One of the main reasons I chose Santa Clara Law was so that I could take Prof. Goldman’s Internet law class. Of course, what better way to become an Internet law expert than to be taught by *the* expert himself?
Taking Internet Law my 2L year was bittersweet. For the first time in my academic life, I was eager to get up for a 9am class. I learned more lessons about good lawyering than I expected; I had way too much fun taking the final; and I did incredibly well, receiving an A and the highly coveted Witkin Award. But, all good things must come to an end eventually, and I was definitely sad to say goodbye. So, like any normal law student would, I found a way to take the class again! This time, as a teaching assistant.
Being a teaching assistant offers a unique opportunity to gain some perspective from the other side of the classroom. This is especially true during a global pandemic. With that, I’m excited to use this post to share some insights, especially with my fellow student colleagues.
Admittedly, I expected the online transition to be relatively easy for professors. I mean, you already have the curriculum written right? Just whip up some slides, slap on a Zoom link, and tie a bow on it. Easy.
What last semester’s students might not know is that the preparations for Internet law began early summer 2020 (and maybe even earlier). Having been taught for 20 some odd years in person, the course just wasn’t designed for online learning. Prof. Goldman (and many of our other SCU Law profs) actually took an online class over the summer about teaching online classes. From there, I watched Prof. Goldman redesign the entire course from scratch. His goal was to maximize the learning potential that we inevitably lose with the online transition.
This meant a lot of late nights, a lot of frustration navigating Canvas and Zoom, a lot of technological mishaps, a lot of dry runs and tests, and a lot of on-the-fly changes. Prof. Goldman learned as the class progressed, listened to feedback, and importantly, he adapted to meet his students’ learning needs whenever he could.
Coming from an undergraduate program where student success was always an afterthought, it was a privilege to watch the method to his madness unfold from behind the scenes. This is a professor who has always gone above and beyond for his students.
The course was predominantly asynchronous. Every week, Prof. Goldman would record a set of lecture videos that I would then binge watch on Friday nights to stay fresh on the material. Students were expected to watch the lectures before the scheduled synchronous class sessions. The lecture videos were recorded on Zoom and uploaded to Canvas. Prof. Goldman pre-built Canvas modules for each week that contained a link to the week’s lecture videos, optional hands on learning exercises, weekly quizzes, and a discussion board for student questions. He would make the relevant module available each week for students.
The synchronous sessions were reserved for questions and break out room activities. These activities usually required students to think through Internet law hypos (that we would sometimes draft together the week before). After each activity, students would reconvene to share their thoughts until the end of class. We then stuck around after each class for impromptu office hours.
When I wasn’t troubleshooting Canvas, writing hypos, hopping on late night calls to tech test, and binge watching lecture videos, I was responding to and working with students (my highest value-add in my opinion).
Let’s face it, law professors are intimidating; 3L Jess Miers isn’t. Because I already had an on going good relationship with most, if not all, of the students in last semester’s course, it was natural that I became their main point of contact for questions, feedback, and advice. I answered Internet law questions at 3 in the morning; while walking my dog; while running on the treadmill; during conference calls; on some early Saturday mornings; and even on the side of a mountain (after the sample answer was published). And I LOVED it. Working directly with students and watching the lightbulb finally go off was hands down the most rewarding part of my job. Imagine my joy when some of those students sent me lengthy emails dedicating their good grades to my help! Unreal.
As the main point of contact between Prof. Goldman and his students, I also fielded a few complaints throughout the semester. The one issue that surprised me the most was about gender imbalance. I received the complaint from a few of my female colleagues and it started to become a regular theme over the course. The major issue was that male students were dominating the break out room conversations, which then bled into the after-break-out room discussions.
It wasn’t an issue we had deeply considered beforehand, though, Prof. Goldman did flag early on that female participation seemed low. As a female Computer Scientist, I’ve learned to fight my male colleagues for space (#I’mspeaking). But I’m naturally abrasive…my female colleagues, on the other hand, aren’t so inclined….
