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A front-line account of Nalsar’s challenges and successes in transitioning to online learning

Nalsar Hyderabad Student Bar Council 2019-20 member and Convenor of the Academic Committee, Ashish K James, explains how the law school has been adapting to online learning.

Stock image: Law students transitioning to e-learning in the year 2000
Stock image: Law students transitioning to e-learning in the year 2000

After having NALSAR’s largest fest, Carpe Diem, effectively cancelled due to the Coronavirus situation, the campus too was shut down by government order, with all students returning to their homes.

The Executive Council and the Academic Committee of the Student Bar Council, NALSAR’s student body, worked with the university administration to chart a course of action to deal with the crisis.

To avoid an extension of the semester into May, it was decided that online classes would be experimented with. To this end, the Academic Committee the Academic Examination Committee (a wing of the administration) and the IT Department would work together.

Online classes had to be conducted for a little over 600 students, split across 10 sections and five batches. In addition, Tutorial Sessions were to be taken by 5th year students for students from the batches of the first three years, split into eight groups per batch.

To deal with the logistics and planning required for the same, effective communication mechanisms had to be set up, control had to be decentralised to the extent possible and the requisite know-how had to be marshalled.

It was decided that we would take the bull by its horns: we would stick to the regular time table from day one, despite having to do everything online.

Teachers were given an option to either take live classes using various softwares, with assistance from the IT Department being provided, or to send recorded lectures, or to send written material which was to be read by the students during the scheduled hour.

As the days progressed, nearly all faculty have warmed to and adopted the idea of live online classes, seeing the success of their peers with the same.

The beginning

From the 17th of March, the experiment had begun [Ed: including at NLSIU Bangalore, JGLS Sonepat and other law schools].

Of the three software solutions tried – InstaVC, YouTube Live and Zoom – InstaVC turned out to be inadequate.

Skype sessions were used to conduct Tutorial Sessions. The first day had a number of technical issues.

The Academic Representatives of each section coordinated with each other, the Convenor of the Academic Examination Committee and the IT Department to learn from what had gone wrong.

Daily reports on each session were consolidated by the Academic Committee, and with each successive day, the number of technical snags has been reduced.

InstaVC was dropped, and Zoom and YouTube Live were adopted for courses based on the preference of students and teachers. All live sessions were recorded and made available for later viewing for students.

Iterative improvements

Some problems, however, remain.

Within each batch of around 120, between 8 and 24 people live in areas with poor, severely limited or no internet, making it difficult to access online classes or to download the recorded sessions.

The Academic Committee recognizes the gravity of such problems of access, and are making highly compressed versions of the lectures available to them, and where necessary, are physically mailing them the lectures on pen drives, on a weekly basis with college funds and with help from college staff.

The live sessions themselves are made as less data intensive as possible: on Zoom, only audio is used when possible, and only screen-sharing with audio is used when there is a PPT to display.

When there is video streaming involved, YouTube Live has proved to be less data intensive owing to the option of viewing the same at a lower 144p resolution.

Project presentations too are to happen over Skype.

Mitigating the strain

Overall, there has been a strenuous effort to ensure that all academic activities go undisrupted despite the shutdown.

While problems with access are very real, it is hoped that the same can be mitigated in due time.

With effective delegation and communication, NALSAR has most likely managed to be the most effective among all NLUs in conducting classes online.

Ashish K James is a member of the Nalsar Hyderabad Student Bar Council 2019-20 and Convenor of its Academic Committee.

He has also written a blog, in a strictly personal capacity, on Medium with more information about adjusting to online classes.

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