Professor Laura McNeal shares insights into Louisville Law's transition to distance learning

Laura McNeal
Laura McNeal

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the rapid transition to remote learning at law schools across the country, and Louisville Law is no different.

While the School of Law had already begun offering more online curriculum in the 2019-2020 academic year — and had gained valuable experience and feedback in this new model — the majority of classes were still taught in person. When Louisville Law needed to quickly move to all online classes, administrators sought the expertise of Professor Laura McNeal.

McNeal, who holds a Ph.D. in Education, has a strong background in teacher education and educational policy. She has experience teaching law classes online and has been a resource for faculty who need guidance on using remote learning platforms and best practices for distance learning.

Here, she shares some thoughts on her recent experience: 

What are some lessons you've learned during this time you would like to share with other legal educators?

The importance of ensuring all faculty have training in online instruction regardless if they intend on teaching online courses in the near future. This global pandemic has highlighted the importance of having an infrastructure in place to seamlessly convert to an online program in the event of an emergency. Whether it is another pandemic or a terrorist attack, we must be ready.

What has been one of the biggest challenges of moving to a complete distance learning model on short notice?

The biggest challenge has been providing faculty with no prior online teaching experience adequate training in a short time frame to ensure they are able to deliver the same high-quality instruction in a virtual setting.

Additionally, transitioning to an online law program has presented formidable challenges in terms of administering final exams. As you know, traditionally, the majority of law school exams are timed, in-person essay exams. Due to the unexpected transition to a complete online program, we simply do not have the infrastructure in place to allow faculty to securely administer essay exams in an online format. Therefore, faculty will likely have to administer either a take-home exam or objective test. 

What is a major concern you have heard from faculty moving to online education for the first time, and how has the School of Law addressed that concern?

Most faculty were concerned about whether converting their traditional Socratic teaching method to an online format would foster the same robust collaborative classroom discourse.

As we know, the cornerstone of the Socratic Teaching Method is a dialectic classroom exchange that encourages divergent views, thoughtful analysis and meaningful connections to theory, research and practice. We addressed this concern by encouraging faculty to teach synchronous as opposed to asynchronous classes which allow faculty and students to simultaneously be present for live lectures and discussion. 

Are there any successes you would like to share from these first few weeks?

We have been fortunate to have a dedicated group of faculty who have worked tirelessly to obtain the skills and knowledge to transform into an entirely online program, without compromising high-quality instruction. The faculty’s unyielding support to our students during these difficult times has been simply amazing. It is an honor and privilege to work with such a compassionate and dedicated group of scholars.