We both gave this problem some serious thought. Perhaps women might be less inclined to speak up on Zoom, especially with cameras on. Perhaps that was part of the issue here. I’m not sure. Regardless, our solution was twofold: First, Prof. Goldman would assign “room-leaders” that would lead the large group conversation after the activity. This at least ensured different voices would rotate each class. Second, I started “floating” between break out rooms to ensure no one student was dominating the room. I believe these workarounds significantly improved the gender imbalance issues as the class progressed (as confirmed by my colleagues).
Another personally enlightening and important insight I took away from last semester was all the pitfalls and problem areas in Internet law that I’ve become somewhat blind to having studied the subject in-depth for the past three years. There are so many nuances with Internet law (and especially intermediary liability) that I’ve accepted as obvious, common knowledge. Realizing this isn’t quite the case has caused me to rethink my Section 230 advocacy efforts. If brilliant, soon-to-be legal professionals are struggling with these concepts then it’s unfair for me to expect the average consumer to easily take to them too.
For example, the infamous Section 230 publisher/platform theory was a very real hangup for many students. To overcome this blocker, we retraced the elements of a prima facie defamation claim. I found it helpful to explain why the word “publisher” appears in the 26 words in the first place and then ultimately arrive at why such a distinction doesn’t make sense.
There were many other hangups as well, such as the differences between contributory and vicarious copyright infringement online. 512(c) was another source of confusion (and rightfully so). That confusion created even more confusion when juxtaposed with 230. I found it helpful to step back and explain the key differences between safe harbors and immunities. Sometimes, we even went all the way back to the basics of how the Internet and websites work. What does it really mean to host user generated content?
The worst and simultaneously best part of the semester, for myself, was the day students received their grades. I was quickly inundated with emotions ranging from remorse to pride to all out excitement. At one point, my phone actually overheated. It was hard navigating the emotions of the not-so-happy students. For a few of them, we spent so much time working together. In many ways, I felt like I had let them down. There’s also some awkwardness that comes with also being their peer.
I learned very quickly why Prof. Goldman invests so much time into writing his sample answer. Though I had absolutely no hand in the grading process, I can confirm that Prof. Goldman takes grading incredibly seriously. He recognizes how much weight students place on their grades and therefore, he goes to extreme lengths to ensure he doesn’t make any mistakes. I wrote my own sample answer (without his help) and used it to compare my answer with his answer, catching any errors, major discrepancies, or extra overlooked issues. I reviewed his sample answer twice which he then reviewed and revised a final time.
Suffice to say, “half-assed” is not in Professor Goldman’s vocabulary.
But as I mentioned, the best part of this experience was receiving an outpour of positive feedback from students that achieved their goals for the class. Hearing them credit their successed in part to my efforts left me stunned. I’m proud, flattered, and incredibly inspired…
So inspired that I genuinely believe I personally found my calling. I’ve flirted with the idea of becoming an academic since my 1L year. I’ve always been inspired by the overwhelmingly positive impact one person can make on the lives of so many budding legal professionals.
Not to mention, all of the amazing law profs I’ve met and befriended throughout my three year journey, who have each found ways to inspire me, mentor me, and generously help boost my career. This has only amplified my attraction to the profession. Law professors, in my opinion, have the best jobs in the world. With that, I feel that I’m officially ready to do whatever it takes. It’s a long, competitive, and exhausting road to get there, but it’s worth it.
I wouldn’t have arrived at that realization without this opportunity to shadow one of the best Internet law professors in the world. For that, I owe a huge thanks to Prof. Goldman for showing me a very small piece of what it takes to not just be a good law professor, but an impactful, inspiring, and enlightening educator and role model. I also owe a huge shout-out to last semester’s students (my colleagues) for giving me a chance to work with each of them and for teaching me so many valuable lessons along the way.
Yesterday, a TA. One day, Professor Miers.