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Interview with Professor Ray Campbell about Online Teaching

As coronavirus spreads across the world, many universities, including Harvard and Yale, have shifted to online classes. For China, the pandemic seems to have triggered great development in online teaching with so many educational institutions, from primary school to top universities, moving to online classes in the spring semester.

Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) has conducted remote teaching for more than two weeks with class beginning on March 2. For the majority of STL students, taking online classes at home instead of their traditional onsite classes where they get to talk to professor and classmates face-to-face is certainly unusual. Online classes may bring more flexibility, but there are lots of challenges for STL with regards to time differences and bandwidth.

On 10th March, 2020, STL Office of Communications interviewed Professor Ray Campbell about his experience and comments on remote teaching. Professor Campbell teaches Civil Procedure as well as Law and innovation this quarter. Recently he wrote a blog about online teaching experiences called “The Faculty Lounge”, which attracted wide attention and was shared by the American Association of Law Schools.

1. How is your online-teaching experience so far?

It has been really great. It’s really kind of amazing that technologically the platform exists and students in China can be expected to have good enough bandwidth. All pretty amazing.

2. I know currently you are in South Asian countries and cannot come back to Shenzhen due to the pandemic, what difficulties are you facing teaching online while traveling?

This week in order to renew my Thai visa I took a side trip to Luang Prabang in Laos, where the internet just isn’t robust enough for online teaching. To deal with that, I went asynchronous for one class, recording a lecture before I came over. Students are also differently positioned, and some students experience issues with audio quality or dropped connections. To ameliorate, we are recording all classes, and students can download and listen to any difficult portions at their leisure.

3. You mentioned in your article about library reserve not available, is this problem being solved?

The library has done a good job and is being helpful.

We have the school invest and pay for books in the library that students can take for any classes, so they don’t have to buy casebook. The library has resources that are normally only available under our license if you are on campus. Some of the databases are not supposed to be accessed away from campus and that requires some adjustment. Our library staff work hard to solve the problem and now we can access them from anywhere in the world, which allows us to research easier and assign things to students.

4. STL adapts Socratic teaching method in J.D. classes. One concern about online teaching is whether STL ’s educational philosophies will still be well-practiced. Do you find any difficulties in terms of this aspect?

I think it works pretty well that way. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at how well it works. For example, in Civil Procedure class, I am teaching a lot of students. I am doing it through a webinar, so I don’t have to teach the same class twice. And I notify a group of students in advance that they will be on call, so they can make sure they have good bandwidth and microphones. But I don’t tell them what questions they will be called on. When students get the question, their camera goes on, they answer the question and I can do follow-up questions. So the same Socratic method they will get in the classroom, I can do that very similarly.

5. You mentioned in another podcast that STL is the future of Law, what lessons you think STL as a law school can learn from this experience?

STL is doing a very different thing, there is no other law school that teaches two legal systems as different as the Chinese legal system and the American legal system and expects students to come out knowing both languages and both legal traditions.

Now we have experienced this online dimension and I am hoping that we will be able to continue to use some of these online platforms in figuring out how to bring out some of their capabilities to physical class rooms with monitors and so forth. For example, in my Law and Innovation class, I am setting up guest speakers to come in and talk on topics where they are really highly-expert. That’s something I think we can do a lot more. I think we can expand what we can pull in to the classroom and we can expand the ways with which we can enrich the students’ experience.

6. Any comments about STL’s performance facing this outbreak?

I think school support is very good. Dean Pangilinan obviously has put a lot of time and efforts, trying to figure out the best solution. The library has been helpful, they work hard to make sure that resources for students and faculties are available. And students are being great. We are all going through a hard time right now. They are locked in their apartment basically, away from their friends, but they have been really great.

7. It is the first time ever that online-teaching is implemented university-wide. It is inevitable that we meet some challenges. As a professor and also as one of the faculty that joined STL for more than 10 years, do you think there is anything that STL can do better?

I think we can do a better job bringing the faculty together, having a couple of faculty meetings through this technology so we see each other and talk to each other. But other than that, I think the school is great. Everyone has been really busy, it’s been really challenging for the Dean, really challenging for the associate deans and for the library and everyone else. But it would be good to try to maintain a sense of community as much as we can.

8. Lastly, we know that this online-teaching situation may continue at least for the coming several weeks, do you have any advice for our students?

Firstly, I would say to maintain a positive attitude, it’s not easy being at home, but I would use the opportunity to study harder. Also, there is technology we use for classes, maybe we can get four or five of our friends, have a study group using the meeting software. We can get together for 40 minutes and talk through tomorrow’s class and be ready for it.

One of the things that are difficult right now, for faculty and students, is that people are isolated, they are living in their apartment, they are not going out a lot, the software may also be something we can use to maintain those important social connections.