By Timothy Sarder
The lifeblood and composition of a student body is annually refreshed, with a new set of first-years replacing the final year students who’ve just left. By the end of a four-year cycle in the JD, we effectively have an entirely different set of people making up the cohort.
Do the values and actions of the former students linger in that exchange of time? Yes, to an extent. Enough of a “handover” takes place that the impact made by prior years isn’t completely erased. This is formalised, institutionally, by student groups such as the LSS and LLSN that have constitutions, aims, and customs passed down. It also happens in informally, through discussions and friendships with students in earlier years, and learning about their experiences in the degree. And, to get a bit meta, it occurs through ‘constructive’ (yes, I read the comments section too) dialogue in formats like De Minimis.
Unlike most other courses at this University, you do not, by default, have access to recordings of your lectures at law school. The reasons for or against this policy have been discussed in previous De Minimis articles. My concern is for new students who find themselves irked by the law school’s policy (or its implementation) on recordings. There may be those who are already questioning it. There will also be those who find themselves disadvantaged when they suffer from the realities of life that result in them not being able to keep up with classes through recordings, or having to jump through arbitrary administrative hoops in order to get those recordings.
It used to be worse. There used to be effectively no recordings. However, in 2016 a petition was made in support of recorded lectures that ignited rigorous debate amongst both staff and students. It spurred on official support for fully recorded lectures in law from UMSU and the GSA, as well as consultation with the LSS and LLSN on the issue. The ultimate result was a policy change and the introduction of limited lecture recordings. Now, one lecture stream per subject (for a selection of compulsory subjects only) is recorded each semester for students who can demonstrate ongoing need or other particular considerations requiring them to access the recordings. This is the policy that has remained in place since, other than the requirement of 10-days consecutive absence needing to be shown being relaxed to only 10 days cumulative absence.
2018 is special. We don’t just have a new year of students. We have a new Dean with the appointment of Professor Pip Nicholson. I was fortunate to be present at an informal meeting with the new Dean and several stakeholders in the lecture recordings debate, namely Nicholas Parry-Jones (founder of the original petition), Toby Silcock (UMSU Education (Academic Affairs) Officer) and Brad Knight (GSA General Secretary). Dean Nicholson expressed an understanding of, and a willingness to listen to, our concerns and frustrations about the current policy. The Dean also noted that there are complex intersecting cultural, equity, and pedagogical issues underpinning this debate. The Dean suggested that if there is to be progress on the issue, it would not likely be made on a whim, but after a long process – such as through a student working group that would collect quantitative data.
There is a very old De Minimis issue from decades gone by on the fears of the technology of using slide projectors adversely impacting upon the teaching style and character of law lecturing. In the decades since, we have seen not just slide projectors, but PowerPoint, laptops, and the capacity to record lectures come in, and I wonder whether any of them have or will substantially alter the fundamental mode of learning at the school. Point is, there has always, and will always be reactionaries drawing the longbow as a means to argue against the implementation of changes that may benefit students.
If you are a first-year student who finds yourself dismayed by the state of lecture recordings at this law school – please be aware of, and consider the above. Think through what constructive steps you can take to advocate for change on this issue. If advances in student equity are always incremental, then we must, at the very least, make sure they keep up their momentum.