Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Virtual Reality: Judicial College Conducts Conferences via Video

During normal times, the summer months mean vacation season. But in this coronavirus pandemic, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Judicial College’s workload is heating up.

On top of an increased output dedicated to guidance and information for judges and court staff about the changing practices regarding COVID-19, the Judicial College is juggling a circuit of conferences.

Organizations representing specific groups within the justice system – such as judges, magistrates, clerks, and other court personnel – typically host multi-day seminars in summer analyzing a variety of topics with the Judicial College providing the educational segments. Now, instead of hundreds of attendees in one place, the courses are online.

“We have multiple audiences that we serve. In this age of COVID-19, how do you do in-person operations and virtual instruction for things like evictions and domestic violence cases?” said Judicial College director Christy Tull.

One of the challenges with webinars is interactivity. With an average of 200 people per session since the college transitioned to an online-only curriculum, it can be difficult to generate a back-and-forth dynamic between instructors and attendees instead of a one-way lecture.

“Our next big push is how do we make this more like a classroom, doing activities, breakout rooms, lots of visuals. We're getting better and better,” said Tull.

In the past three months, Judicial College staff has gotten plenty of repetitions to refine its product. Since in-person programs ceased in mid-March, the college has produced approximately 60 webinars. Only three of those were planned prior to the pandemic.

“Everything that they had been working so hard on just blew up, and I don't think they missed a beat,” said Hancock County Common Pleas Judge Jonathan Starn, who’s also the chair of the Judicial College’s board of trustees.

The necessity for immediate and on-demand education about court operations and practices in an altered environment is evident since the number of Judicial College’s online viewers so far this year has exceeded all of 2019.

“I think it's very reassuring to know that when these extraordinary circumstances pop up... that we can adjust and still get done what we need to get done,” said Judge Starn.

Arguably the biggest void in a virtual conference is the lack of networking and personal time among attendees.

Instead of being surrounded by peers in the same venue, smaller groups are taking the initiative and reconnecting on their own time through videoconferencing. Some of the conversation may be about work, but talks typically extend to family and life outside the courts, and serve as an escape from the daily pressures felt by many in the judicial system during these unusual times.

“It’s fun and relaxing,” Judge Starn said. “I think everyone really enjoys it because it pulls us out of that ‘Go! Go! Go!’ that we’re all feeling.”