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Lockdown — With the university in a state of emergency, Wendy Meng saw her task as improving her students' well-being
When covid-19 came to Denmark in March 2020, all of the University of Copenhagen’s teaching staff suddenly got very busy reorienting their courses to online.
Wendy Meng, who teaches contract and tort law at the Faculty of Law at UCPH, was no exception.
The entire physical university shut down as a result of the pandemic, and Wendy Meng was only able to teach online during both the spring semester 2020 and the spring semester of 2021.
Luckily, she had her own catalogue of routines that she could fall back on:
»I panicked at first when UCPH closed down. But I did not panic about having to do the teaching, because I am used to using the technology,« she says. Wendy Meng teaches first year law students, and is herself a PhD student at the faculty.
Wendy Meng has previously worked as a lawyer, and has always been interested in social media. Her PhD project deals with offensive content sharing on social media, and the legal responsibility of digital platforms for the content on them.
Her students were so enthused with her efforts and her teaching that they nominated her for the University of Copenhagen teaching prize – also called the Harald – for being the best instructor among the university’s six faculties.
For Wendy Meng, it is important to find the tricks that make the students happy, because online teaching requires a special effort from everyone:
»Online teaching can be done, but students do not automatically feel that they are a part of a community. This only happens in a lecture hall.
That is why online teaching is about doing something extra so that everyone feels they are a part of it,« says Wendy Meng.
This includes using quizzes like on the Kahoot! programme, a teaching aid where different groups have fun answering legal questions via their mobile phones, and where correct answers trigger points.
Wendy Meng has also made an effort to make her online teaching as lively as possible by using a case-based approach.
In one ‘case’, for example, students are given a legal counselling assignment, in another they carry out a process game where they are given different roles in each of their groups.
The students argue for how they can solve the case in the best possible way. Wendy Meng provides ongoing feedback while everyone is online.
She also summarises the lessons and makes sure that the students do not talk too long — or move in the wrong direction with a case.
Wendy Meng saw it as her task both to do something extra for the students’ well-being and to capture and maintain their interest.
»I made an effort with my PowerPoint presentations during covid-19. A good presentation catches students’ attention better than when you only see each other over Zoom,« she says.
She has also done a lot to put up the legal material on tables for clarity, and she has used more drawings and illustrations than usual.
»As strange as things have been this year, with students not being able to hang out with their study mates, it is important to give them a good structure so that they have a better overview and do not lose heart,« says Wendy Meng.
The question is: Did the students want to play along with it all?
»If you set up a positive atmosphere, most students are very cooperative. Most of my students are first year students, and so you have to be a little more pedagogical to set them off to a good start to their studies,« says Wendy Meng.
She has not put a lot of pressure on students to turn on their videos for the online course:
»I encouraged them to, and said that it is in their own interest to have more interaction with the video on. But if any of them absolutely do not want to turn on their screen, they probably have good reason to and I will not force them. The alternative is that they cannot participate in the lessons, and this is worse, says Wendy Meng.
»I kept the video on during the breaks so that students have been able to talk to each other.«
Laura Wiberg is a third semester law student and participated in Wendy Meng’s spring course in 2021.
Students often perceive Contract and Tort Law as a difficult subject, but Laura Wiberg was happy with the teaching.
»I may not have had high expectations for the subject. But Wendy Meng had a good pedagogical way of communicating the material, and I really felt her commitment, so I started getting involved,« says Laura Wiberg.
The students held group presentations, each of which had a case which they had to argue for and against, in groups — according to the rules of the game set by Wendy Meng.
»It was often difficult, but Wendy Meng was really good in the process. Even though you may have missed out on some of the material, we still got a good dialogue started, so you learned something,« says Laura Wiberg.
All the students in Wendy Meng’s class were asked to evaluate her as a teacher and it shows a high level of satisfaction with the course and heaps praise upon the instructor.
After a partial reopening, Wendy Meng faced the challenge of hybrid teaching: Some students show up in the classroom, while others stay home and follow the teaching online.
»This has been difficult, because you stand there and have to do both on-screen teaching, record the teaching, and at the same time ensure that there is a good dialogue in class. There were no microphones for the students, and online participants could therefore not hear what their fellow students in the classroom said,« says Wendy Meng.
She would like to have seen the classrooms set up with the right equipment for hybrid teaching. All in all, however, she thinks that the Faculty of Law has managed to get through the pandemic quite well.
Instructors had to switch to online teaching one weekend in March 2020.
»The faculty did well in sending out information quickly on how we as instructors should go about it,« says Wendy Meng.