Alternate Title

The Center Cannot Hold: Zoom as a Potemkin Village


Legal Education


The time has come to click the “join” button once more. It is the end of the semester, and our colleague Abe, chair of our ad-hoc task force for online teaching, has convened an online teaching excellence panel. The purveyors of said excellence are four faculty members whose evaluations showed that they were, as his email said, “online teaching rockstars.” Unfathomably, I am one of the four, and the last scheduled to present. One by one, little rectangles pop against the black backdrop of the screen, like the bubbles my three-year-old son and I blow in the backyard out of a viscous mix of dishwashing liquid, water, and glycerin. Our academic dean summarizes the aggregate outcomes of teaching evaluations: the students like it when we plan small group discussions, but not too much; when we bring lightheartedness into the classroom, but discourage misuse of the chat function; when we express empathy and are human, but display mastery of the technology; when we are reasonable and flexible, but have flawless Internet connectivity. I take copious notes. My three online teaching rockstar colleagues speak of their use of breakout rooms, applying insights from online learning studies. They talk about camera policies, chat rooms, polls. It’s my turn, and I’ve asked Abe to make me a host, which in times of health and sanity used to mean preparing tasty morsels and warm beverages on an attractive tray and saying, “come on in!” but in these times of plague merely means that I can subject others to the dubious esthetics of my screen. Which I proceed to do, because it enables me to show my electronic casebook and its exciting multimedia features and boast the quality of its interface with my classroom management software. I talk about flipped classroom models and prerecorded lectures. I flip to PowerPoint to show my revamped set of slides and how I’ve designed them to grab attention and illustrate complex concepts, like the car and container warrantless search doctrine. I flip back to the website to show the discussion forums. I talk fast, animatedly, my face popping on and off the screen to fascinate and enlighten, illustrating my recently acquired Zoom wizardry.

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