Distance Learning in the COVID-19 Era: A Reflection From Governor Swift

Today I am hosting a guest blog post from Governor Jane Swift, who is currently the Rappaport Center for Law & Public Policy Distinguished Visiting Professor.


The ironies abound. First, the course I am teaching at Boston College Law School is titled, “Governing in the Era of Facebook: Privacy, Propaganda & the Public Good.” The entire course is premised on the speed of innovation and how it is rapidly changing the nature of work and learning and challenging the legal and regulatory sectors. Second, I have been an executive in the Education Technology industry for nearly two decades. I have run online learning companies and sold and delivered online courses to schools and colleges. So, if anyone should have been ready to quickly pivot their face-to-face teaching as a Rappaport visiting professor from traditional delivery to online, that guest professor should have been me. If I could play a guitar or sing, however, I would have written and tried to get this video to trend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCe5PaeAeew&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1jsCv4x-qVlKUGzmzGvJRH3DnXkKCI0EvKIkBHvFFh6K8UGvPlGxi1w8g 

One thing is really important to put in perspective from the get-go. What is happening this spring semester, where schools are continuing to deliver coursework to college and university students, is decidedly NOT online learning. True online courses, like the ones my colleagues and I built at Middlebury Interactive Languages, take months and sometimes years to build. They depend on professionals with specific expertise in course design to translate pedagogy from in-person to online. Even in online learning, there is huge variation in the degree of features and functionality, the use of video and audio, whether assessments are embedded in the course, and how those are proctored. None of that can happen at scale, securely in a three day or two week period. Instead, what you see now would more fairly be categorized as distance learning or – and even this is a stretch – as blended learning.

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My Unconventional Spring Semester: Four Classes That Inspire Me

One of the things I was most looking forward to as a 2L was being able to select my own classes. Unlike my undergraduate experience where it felt like the list of required courses was never-ending and took up most of my schedule, BC Law gives students a ton of flexibility when it comes to deciding their courses of study.

My strategy to picking classes falls into three categories: classes that will prepare me for the bar, classes that I think will be helpful in practice, and classes that I simply find interesting. Last semester I tended to focus on bar classes (including Evidence and Corporations), but my spring course load is filled with classes that I thought sounded interesting.

Below I provide a brief overview of my spring semester, including why I chose to take the classes I did:

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365 of 1L: Internal Monologue of My First Cold Call

I was never really worried about getting cold called.

For one thing, my name, appearance, and general vibe are so monumentally uninteresting that I knew I’d be functionally anonymous to my professors. For another, I came to law school straight through from undergrad. My academic career has been uninterrupted since kindergarten. So when people started to hype up the pressure of cold calling, this long-standing historic educational tradition built on the learning philosophy of Socrates, a daunting gauntlet every 1L has to traverse, I may have been a little nervous. That is, until I found out cold calling just means getting called on in class. I’ve been getting called on in class for 17 years. No big deal.

But then I actually had my first cold call. The following is an account of my internal monologue at that moment:

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The Cases We Read: Pennoyer v. Neff

What comes to mind when you hear the words, “personal jurisdiction”?

Fear? Loathing? Confusion because you’re a 1L or prospective student who has no idea what this is?

One of the things that fascinated me most when I came to law school was the fact that here we are in the 21st century and we’re still studying cases from close to 200 years ago. Frankly, I was rather annoyed when I realized this—was I supposed to have come into law school with the word “forsooth” as part of my working lexicon?  Continue reading

In BC Law’s Classrooms, Experiential Meets Academic

It goes without saying that BC Law offers a broad range of challenging classes, taught by wonderful faculty committed to producing lawyers who strive not only to win cases, but to serve their communities as well. And there is no shortage of ways to get your fill of experiential learning here–whether you participate in one of our top rated clinical programs, or are involved in an externship or moot court program, BC Law offers a multitude of ways to learn the law outside of the classroom.

But more and more experiential learning is happening inside the classroom itself.

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The Best Class I’ve Taken in Law School

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Coming into law school, I had no intention of ever stepping into a court room. I thought I wanted to do education policy work for a non-profit or government agency, hanging out behind a desk, engaging with complex issues at the highest levels, and generally avoiding an adversarial setting at all costs. But then I actually came to law school and what I thought I wanted shifted dramatically — which, spoiler alert, happens a lot!

My 2L year, my dear friend and current Law Student Association Vice President Andrea Clavijo lovingly coerced me into participating in the intra-school Moot Court competition. More on that later (and you can read about it on the BC Law web site here), but the tl;dr version is that Moot Court is basically fake appellate advocacy. Instead of making an argument to a jury, Law & Order style, you and a partner argue in front of a (fake) Supreme Court, focusing on the legal issues and advocating for what the law should be.

The experience was absolutely terrifying, and I. Absolutely. Loved It. Which is what brings me to the actual topic of the post: the best class I’ve taken in law school.

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