Last week, I attended CALICON 2020, and since I had never been to CALICON before, I did not know what to expect. To summarize my experience, I would say I really loved a few of the sessions and overall felt the conference was useful and relevant to what is going on in legal education today. In this post I’m going to discuss a few of my favorite sessions and also to help break up the monotony of my myopic worldview, I will also share what some of my favorite law librarians told me about their favorite sessions. Hopefully, CS-SIS Blog readers will find something that they like in this smorgasbord of opinions. I also welcome comments about your favorite sessions.

I love learning about educational technologies, tools that can make the business of teaching more effective. When I have taught Advanced Legal Research in the past, I utilized a flipped classroom method and created video lessons for each topic, which I would then upload to Echo360, and create a link to list on TWEN. For each video, I also created TWEN quizzes that I intended for students to take immediately after or even while watching the video. I did the contemporaneous quizzing because such quizzing can drive the lessons deeper into the brain of the learner, actually help them learn. I wish I had then known of the tool covered in the session Easy Ways to Improve Your Class Videos.

During this session, Angela Upchurch of Southern Illinois University School of Law described an educational tool called edpuzzle which permits a teacher to upload a video and insert questions into the video. This tool provides several advantages, such as a method for instant assessment with questions to highlight important points for students, confirmation for an instructor that the students are watching the video, and for the flipped classroom assessment before a class meeting about which concepts proved the most challenging for the students. Knowing what is hardest for students can help the instructor to know what to focus on or supplement in class or what parts of the video may need to be reworked for subsequent classes. In any case, this tool seems very useful, especially since one can begin using it for free. I feel this tool would make a great addition to any class that includes video lessons.

Other sessions I found interesting include:

  • Neuroscience and Online Learning, Steve Friedland
  • Online Conversation Spaces: Encouraging Meaningful Dialogue on Chat Boards, Jill Smith & Will Monroe

Given the quality of the sessions, I hope to be able to participate in CALICON in the future.

Here’s what a few of my law librarian colleagues had to say about the conference:

Heather J. E. Simmons, Associate Director for Instruction & Access Services, Alexander Campbell King Law Library, University of Georgia School of Law

 My favorite #CALIcon2020 session was the one my University of Georgia co-workers presented: Surviving COVID with the Breakfast Club: Task Management & Communication Tools for Multi-Generational Telework. They used movies to identify with each generation. The generations represented were Boomers – Carol Watson (The Big Chill, Breakfast Club); GenX – Wendy Moore (Reality Bytes); and Millennials – Rachel Evans and Geraldine Kalim (Scream, Clueless, Hackers).  The remote office tools discussed were Trello, Slack, and Zoom. Trello is the tool we use to manage our work and projects. It’s great for tracking who is working on what and when things are due.  We use Slack as an instant messaging alternative to email, but mostly we like it because it is so much fun. It feels like social media. It has emoticons built-in, and we can also add GIFs, so it’s a light-hearted way to have a conversation. We have channels for work things like virtual reference, but some of them are just for fun. Zoom is what we use for meetings, but our favorite thing is our weekly Happy Hour at 4:30 on every Friday. Sometimes there’s a theme, and other times we just hang out. Not everyone attends every time, but it’s a great way to unwind with our co-workers at the end of the week, and also to help keep track of what day it is.

Joe Lawson, Deputy Director, Harris County Law Library

During the CALIcon2020 program titled Instruction and Collaboration During COVID-19: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Zanada Joyner raised a poignant question about inclusion for law students in the age of COVID-19. She asked, “Who’s losing? Someone is going to lose if we’re not careful about how we move forward and technology is a tangible example.” The question resonated with me because I have wondered the same about members of the public who fall into the digital divide and have not been able to access legal information at my law library since March. Attending this session broadened my thinking about the impact of transitioning, perhaps too quickly, to digital-only services and helped me focus on a challenge many law librarians face in service to students and the public.

