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Zooming into remote learning

Remote teaching the latest stop in a four-decade pedagogical journey for Faculty of Law Professor Nick Bala.

Law professor Nick Bala learns how to use Zoom

Professor Nick Bala (Law) trials remote teaching with Zoom conferencing software earlier this month, supported by IT staff member Theresa Afolayan, with student Zach Rudge. 

Nick Bala, a professor in the Faculty of Law, has been putting technology to use in the classroom since the mid-’70s, sharing handwritten course outlines using the then-novel photocopiers. Four decades later – with a career incorporating everything from VHS to DVDs, overheads to PowerPoint, and email to secure web storage for notes – he's transitioned seamlessly to teaching online in the context of a global pandemic. 

On Monday, March 16, Bala delivered his Family Law lecture using Zoom, a remote conferencing platform.

“I really like the interactive nature of Zoom,” he says. “I could see who was ‘in the class’ and just knowing students were there helped me engage. In the past, I have pre-recorded and used voice over PowerPoint, but I prefer Zoom because I can present slides and have the students engage right away.”

During the Family Law lecture, students could still ask questions on the platform.

“They could share with the whole class or ask in a way that only I would know the student and question. I would say: ‘Oh here’s a question that just came up,’ then read it and answer it.”   

Bala used Zoom again on March 18 for both Family Law and a 38-student Contracts class.

“I’ve taught these Contracts students all year and I know them all by name, so I think we were all quite comfortable,” he says. “While you can’t just replace an in-person class, given where we are in the year, this is a very good method for finishing the course. In the smaller class, the students were more willing to participate using their mics, and we were able to do some ‘Socratic teaching.’ I could also use anonymous polling of the whole class, which is actually better than in person since other students can’t see who is putting up their ‘electronic hands’.”

For his third course, the upper-year Family Law Placements, some students have decided to continue to meet with lawyers and clients in the community, but for most, the last three weeks of placements are suspended. Those students will be writing reviews of some family-law-themes-related YouTube videos and streaming movies, one of those being A Marriage Story available on Netflix. (Bala’s handwritten course outlines were nicknamed by his classmates as the ‘Nicky notes.’ Now, he’s offering his students “Nick’s Netflix picks.”)

Setting up for the change, Bala received training from Theresa Afolayan, one of the school’s IT support assistants.

“I taught my first Zoom class from my law school office with an IT person ready to assist, but not needed,” Professor Bala says. “After that, I knew I could do it anywhere, and I am shifting to home as part of social distancing. The technology is extremely user-friendly. Our IT staff have been extremely helpful to us in continuing our teaching program.”

Bala has already increased his emailing and phone calls with students, and during the study and exam period, he will have “virtual office hours.”

For now, he says, “We’re ready to zoom along.”