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‘As Good as Virtual School Can Be’: Harvard Law Students Embrace Online Learning

Harvard Law School is entirely remote this fall semester.
Harvard Law School is entirely remote this fall semester. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Kelsey J. Griffin, Crimson Staff Writer

One week after classes resumed for the fall term, Harvard Law School students report a positive online learning experience and an improvement over the virtual spring semester.

The Law School announced June 3 that it would hold its fall term online due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The decision received immediate backlash from hundreds of students who petitioned Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 and University President Lawrence S. Bacow for a hybrid semester plan, which would offer both online and in-person classes simultaneously. The petition argued remote learning would result in a lower quality legal education.

But now, having started the semester, students share a different perspective.

“In some respects, I actually prefer online classes, since it relieves me of the burden of commuting to school and allows me to spend more time with my family,” third-year student Davis B. Campbell wrote in an email.

Campbell noted the online format makes social events more difficult but has not significantly degraded his educational experience.

“Professors have done a good job adapting to Zoom, and the quality of class discussion is just as high as when we were in person,” he wrote.

First-year student Daisy Almonte also commended the efforts of Law School professors in utilizing online resources. She wrote in an email that she enjoys when professors use the polling function on Zoom to measure class opinions on court rulings.

“Overall, I think it’s clear that the professors have put in work to make sure that we are obtaining a rewarding learning experience despite it being online,” she wrote. “I am definitely engaged in the material we are covering in all of my courses.”

Almonte also noted, however, that the increased screen time pushed her to be more mindful of her screen settings and to begin weaning glasses as a precaution.

“Zoom fatigue is real, and it’s been taking a toll on my eyes,” she wrote.

Christopher Hall — a second-year student who authored the June petition against a fully remote semester — questioned why Harvard Business School was able to adopt a hybrid semester plan while the Law School was not. But he, too, acknowledged the faculty’s work in planning for the unorthodox fall semester.

“I am impressed by how the professors and staff have worked to create a learning experience that is as good as virtual school can be,” he wrote in an email.

Second-year student Madelyn Chen echoed Campbell’s concerns about networking over video calls.

“It's strange seeing classmates reduced to a screen and having classes with people I'll probably never meet in person or get to befriend,” she wrote in an email.

Chen also shared that her professors have attempted to improve the situation by staying after class to answer questions and planning small virtual group lunches. The Law School also adopted a new policy that requires students to keep their cameras on during class, which Chen claimed has resulted in more engaging discussions than in the spring semester. Technological issues have also decreased this semester, according to Chen, which she attributes to the increased involvement of teaching fellows.

“In my experience, more students are voluntarily participating and asking questions in my fall classes, now that we've adapted to the initial shock of online learning,” she wrote. “Hopefully classes continue to run well.”

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at kelsey.griffin@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

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