Coping with the COVID Crisis: The Challenges for King’s Inns
Running a busy professional law school is challenging in the best of circumstances, so how has the team at King’s Inns responded to the additional challenges posed by the COVID 19 Crisis?
The Dean, Eimear Brown, describes the changes King’s Inns has implemented over the last 6–weeks.
Following the Taoiseach’s original statement on Thursday 12 March, the staff of King’s Inns had to respond swiftly. The paramount concern of the School was the welfare of students and staff, and so urgent steps were taken to cancel mock trials and classes that were due to take place that evening. Immediate decisions had to be made regarding the upcoming assessments on the Barrister–at–Law degree course, which were due to start the following Saturday and which had to be postponed temporarily. Senior members of the School met straightaway to begin contingency planning.
The School uses email and social media to keep in touch with students and messages were released on all platforms to make sure that students knew that there would be no classes during the period set down by the State.
Following the initial flurry of activity, the real work began. With staff working from home, meetings were carried out via Zoom in order to ensure that the work of the School, including classes and assessments, could continue with as little disruption to students as possible. This has meant that everyone, including some of our most eminent guest lecturers, had to adapt quickly to a new way of working. Thankfully, with excellent support from our IT team, coordinators and tutors, the School was able to navigate these challenges relatively easily.
Use of e–learning technology
King’s Inns already makes use of e–learning technology in order to make courses as widely accessible as possible. This means that lectures on our Diploma in Legal Studies course and on most advanced diploma programmes are already recorded for students.
Following the COVID restrictions, speakers on advanced diploma classes continued to record their lectures using lecture capture software so that students would not miss out. Expert speakers, including senior members of the judiciary, endured the slightly odd experience of recording lectures “behind closed doors”. The cooperation and dedication of an array of expert speakers allowed the advanced to continue, with students following lectures from the safety of their own homes. Tutorials were delivered online and interactively, allowing the final modules of Law and Education (on which distance learning has always been an option) and the new advanced diploma in Quasi–judicial Decision–making to come to a successful close.
“Having a small faculty team, many of whom are already familiar with using e–learning technology and keeping in touch with students who study online remotely, allowed King’s Inns to adapt quickly to deliver our renowned legal education from the safety of our homes.”
Dr. Eimear Brown, Dean
Diploma in Legal Studies
The academic coordinator of our Diploma in Legal Studies course, Ciarán Patton, was keen to ensure that students experienced no “interruption to service”. Lecturers on the Diploma in Legal Studies recorded their remaining course lectures and tutorials so that all students were able to carry on with the course as normal (and sometimes even ahead of schedule). Students on this course already have access to very extensive course materials online. Class rep meetings proceeded via Zoom, maintaining vital links with the student body.
The Barrister–at–Law degree course is designed to be interactive, practical and professional. It involves the delivery of carefully crafted learning outcomes that cannot be achieved by, for example, a student carrying out independent reading alone. Having reviewed the upcoming sessions, the School decided that it would be possible to finish out the remaining specialist options courses using online learning only. Students are now taking specialist options in Company Law, Planning & Environmental Law, Family Law, Legal Practice through Irish, Employment Law, and Immigration and Asylum Law in interactive online sessions, with all materials available to them via Moodle (the King’s Inns Virtual Learning Environment). The vast majority of the remaining modular 1 sessions will also take place via online learning, ensuring that students will be able to complete year 1 of the course on schedule. Coordinators and tutors adapted swiftly, undergoing training in online learning technology and reviewing session plans to optimise the teaching and learning experience on a new platform.
Assessments and exams
A robust assessment process is at the core of any educational institution. For the annual sitting in 2020, it was imperative that the assessments for all courses proceed in a manner that retains the integrity of the course aims, while ensuring the safety of students and staff. In consultation with staff within the School, the Education Committee approved an online assessment methodology for both the Diploma in Legal Studies examinations and for the Barrister–at–Law degree course. This will allow students to sit assessments at home, while allowing King’s Inns to test the knowledge and skills required to successfully complete those courses. The Registrar, Marcella Higgins, is currently overseeing a test run of the procedures to be used for the Diploma in Legal Studies course, which will allow students to be comfortable with the process for an online exam before the exam period starts next week. Students on the Barrister–at–Law degree have already submitted two assessments online, in a transition that was remarkably smooth thanks to the work of the Registrar and IT staff.
Students on all King’s Inns courses make heavy use of Library resources. With the physical Library closed, the Librarian, Renate Ní Uigín, and other Library staff have been working to ensure that students are fully informed about the wide range of online subscriptions available to them as students of King’s Inns. With access to a wide range of textbooks, case law and journals online, students are able to continue with their research without leaving the sofa.
Communication is key
In a situation such as this, communication is key. A central plank of the King’s Inns response to the COVID 19 Crisis was to ensure that students were kept informed via regular email updates on any information relating to their course. This line of communication has been essential to reassuring students that, to the greatest extent possible, they will be protected from the adverse effects of COVID 19 – in academic terms, at least.
Dr. Eimear Brown, Dean