Issue 3, Semester 1, 2019
It’s that time of year – re-litigating the Lecture Recordings DebateTM! New students, strap in: this has been going for some time.
At present, recordings of MLS classes are only made available to students who:
The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), the peak representative body for all Melbourne Uni students, is campaigning for unconditional access to recordings for students.
Why? Five reasons.
First: Stigma surrounding mental health may be turning students away from requesting recordings. MLS students experience psychological distress at a far higher rate (about 30%) than the general population (about 13%). But Australian law students are reluctant to seek help: 39% would not seek professional help for depression. In a 2013 study, MLS staff and students recognised that law students under-report depression, anxiety and stress symptoms - which they are poor at acknowledging. Eligible students may not be requesting recordings, due to stigma. Making recordings accessible will de-stigmatise access to this resource, letting students choose whether to reveal their disability or personal situation at their own discretion.
Second: Working students need recordings to stay up-to-date with classes. Most postgrad coursework students work, and 43% often need to use online alternatives because of work. But many students aren't eligible for recordings. They may not control their work schedule, and must choose between class and work – despite the average Melbourne student suffering rental strain. Unconditional access to recordings supports working students, so nobody is forced to choose between work and study.
Third: Heavily-weighted assessments are the biggest contributor to distress among MLS students. Law students consider the ability to revise before assessments as the greatest advantage of online course material. Making recordings available would reduce student anxiety, especially before assessments. This reduction in stress is even stronger for EAL speakers.
Fourth: The current policy disadvantages speakers of English as an additional language (‘EAL speakers’). For EAL speakers, recordings would improve comprehension and reduce assessment stress. This is particularly true for law students, because recordings enable revision of content multiple times. Permitting access to recordings would welcome international students who are EAL speakers, and improve their perception of MLS’s support systems.
Fifth: Making recordings available will support student autonomy and mental health. A 2013 study found many MLS students feel “controlled, misunderstood and/or undersupported by both their teachers and the faculty generally.” Students believe faculty don’t make a real effort to understand students’ difficulties, and expect students “to be on campus four days per week and attend all classes”. This restrictiveness is directly related to high rates of psychological distress. Conversely, 80% of students believe recordings make learning easier: letting students revise, catch up, review difficult content, focus on listening during class, listen on evenings and weekends, and while cleaning or commuting. Making recordings available to all students lets students determine the learning style that works best for them.
To quickly rebut MLS faculty’s arguments in favour of the current policy:
First: Attendance will decrease. The educational literature considers this argument “largely unsubstantiated” and “rigid”. Use of class recordings has no impact on attendance.
Second: MLS classes are seminars, not lectures. MLS classes meet the University’s own definition of a lecture: “an instructor (lecturer) delivers information, which is often accompanied by visual aids, to a classroom of students. A lecture may involve some elements of interactivity, but this is not the substantial mode of instruction...student activity is generally limited to taking notes and/or asking the occasional, unpromoted question.” MLS faculty acknowledges the closeness of MLS classes to this description: “Some students have noted that at least some teachers are lecturing for a fair bit of class time now.” MLS classes can be accurately described as lectures.
Third: Recordings inhibit intellectual exchange. Recordings are already available to significant (though insufficient) numbers of students on the grounds listed above, so making recordings available to the whole cohort would not inhibit staff’s speech. Students are often inaudible on recordings, so lecturers must repeat questions into the microphone. Thus, recording does not deter students who fear being identified on recordings. Rather, a competitive “winners and losers” culture prevents students speaking up: only 47% of JD respondents agreed MLS encourages students to form healthy, supportive relationships with each other.
Fourth: Industry doesn’t like recordings. “[F]eedback from employers, including the legal profession, was supportive of the current policy”. The legal profession has little standing to prescribe pedagogical approaches to reduce distress among law students, graduates, or new lawyers. Australian lawyers are the profession most likely to experience depression and anxiety, and more likely to use alcohol or drugs to cope. Legal education doesn’t “weed out” uncommitted students, or teach students coping skills: unhappy students are becoming unhappy lawyers. Hopefully “employers” consulted by faculty don’t include KWM, facing the first ever WorkSafe investigation into a law firm for allegedly overworking graduates in “gruelling conditions” where grads slept under desks rather than return home.
UMSU Education is campaigning for lecture recordings throughout 2019. To support the campaign, please sign our petition: bit.ly/MLSrecordings.
To support our campaigns for student equity, visit UMSU Education at bit.ly/umsued, on Facebook, and Instagram.
Cam is a Third Year JD Student, and a former De Minimis Sub-Editor (2018)
Other articles in this issue: