Posted on March 20, 2020

When Sharifa Ahen, a first-year Juris Doctor student, received news of the discontinuation of all in-class learning, her disappointment was quite evident. But now, more than one week into her distance learning experience, that perception has changed. “Online learning tools are not entirely new to me because online submissions are a core requirement of our law courses. But what was new to me is having to consistently use these tools remotely and coordinate with many users simultaneously,” said Ms. Ahen.

Along with eight other members of her Juris Doctor class, Ms. Ahen regularly convenes to deliberate on legal cases. The Constitutional Law, Legal Writing II, International Law and Property Law courses they attend are geared towards developing their instinct for approaching legal problems and gaining different perspectives. All courses have gone ahead as planned now that instruction has shifted online. “I’ve learned to navigate the benefits and complexities of the online learning experience. I have had to shift my mindset from one that is more accustomed to skills such as being perceptive and able to read body language cues, to placing more emphasis on becoming an active listener. In the absence of physical interactions or visible responses, we’ve had to rely on and improve our anticipatory reactions and clarity in our communication.”

A huge source of frustration for Ms. Ahen was the cancellation of the Vis international commercial arbitration moot court competition, which was scheduled for April 2020 in Vienna, Austria. The competition was the highlight of her academic year and Ms. Ahen, along with her teammates, trained on a weekly basis in anticipation of this event since October 2019. “On the international front, there’s a form of resilience made evident by global efforts to ensure continuity despite the circumstances. We knew that too when we were offered an opportunity to participate in the competition via online conferencing. And despite it all, I was also able to partake in the Vis Middle East Pre-Moot in Bahrain just because it had shifted entirely online. Before then, the blockade would have made our visas near impossible to acquire.”

For Ms. Ahen, unusual circumstances can present a learning curve for everyone involved. “There is a silver lining in everything if you look for it. As lawyers, we will be expected to handle situations like these in the future, where contracts may be abruptly terminated or public circulars need to be drafted.”

More than eight days into the online learning experience, Ms. Ahen believes digital tools are an alternative for similar circumstances in the future. “Although I don’t believe online learning can permanently replace in-class learning, I do think it is a necessary alternative considering the current situation. It also allows for possible future flexibility once things go back to normal. As we are a graduate degree institution, many of our students have full-time jobs and family obligations. Online learning allows for remote attendance in exceptional situations, which is especially relevant to our student body. What is happening today has clearly laid the foundation for contingency measures in the future. But I also feel especially blessed to have access to these technologies, so affordability is not a privilege we should undermine.”

“In the long run, society has to adapt and move forward despite challenges. We can and should definitely incorporate some of today’s lessons in the future.