Laird Bell Law Quadrangle

The Law School made some custom Zoom backgrounds, like this one shown here, when teaching went remote in March. (Photo courtesy UChicago Law School)

Remote learning, under control

How the Law School’s IT team helped faculty prepare for an unprecedented Spring Quarter.

Typically the Law School’s information technology team works behind the scenes. Much of their time is spent on infrastructure projects, like migrating servers from one location to another or upgrading course evaluation software—things that “[affect] users, but they don’t ever know it,” says IT director David Gulbransen.

But suddenly, as the school set about preparing for remote teaching, Gulbransen and his team found themselves in the spotlight. “We’re normally not seen if things are going well, and now we’re right out in front,” he says.

In early March they began offering Zoom video conference training sessions: one-on-one tutorials, as well as larger meetings of 100 or more participants, where faculty members could experiment with different features in a setting similar to a large lecture class.

Their work had particular urgency: while most of the University began Spring Quarter instruction on April 6, the Law School’s classes kicked off on March 30—a decision made to comply with American Bar Association accreditation guidelines.

It was new territory for everyone. How would instructors adapt their discussion-heavy Socratic style to the virtual world? How would they answer student questions that emerged in the course of a lecture?

Gulbransen’s team provided the technical know-how—Zoom has a hand-raise feature and digital breakout rooms for small-group discussion—and the faculty brought a willingness to learn. Before long, professors were swapping tips with each other. Technophiles pitched in to help technophobes.

“To me, it helps show how much of a community the Law School really is,” Gulbransen says, “that when we’re faced with an adverse situation like this, everyone has really pulled it together to make sure the Law School can continue in its mission to educate the students.”

And continue they did: a week into the quarter, Law School faculty members reported that classes had gone well, with no major hiccups. Plan B, made in haste and bolstered by a can-do spirit, was underway.

With help from its communications team, the Law School even made some custom Zoom backgrounds featuring the Laird Bell Quadrangle—where Plan A will eventually resume, and faculty, students, and staff will meet in person again.

Read more about the Universityʼs response to the COVID-19 pandemic in “Together in Spirit.”