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November 18, 2020 Legal Rebels

Constant communication has been key amid COVID-19, law school dean says

By Lyle Moran

Just before students at the University of California at Irvine School of Law were set to return from spring break in March, the university decided that all classes would be moved online because of the spread of COVID-19.

After successfully completing the spring semester through remote learning, the law school hosted a virtual graduation.

Richardson says it was one of the best graduations that she has participated in during her career, with the highlight being the graduates presenting video messages that also included photo displays.

“We went through the entire graduating class that way, and it was really impactful and special in a way that I would never have anticipated,” Richardson says.

During the summer, the law school’s teaching and learning committee put on a workshop series to train faculty on best practices for teaching online courses.

Richardson says the importance of conducting multiple assessments and using breakout rooms to keep students engaged were among the practices emphasized.

“To take online teaching seriously is to do a lot more than we have done before, and it is exhausting,” she says.

Richardson also says artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will continue to be incorporated into the law school’s curriculum, including in first-year courses. One technology-focused course offered to students is called “Pushing the AI Frontier: Its Impact on Law, Policy and the Legal Profession.”

Meanwhile, with very limited exceptions, the law school has been online-only during the fall semester and will start the spring semester that way, according to Richardson.

As a result, she has emphasized the importance of faculty, staff and students implementing practices that help them maintain their physical and mental health amid the ongoing public health crisis.

“We all have to make sure we are taking the time we need, so that we are not burning out,” she says.

L. Song Richardson, the law school’s dean, says the news generated anxiety among students and faculty about how the rest of the spring semester would play out.

Richardson emphasized to the law school community that they had experience addressing challenges together, and constant communication would be key to making the best of the switch to remote learning.

“We have all gone above and beyond to ensure that we are creating relationships with our students and mechanisms for ensuring they have the ability to contact us, to learn from us, to ask the questions they have,” Richardson says.

She says the administration also kept in close touch with student groups to make sure that all students had the technology they needed for online learning.

“Not every student has access to Wi-Fi,” Richardson says. “Not every student has access to a place where they can study in private and alone. Not every student has a laptop that is new enough to deal with these technologies. Through the generosity of external partners and our faculty and staff at the school, we have been able to help those students who might be struggling more than others.”

In addition, the school’s IT team set up a Zoom room that those with tech issues could join for assistance, which Richardson says has been invaluable. She calls the law school’s IT personnel “the heroes of this time.”

In This Podcast

L. Song Richardson

L. Song Richardson is the dean and chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California at Irvine School of Law. She has joint appointments in the department of criminology, law and society and in the department of Asian American studies. Her interdisciplinary research uses lessons from cognitive and social psychology to study decision-making and judgment in a variety of contexts. At the time of her appointment as dean, she was the only woman of color to lead a top 30 law school.