Technology helps Office of Judicial Education deliver during pandemic

Madison, Wisconsin - August 21, 2020

Being sent home during your first week on a job is usually not a good sign. But for Morgan Young, it was just one of the things she's had to adjust to since starting as Director of the Office of Judicial Education on March 16.

Young had just finally met all of her staff in person when the administrative offices of the court system in Madison were closed to the public due to COVID-19. She has been at the office several times since, but has yet to finish unpacking and is working remotely most of the time.

"Fortunately, I left my plants at home," said Young, an attorney who made the transition to the court system from her prior role as a Senior Victim Services Training Officer with the state Department of Justice. In that role, she created and provided training curriculum for victim service providers, and worked closely with other state agencies and professionals to develop training and events. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Just more than five months into the job, Young has had to set aside many of the traditional ways of running the office and delivering Judicial Education programming and find creative solutions to get the job done during the pandemic.

A number of judicial education events that were previously scheduled for in-person participation have been canceled or rescheduled, including the Family Law Seminar, prison tour, Child Welfare Orientation and Civil Evidence Workshop. Some other programming has been held online via Zoom or offered in a hybrid format, with some participants appearing remotely.

The 2020 New Judge Orientation at the end of July was held in-person at a Madison hotel conference center, with health safety precautions in place. However, the number and duration of live presentations were limited, and some presentations were made by recorded video. The judges still received hands-on training in some areas, such as CCAP applications.

Young works with Director of State Courts Randy R. Koschnick; the Judicial Education Committee; Wisconsin Judicial College Dean, Lisa K. Stark, District III Court of Appeals; and event co-chairs to determine the best delivery mode for a particular curriculum and circumstances.

"We're not just trying to take everything online. We don't want to offer something if it would not be of high quality," Young said.

For example, the Criminal Law and Sentencing Institute this year was condensed this year to a "virtual" seminar and presented via Zoom to about 150 people on Aug. 20. Some presentations that would normally have been offered in-person were trimmed or modified to better fit the online format, Young said.

One of the biggest challenges ahead is the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Judicial Conference, which typically draws more than 300 participants to a single location for in-person meetings and presentations. This year will mark the first conference ever presented via Zoom.

Plenary sessions will be delivered via Zoom Webinar, which allows for 2,000 simultaneous viewers. Smaller breakout sessions will be held via Zoom for meetings to allow for interaction among participants and moderators. This year's conference will be reduced by a half a day, to two days total, and the longest session will run 75 minutes instead of two hours.

"We don't want people to have that Zoom fatigue, which is real," Young said.

One drawback of online presentation is that participants aren't as easily able to network and learn from each other as when they meet in person. However, in some instances, going online has made it possible for more people to participate. For example, court commissioners and reserve judges were able to join the condensed "Virtual Criminal Law and Sentencing Seminar," which normally is only available to sitting judges.

In addition to being offered live via Zoom, some educational presentations are being recorded and made available for playback on-demand, with eligibility for judicial education credits.

Young said she is fortunate to have staff experienced in using technology and video to help deliver programming in the new environment created by COVID-19. The office of Judicial Education began making more use of rich media under previous Judicial Education Director Karla Baumgartner, who retired earlier this year.

Judicial Resource and Outreach Coordinator Emily Brooks, who previously worked in instructional technology at UW-Extension, has been producing judicial education content with the video animation program PowToon, among other tools, since she started with the courts in 2018.

The municipal court division of Judicial Education's programming has shifted exclusively to online since the start of the pandemic and is expected to have about two dozen programs completed that way by the end of the year, Young said.

Young had planned on looking for ways to take advantage of technology in the delivery of Judicial Education programming when she started her new job. She just didn't anticipate how quickly the need would arise with the pandemic.

"It has a lot of potential. I just didn't realize it was going to be the 'forced' format," Young said.

Tom Sheehan
Court Information Officer
(608) 261-6640

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