Issue 5, Semester 2
Toby Silcock, Desiree Cai, and Cameron Doig
All lectures at Melbourne University should be recorded. This has been Academic Board policy since 2013, after consistent pressure from our predecessors at the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU). The policy is overwhelmingly popular, and means that barriers to attendance don’t become barriers to education.
We believe Melbourne Law School’s (MLS) current class recording policy breaches University policy. We believe MLS should:
The “seminars” in the bulk of core subjects are actually lectures. The School cannot redefine the word to avoid the policy when it suits its interests. Indeed, the School has used the words “lecture” and “lecturers” frequently in discussions and in writing.
For most core subjects, teachers spend the bulk of class time speaking about areas of law with the support of slides, to a group of students organised in rows before them. Slides are made available on LMS. Students use them to make study and exam notes. They spend most of class time making these notes. Questions or discussions are usually taken or led by teachers. Spontaneous questions from students usually clarify issues. This is a lecture.
Class sizes are too large and the content too dense for classes to be genuinely discussion-led. It’s an open secret that students are usually significantly behind in readings. Most class time is spent going over substantive content. The “seminar” myth says that learning is through discussion. This is not the practice – this would require half as many students in class, with twice as much study time. These classes are lectures.
Existing University policy notes how important lecture recordings are for equity. It recognises that the student body is diverse. Students must work to survive. They have different English abilities, travel commitments, carer responsibilities, and ongoing mental and physical barriers to continuous attendance. MLS has argued that such considerations are the exception to the norm, and its policy reflects this. MLS appears to assume the JD cohort is not diverse. If it is diverse, then release the recordings. If it isn’t, then let’s work on that, and release the recordings in the meantime.
The University explicitly states that concerns about attendance are not valid reasons for denying access to recordings. The University’s own research indicates that the relationship between recordings and attendance is ambiguous. If MLS wishes to ensure students attend, it should ensure lectures are engaging, relevant, and useful. It should ensure students get continuous feedback on their work. It should take practical steps to understand and accommodate students’ external work, family, and personal commitments. It should lobby for housing close to University. It should not deny access to learning resources based on false assumptions of students’ motivations.
Juris Doctor students are postgraduates. The program is meant to assume maturity and experience. They can expect to be treated as autonomous learners, who make considered decisions about how they study. They are entitled to expect access to appropriate learning resources. The Student Charter gives students such an entitlement. MLS is denying JD students this entitlement by denying access to recordings that are already being made.
This issue has been ongoing for years. The Faculty has made many other arguments against releasing the recordings. UMSU does not accept any of these arguments, most of which attack the general concept of universal recording. We do not have the space to address them here, but will address them as this campaign develops.
UMSU intends to make lecture recordings for law students happen. We will be working with the GSA in the coming weeks, and encouraging students to get involved, so we can bring the Law School with us. Stay tuned.
There is no reason for delay. This is already University policy. JD students deserve to be treated respectfully, and with understanding and compassion. They deserve access to their course content. They deserve equal treatment.
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