Brian R. Huffman, Electronic Services Librarian, University of Hawaii at Manoa, School of Law Library

Picture of Brian HuffmanThis was CALICon’s first all virtual conference. I found it very engaging and well-designed from a user’s point of view. I was grateful that they started at each day 1 PM Central time (which is 9 AM here in Hawaiʻi). The schwag box was fun and made it feel a little more like a physical event with a shirt, name tag, food, and other goodies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend all the sessions. The ones I did attend were focused on Synchronous v. Asynchronous courses; the Pandemic Law Library; the Pandemic Law School (portions); Beyond the Lecture; Clinics and Engagement; and Student Voices.

Great takeaways: From the 10,000 feet perspective, I found the major takeaways were to teach/learn with kindness. Empathy was a key concept in almost every presentation. Strive for inclusivity so all students can be engaged and involved. Use this unique opportunity to rebuild/develop online instruction and provide meaningful technology instruction to future lawyers. Law librarians need to take a step back and think about intentional instruction/service. Make sure you hone your tech skills and position the library to be a just-in-time service via online methods when you are not physically available.

The closing address by Cat Moon told us this was the Crises We Needed. Echoing empathy and kindness threads from previous conference topics, Cat emphasized EQ. Cat recommended a human-centered design for our model going forward.  Along with empathy, we need curiosity and radical collaboration to grow.

Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

One of the best outcomes of CALI pivoting to its online format was we were able to invite in more student voices.  An entire track was dedicated to their experiences during COVID.  Students are often left out of tech conversions, and yet they are the ones who experience the greatest impact.  We heard from students all over the country, but of course, it was quite interesting for me to hear from students at my own school especially.  Their struggles are ones we’ve discussed – tech issues, home issues, lack of study space, lack of motivation.  But these sessions were particularly powerful and informative.  Listen to their presentations if you have a chance.

Mandy Lee, Research & Instructional Services Librarian, Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

Attending CALICON2020 virtually was, in some ways, bittersweet. Chicago-Kent College of Law had been planning since last year to host the conference in person; as Chicago-Kent’s Research & Instructional Services Librarian, I would have been part of the host library staff.

On the other hand, because, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference had moved online, and the theme adjusted accordingly, I sometimes marveled at the convenience and ease with which people who might not otherwise have been able to attend the sessions could do so remotely – and without a registration fee.

Thus, from the comfort of my study at my parents’ house in suburban Chicago, where I’ve been sheltering for weeks, I gratefully logged in to various CALICON2020 sessions. While they all provided useful information that I could apply to my daily work, my favorite session, if I had to pick just one, would be Day 3’s Student Voices. The speakers offered numerous and varied insights into their experiences during the hybrid, and uniquely challenging, Spring 2020 semester.

I learned the most valuable aspects of moving to remote instruction during the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as areas in which improvement could have been made. Some things I learned that proved to be validating and refreshing included the importance of the library to students’ academic lives – one student said that the library is a “dealbreaker”; students must have study spaces other than their homes. Another pointed out that “one learning style does not work for all students”; instructors must be “flexible” in their teaching methods. One speaker advised instructors to record videos because some students do not “have the bandwidth to attend a live class.” “Practice makes perfect – don’t wait until mid-class to try a new zoom feature”; “don’t be afraid to try new and creative solutions” – use “opportunities to be interactive.” Others articulated:

  • Time management challenges
  • Dealing with the trauma of the pandemic
  • Incorporate asynchronous teaching tools
  • Desire for more class structure
  • Challenges of cultivating a sense of community and engagement
  • Students like to use breakout rooms – use 1 room for every 1-1.5 hours of class time
  • “Far more challenging to focus on synchronized classes” than asynchronous
  • Zoom works better for large classes; Google Meet works better for classes of 4 students or fewer
  • Implement individualized check-ins with students; ask about accommodations needed
  • To make students feel engaged, begin each class with space for students to talk about issues they’re going through, as Alex Rabanal and others did; sign into class early to see if students are there, and share happy thoughts, heartwarming things that make students smile
  • Instructors should constantly iterate to the students that we are here, and to reach out to us if students need help. One professor gave her cell phone number to students, and said that they could contact her when they needed to

Overall, the Student Voices session really humanized a representative sampling of people who, as a patron category, comprise a large portion of the people with whom I work on a daily basis. I look forward to attending next year’s CALICON sessions which, fingers crossed, will take place in person, at Chicago-Kent College of Law.