Covid-19, Construction, and Claims College

Instructors discuss 2020’s virtual format

December 23, 2020 Photo

Lorraine Merritt, Claims Manager, Claims Resource Management, Inc.

Raymond Weisse, Senior Vice President, Construction Practice Leader, 
GB Specialty, Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc.

Rick Righi, Attorney, Righi Fitch Law Group

Lee Wright, Casualty Claim Director, Tokio Marine HCC

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way every industry operates, and one change we have all had to adapt to in our professional lives is substituting live events with virtual ones. This can be especially challenging for a classroom environment like CLM’s Claims College. Here, four instructors for Claims College’s Level Two Construction curriculum offer their perspectives on the challenges and successes from September’s virtual courses.

While it was certainly a different experience from teaching courses in-person, what was your overall impression of Claims College’s virtual format?

Raymond Weisse: While the virtual format is not ideal, I think both the faculty and students did as good a job as we could possibly do under the circumstances. The platform was easy to use and navigate and worked well during our session.  

Rick Righi: Probably like most attending the Claims College—instructors and students alike—I was not sure how the format was going to work, and whether it would work. But I was impressed at the success of the program. The preparation phase of the event, which I understand was far more involved for those producing the event, was relatively seamless for the instructors, and well organized. The presentation went extremely well I thought, and, partially due to the absence of various happy hours the night before, all of the participants seemed attentive and energetic, including me! 

Lorraine Merritt: I thought that the virtual format overall worked well, especially with the short time period CLM had to put it all together.  It was rough to do the class instruction/lecture virtually but the returning students were able to continue to work towards their certification without a 2 year gap.  I certainly missed the in person connection with the students and other faculty though. 

Lee Wright: Overall, I thought the format was excellent and it was certainly the best outcome for a trying year. The systems all worked well and getting into and out of class sessions was a breeze. From the logistical side, I give this year high marks.

What was the biggest challenge you faced adapting to the virtual format?

Merritt: The biggest challenge that I faced was staying on target with the presentation while trying to field questions from students and the intermittent poll questions to make sure that the students were still on. In addition, the time of the class virtually left us a bit more confined than in person where the students could talk to us after or in between classes.

Weisse: As an instructor, you can pick up little cues or facial expressions from the students when you are face to face and in person with them, which gives you an indication that they might not understand something, or that you may need to slow down as you go over some portion of the content. Those little nuances were really non-existent with everyone in their individual virtual square.

That, and the landscapers cutting the lawn outside my home office during our session.

Wright: As an instructor, being on-line makes it tougher to read the room; to see who is with you and understanding and who needs a point revisited. This is especially true when students don’t engage their cameras.

Righi: The trepidation of participating in an event we have always done live in a completely different setting, ie, over the internet was the biggest challenge. For most of us that went to law school before the computer age, the thought of teaching a course while sitting in front of a computer, without the benefit of a live audience, was nerve racking. I was worried that I would forget how to log in properly on time, that my internet signal would cut out for whatever reason (as it has in the past), that I might experience a power outage, or that the program would simply not work. The fear of the unknown caused some stress that I would not normally have leading up to a live session.  I teach two classes at the college. After the first session was successfully completed, I felt much more confident with the virtual format, and the lead-up to the second session was far less stressful.   

As an administrator, one concern expressed to me by instructors was how they would be able to forge a connection with students without being in the room with them. From my perspective, I thought the students grew more interactive, both with each other and with the instructors, as the week progressed. What was your view of how you were ultimately able to engage with the students, and what did you do to try and encourage that engagement with everyone attending remotely?

Wright: Having a live chat option helps, and in some ways makes it easier to interject questions and thoughts without actually interrupting, so that was a bonus. The online version of the college, unfortunately, removes the ability to stop someone in the hallway and ask a question, or to sit down outside of class and get a chance for students and instructors to get to know each other. Building relationships within the industry is one of the big benefits of attending Claims College and I look forward to getting back to that in Baltimore next year.

Righi: I was probably one of the instructors who voiced the concern mentioned here. After 30 years or so of learning and presenting legal topics in a wide variety of live settings, I was uncertain that I could effectively teach legal concepts online. And this was after I spoke at some length with my nephew, who recently graduated from college after completing a mostly online curriculum. As he said to me, attending school online can actually be just as good as attending live, as long as the instructors give the subject the energy it deserves.

The truth is that it is far more difficult to forge a connection with the students—I was really only able to see myself on the screen, and my co-instructors while they were talking. But it is entirely possible to teach the subject matter, and, from the comments we reviewed from the students, it is possible to learn the concepts in a virtual setting.

One major difference in the online setting is that the instructor has to simply trust that the students are hearing the information, and understanding it—there is no real-time feedback other than chat questions that come through as one is forging through the subject matter. So the most one can do is to look into that computer with as much confidence as possible and teach the subject as clearly and with as much energy as possible to keep the audience engaged, and hope for the best.

Merritt: Having been an instructor to two classes, one on the first day, I agree that the students were more interactive as time went by. We encouraged questions from the students and offered to help through email or other virtual methods. It still was nothing like the interaction that you get in person.

Weisse: I did not get the same connection with the students this year as I had in years past. Not having the face to face interaction, and the back and forth banter that you might get during a live in-person session was sorely missed. We addressed all the questions that came in through the Q&A chat box, but in years past, sometimes there would be a follow-up question, or an open discussion that arises from the original question and answer. That really did not happen this year because of the virtual format, and that was missed

The students certainly learned quite a bit during Claims College, but what did you learn as an instructor teaching courses during a unique time given the COVID-19 pandemic?

Merritt: I think that the most important thing that I learned is reconfirmation that where there is a will there is a way. Everyone worked very hard to make Claims College still happen, and, at the end of the day, it was a success.  

Wright: Doing the courses online takes another level of preparation with your co-instructors. Normally, I think a fairly relaxed structure is best to allow for give-and-take and class feedback during a course, but I think the online classes work and flow better when a more structured approach is taken.

Righi: I learned that it is possible to effectively teach legal concepts through a virtual format, even without the real-time feedback we normally enjoy in a live setting. And that we can save the time and expense of travel and complete the classes and ultimately keep the Claims College functioning during challenging times. That being said, I missed the interaction with industry folks, and I even missed Baltimore. 

Weisse: Claims College was the third virtual event I had done since the beginning of the pandemic. Each time it gets a little easier but there is nothing you can do virtually to fully replicate the in-person interactions and those after class conversations that take place in the hallways or lobby which forge a connection with a student.

About The Authors
Phil Gusman

Phil Gusman is CLM's director of content.

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