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Structure, interactive exercises help law students thrive online

Digital Demons: Rising Up Remotely

Law students
Students in online tax law classes last spring note that interactive activities were key to their success. Hannah Sullivan, left, Serhiy Kiyasov and Jennifer Schnack also say that the structure of Professor Emily Cauble’s classes helped with time management. (Composite by Randall Spriggs)
Aspiring attorneys from the College of Law had something in common with the U.S. Supreme Court this past spring term. The increasing spread of COVID-19 restricted in-person gatherings, which prompted Supreme Court justices, ​as well as DePaul law students to turn to technology and innovative remote learning options in order to get their work done.

For tax law professor Emily Cauble, teaching online wasn’t entirely new. She previously taught a couple of tax classes using a hybrid model: recorded lectures coupled with in-person sessions. With that experience, transitioning totally online was a smooth change. 
 Law professor Emily Cauble. (DePaul University)
Law professor Emily Cauble. (DePaul University)

“In all of my classes, I often ask students to discuss problems in small groups before discussing as a class. In Zoom, I was able to use breakout rooms to continue to do this. One of the nice things about being online is that students can have small group discussions without being distracted by the other groups, unlike when we are physically in a classroom,” Cauble notes. 

She also discovered in using Zoom there were ways students could provide one-on-one feedback to her via the chat function, and some “fun, new stuff,” like creating polls.

Third year law student Jennifer Schnack says it was an adjustment in all her spring classes to move online. 

“I enjoyed Professor Cauble’s class because it was really structured, with prerecorded lectures on D2L I could watch at my own pace and then ask questions during normal class time,” she says.

Schnack, who was in Cauble’s federal income tax class in the spring, says “having that structure helped with time management and set me up for success.”

Serhiy Kiyasov, who graduated in May with a J.D., also was in the federal income tax class and appreciated the opportunity to watch the lectures, which often presented technical material, at his own pace. 

“Professor Cauble provided problems to work on ahead of each class. Watching the lecture in D2L was super helpful. You could pause and go back to review your own work,” he says.

Hannah Sullivan, who graduated in spring earning a J.D., says Cauble’s corporate taxation class was a successful transition to an online model. 

"Professor Cauble designed specific materials for the class that included an interactive activities packet and a recorded lecture that was like a YouTube tutorial, followed by in-class discussions,” Sullivan says.

Those interactive tasks included real-world planning exercises, Cauble explains. 

“In the prerecorded videos, I could provide explanation about technical, foundational material to give students an opportunity to process that material ahead of time," she says. "In Zoom, we could build upon that material and apply it to tax planning exercises similar to what lawyers encounter in practice.”

That type of interaction and word-problem exercises, rather than multiple choice, were important to Sullivan, who says students have to be invested in an online class to succeed. 

“That’s a student accountability issue,” she notes.

Schnack offered a few tips for first-year​​ students:

  • Have a good space to study, free from distraction with a clean desk area.
  • Try to stick to a schedule, stay on top of your coursework.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either in class or through email.