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Entering a new era of legal education during the novel coronavirus crisis-The Indian perspective

As the whole world stands witness, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost all aspects of human existence in many ways. And, the field of education is no exception. If we talk about legal education in particular, there is no denying the fact that it is indeed entering a new era during this unprecedented novel coronavirus crisis.

Looking back at the time when it was first realized that the coronavirus would impact law school operations worldwide, it can be said that the segment of legal education has always been fast in responding to change. In early January 2020, when the news from China broke about the coronavirus, law schools & law colleges across the globe realized that the outbreak would surely impact their school’s activities. So they took immediate action by switching their operations online. They did not just introduce alternative modes of teaching, but they also helped set up home offices to support the conversion process. Some of them maintained their administration at full capacity to support a range of services, not only teaching but also other academic pursuits like seminars and public discussions, so that students, staff members, applicants, alumni, practitioners and those in the general public could engage with each other. They all have tried to minimize the adverse impact of the virus while continuing to create new opportunities.

In India too, the response to meet up this crisis and adapt to the rapidly changing situation has been no less quick and commendable. Top law colleges in India like Asian Law College (ALC), Noida did not close their law school. Rather, they simply moved their operations online. Some were quite lucky that they had prior experience working online, and they just switched over. It was hard to make this shift , but it worked quite well and everybody immediately adapted. They also saw that this new operational model might offer the opportunity to further train students for practice since a lot of the legal work that law firms and in-house teams perform is actually online. As a result, switching to an online format has also enhanced the training and educational opportunities for such students.

The move online has certainly altered the teaching style and methods to support students in the current crisis. It has also acted as a training mirror which students will eventually practice. The faculty training guides and instruction for staff and students on using the technology suite has been central to law school’s planning, so that everyone could fully leverage the school’s resources. In addition to educating their students, some law colleges provide content through established speakers, and their online seminar series have become extremely popular.

As far as resistance from the individuals working remotely or those who are engaged in distance learning is concerned, it can be said that some college administrators like those of Asian Law College, Noida are quite adaptable to rapid change and comfortable working from home. They don’t actually consider the student experience as distant learning because they offer interactive online teaching combined with interactive online activities. While there may be some initial resistance when you introduce changes, it can be easy to overcome with strong leadership. As the law school’s leaders promote these new options, adoption increases. The keys to success in addressing resistance are patience and communication. So we all need to try to be more positive and focus on each concern step by step.

One question that comes up here is that, can student performance be fairly evaluated in a remote learning environment? It has been found that while in-class assessments have certain advantages, online assessments also have positive attributes and take-home assignments have been a well-established mode of evaluation for many years. It is believed that students need to organize themselves as part of the learning experience, and colleges should encourage group work. The issue is about the mechanics of an online exam. While there is the risk of cheating remotely, that same concern exists with in-class exams, but in either case, top law colleges like Asian Law College, Noida have extensively worked on the quality of the question paper and has made them time bound which will not allow the students to spare anytime thinking of anything else once they start with the examination.

Some experts also debate upon which elements of the law school’s remote model will remain when students return to campus? According to experts, the experience that we have had in going online will definitely change our learning and teaching environment completely in the future. We all enjoy direct interaction with students in person, but faculty members do feel that even when they interact with students virtually the effectiveness of such communication is at par what had it been in real classroom set up.

In conclusion, what can be certainly said about India is that our law students who have embraced the online experience and have clearly familiarized themselves with the various options of online teaching methods and have found wholesome success for themselves in entering a new era of legal education during this novel coronavirus crisis!

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