as this school year progressed, freshmen became more willing to ask for help.
“In the winter quarter, this is where it finally looked like they were starting to come out of the woods, and I’m happy for that,” Esposito said.
One of Elon Law’s unique challenges this year has been preparing students for the online bar exam, the test that determines whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given state. North Carolina first offered the online bar exam in February, and Bierman said Elon Law had worked hard to prepare students for the experience.
“There was a lot of anxiety on top of what is a very difficult and anxious time anyway,” Bierman said. “We hope our graduates have done well.
Elon law students have also had to deal with hybrid and virtual environments in the professional world. Esposito is currently an intern at the North Carolina Supreme Court, which conducts all of its hearings online. Getting feedback from your superiors is the biggest challenge in the virtual environment, Esposito said.
“If you want an on-site assessment of your work, it’s never going to be on-site because you have to email your bosses and get it sent back to you, and you’ll get a product,” Esposito said.
Esposito doesn’t expect current law students to have trouble adjusting when the legal field returns to face-to-face, as the skills are transferable, and he believes it will be some time before this transition takes hold. be carried out.
Networking in an online environment is also a challenge. While there are still online networking events on virtual platforms for students to interact with lawyers, students often do not have the chance to speak to them directly.
“If you don’t speak, you are not networked,” Esposito said.
Esposito believes that virtual classes have a number of advantages, the most obvious being that students can attend classes from anywhere. He also believes that online courses promote better communication between students and teachers.
“I think people feel more comfortable talking online,” Esposito said. “Something about being a face on a camera, instead of being physically present, helps people feel more comfortable asking questions, which is great. ”
Esposito thanks the teachers of Elon Law for making the virtual lessons both enjoyable and informative.
“They’re really good at allowing questions and comments online,” Esposito said. “They’ve made sure that while they teach at home, they do it in a way that remains entertaining, charismatic and engaging.”
With the transition to blended learning and all the challenges faced in the 2020-21 school year, Kuforiji said she was grateful that everyone in the Elon Law community understood.
“Elon Law did a great job just trying to extend grace and understand that we are all going through the same situation,” Kuforiji said. “As long as we give each other this grace, it’s something we can go through together.”