Part I: Carolina Law Adapts to Teaching and Learning Through COVID-19

June 3, 2020

Throughout this summer, we will be posting a series of stories that highlights how the school has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic, how our Career Development Office is providing summer support for our students and how two summer projects are providing services to organizations and individuals throughout North Carolina.

Student writing

Since remote classes began on March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNC School of Law students gathered online for pre-recorded and live classes, and faculty held virtual office hours. Within days, students and faculty adapted to a new way of teaching and learning with a boost of technical support and instruction from each other and Carolina Law’s information technology department.

With some trepidation and uncertainty, faculty members quickly learned to use new technology and adjust to a different way of teaching. Through email, phone calls and video chats, they shared ideas and strategies that worked for them and offered suggestions and resources to make it the best learning experience possible for students on such short notice.

One of the first faculty members to embrace remote teaching was Professor Eric Muller. With the help of a large green screen background, he transformed his home work space into a variety of backgrounds. He asked students to send him virtual backgrounds to use for each class. Submissions ranged from beautiful beaches and sunsets to characters from “Tiger King” and Tranquility Base on the moon. One featured a photo of Muller’s colleague Professor Bill Marshall artistically rendered into a statue.

“It’s a testament to how much the students adored Bill when they had him for Civ Pro last semester, which they’re quite open about,” says Muller.

Muller also began his Constitutional Law class with a pet parade where students brought their pets to class and introduced them. Among the special guests were plenty of dogs and cats, but also a chicken, a fish, and a bearded dragon lizard.

Professor John Orth became an overnight viral social media star when one of his first-year Property Law students shared a screenshot of him teaching to an empty classroom with the exception of a lone Pinocchio doll.

As the semester continued remotely, Dean Martin H. Brinkley’ 92 made the tough decision to make all grades mandatory pass/fail. It wasn’t an easy decision but one that Brinkley made with input from students, faculty, staff and the University. His message to the law school explains how he came to the decision, recognizing that it would not please everyone but that it was a policy decision made under imperfect conditions. The message concluded with an oboe performance by Brinkley, for which he has become renowned by students during his time as dean.

As Carolina Law’s Class of 2020 approached the end of their law school careers, some professors made an extra effort to recognize their hard work and acknowledge the loss of their final semester. Professor Joe Kennedy wore a suit and tie to his final criminal procedures class and read aloud all the names of the 3Ls to give them an opportunity to stand and be applauded.

Professor Don Hornstein made a graduation cake complete with sparkler candles for the graduates in his 14-student Regulation/Deregulation Seminar. He also wrote individualized letters of recommendation for each student, highlighting the portfolio of work they did in his class.

Professor Kate Elengold had UNC’s mascot, Rameses, make a surprise drop-in on her property law exam review session where he held up amusing signs to entertain her students during a stressful time.

Other professors checked in on a regular basis individually with students to make sure that they were okay and provided links to resources if they were facing difficult challenges.

Based on the results of a survey conducted at the end of the semester, students recognized the challenges that both their peers and professors faced with remote learning. Most agreed that remote learning can work but that in-person classes and even cold-calling make for a more robust law learning experience.