COVIS-19 update| News and Events | Spring 2020 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Delivering some certainty during uncertain times

We are nearing the end of one of the strangest and most difficult fall semesters in our law school’s history. Our faculty and staff have worked extremely hard preparing courses, reorganizing our facilities, and improving technology—all to ensure the UNB Law learning experience remains safe, positive, and academically challenging.

Moving all courses online

All Faculty of Law Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 courses are being delivered online through MS Teams and Zoom. Physical distancing and sanitation requirements vastly reduced the capacity of our building and its classrooms, to the point that it was simply not possible to offer courses in person.

“The law school’s decision to offer a fully online academic year was communicated to students in early June to allow for ample planning,” said acting dean Michael Marin. “We wanted to provide certainty to our students for the whole year, allowing them to make longer-term decisions on where they were going to live, work, and study from.”

Delivering a virtual learning experience

The law school has made significant upgrades to classroom technology to ensure a high-quality online experience for both faculty members and students. Three virtual classrooms have been set up, featuring 60-inch monitors, webcams, and microphones to ensure an interactive experience between professor and student. Professors and instructors who prefer to teach from offsite have updated equipment and software to deliver classes effectively and trouble-free. We have hired five additional TAs (teaching assistants)  and one technology assistant. These student positions have been crucial in providing students the academic and technical support needed to study in these unusual circumstances.

While the infrastructure is in place, the shift to remote delivery has been the most challenging aspect of the pandemic. Our faculty, staff, and students continue to work together to navigate the steep learning curve of the virtual classroom. LSS President Colleen Roach recognizes the difficult nature of this shift to remote learning.

“Online learning is hard, especially when your professors are learning along the way. They are not used to teaching online, and they really want what is best for us and to help us prepare to enter the profession. There are some hurdles to overcome—professors are still learning what we need from them in terms of communication and how to adjust their courses and the time spent delivering them to ensure that students are not overburdened.”

Ms. Roach has found a few positives in the virtual model.

“Some professors post the recordings of their lectures, so being able to slow down and rewind to catch all of the material has helped me succeed at my own pace. In addition, as a student who has always been too shy to speak up in class, it is great to have the alternative option in some courses to engage with the material and my classmates through discussion boards.”

Despite these silver linings, Ms. Roach affirms that there is no substitution for in-person courses and the ability to engage and connect that they offer. Students want to be back in the classroom as soon as possible.

Same services, new format

We continue to offer academic advising, career services, and access to professors. Students have access to these important services both physically and remotely. There is also limited access to classrooms and other spaces in the law school for quiet study. Scheduling software is used to ensure these spaces conform to Public Health and University requirements.

The Gérard V. La Forest Law Library remains an important tool for our students with many resources having moved online. The library offers scanning services for articles and book chapters, which are sent directly to students. All course reserves are accessible electronically, and eBooks are made available as needed. Physical books are picked up by students through a curbside pick-up model. Research guidance is available through MS Teams.

UNB Law’s Atlantic Region On-Campus Interview process (OCIs) will proceed according to the normal timelines. Like most markets, we have decided to do interviews virtually, in order to protect the health and safety of students and employers participating in the recruitment process.

A flexible exam structure

All exams for the 2020/2021 academic year will be completed online and written in 24-hour windows. Once a student accesses their exam, they will have a set amount of time to complete it (in that 24-hour window) based on the individual professor’s requirements. This model will ensure that our students have the flexibility to write their exams during the most opportune time.

Creating a sense of community

UNB Law is known for being a close-knit community. Ensuring our students continue to forge strong bonds with classmates has been another challenging aspect of remote delivery—especially for our 1Ls. Incoming students have been put into local peer groups with classmates who are in the same geographical region. These groups (of about five students) meet physically and remotely to provide each other with guidance and support. First-year students have also been assigned a local UNB Law alumna or alumnus, who shares their law school experience, answers questions, and offers guidance and moral support. To date, over 70 alumni have been matched up with 1Ls.

“These relationships are so crucial to success in law school,” said Marin. “The opportunity to connect with someone who ‘survived’ and went on to a fulfilling career will be very inspirational for our new students at a particularly uncertain time for them.”

The Faculty has also launched the UNB Law Podcast featuring prominent alumni sharing stories of their time in law school, discussing their career path, and providing some inspiration for our 1Ls. You can read more about our first guest Ann Gushurst in this issue and visit unb.ca/lawpodcast to view all of our episodes.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to start law school online,” said Ms. Roach. “The Faculty has really stepped up to create opportunities for 1Ls to study together and get acquainted with the rest of the law school community. The Faculty has organized virtual mixers for our 1Ls to meet upper-year students, has made events available virtually, and even started a podcast. It is clear that our Faculty is committed to making the law student experience the best it can be under the circumstances.”

Final thoughts

We know that this year has been—and will continue to be—a significant challenge for all of us. Our students have been incredibly patient and understanding as we iron out the wrinkles and continue to learn what works and what doesn’t. We remain committed to respecting accommodations and removing barriers for our students. We are working with all of our students to ensure their academic needs are met. This academic year will continue to be a true test of our mission as a law school. We are facing that challenge head-on.

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