Professor Anne Flanagan (Computer and Communication Law LLM, 2000), LLM Programme Director, talks about the new academic year and the changes CCLS has made to its LLM programmes.
It has been a bit of a challenge to put in place the changes compelled by Covid-19, first as an immediate response to the pandemic and lockdown and then in planning for a new academic year in light of great uncertainty. CCLS has done a good job so far with both.
In early March, QMUL, anticipating the lockdown possibility, directed all schools to be ready to teach exclusively online as of March 23. We were ready a week earlier despite the fact that while some of us had previously taught remotely, many had not. For most, however, the available teaching platforms were technologies we’d never used before. So, academics tried out these virtual teaching platforms, helped others to do so, and delivered their remaining 3 weeks of teaching. There were only a few hitches that we worked to overcome, e.g., adding extra materials or scheduling another class or two where needed. We had to ensure that students could access the lessons both live and asynchronously and from wherever they were. Some remained in London; others had returned home with some spending weeks in quarantine. We adjusted deadlines and assessments on the fly to ensure that students could catch up and revise without significantly cutting into their dissertation period. All examinations moved online, following the CCLS format for distance learning ‘final assessment exercises’, i.e., take-home exams over a 24-hour period submitted via the QMPlus e-learning platform. Despite students’ anxieties with a new format, it all went fine. We also met with student leaders frequently to monitor concerns and discuss changes.
In planning for the coming year, we needed to address the possibility that students might not want or be able to come to London in September. For most LLM programs, therefore, we will have not only a September start, but, by adding a 3rd teaching semester in June-July 2021 and spreading specialism options across three terms, we also have a January start – in fact, two. Students can start in January and do an accelerated LLM, finishing with September starters. They can also start in January 2021 and complete the following January.
Another key challenge is the planning for ‘blended’ teaching. We must ensure that, no matter where our students choose to study, they have high-quality learning experiences and outcomes despite most teaching now being online. We are focusing on blending synchronous “live” teaching and learning activities with asynchronous to keep students engaged over time. At CCLS, we are also offering a blend of face-to-face small group teaching for students in London with online small groups for those who are not. Our core teaching times are divided into two weekly time slots so that students don’t sit in front of a screen for too long and lose the plot or disengage. We need to keep them excited about learning and studying with us.
We still face great uncertainty. We don’t know how many students we will have and which will be in London, but I’m sure with our committed and expert teachers at CCLS, we’ll manage nicely.