Volume 10, Issue 11
Recently we all received an email from the Dean of MLS Carolyn Evans (see below this article). She methodically outlined the reasons the law school would not take the step to record our seminars. Some of you may have felt anger, confusion, indignation or apathy.
I am a student in the mentioned small group of students whose genuine ongoing medical needs for lecture capture were acknowledged then brushed aside. I’d be lying if I said I was surprised, or even that angry. Just disappointed.
When you have a disability you hope that policies that welcome students with a disability would lead to substantive, rather than formal, equality. There are steps by administrators, staff and other students to make this happen. Steps like 10 days extensions, friendly emails from lecturers letting you know you can drop in in their available hours to discuss the readings and students who offer to give you their notes from classes you missed.
As the Dean correctly pointed out, seminars are a great way to have a dialogue and interact with lecturers and other students. They are fantastic. Recording lectures would be a poor substitute.
As a person with a disability I’m okay with poor substitutes. I’ve been getting them all my educational life. I’ve done readings while still sick in bed and emailed off questions, I’ve put in the extra work. Yesterday morning, after a seizure the day before, I felt like I was glued to the bed, like my brain was filled with mashed potato but I forced myself to get up and to university. I physically sat in Remedies while drifting in and out of sleep and understanding. I did this, as I have done many times, because I couldn’t afford to miss the class. There would be no opportunity to go back and listen to it when I was feeling functional. This is not constructive to learning or wellbeing.
I should be finishing my degree at MLS soon. This is not why the lack of change doesn’t rouse me to action. Other students with disabilities will still be here but they know what they are getting into - they’ve experienced this their whole lives. Having to work around things, work harder and work smarter to get to the same result is disability 101. My anger is tempered by the fact I am completely certain the result of this agitating of the law school will, at some point in the future, be to record seminars.
It’s somewhat analogous to same sex marriage. It affects a small minority of people greatly. Formal equality is not what is being asked for - we all have the same opportunity to go to seminars. Substantive equality is being asked for because not everyone is able to do so. The majority wants it to happen. One of the reservations are that it will “cheapen” seminars for everyone else. I am disappointed that it hasn’t happened yet because it will, and it will be embarrassing to be behind other universities. But time is the enemy of conservatism, and MLS cannot cling on to indirectly discriminatory policies for much longer.
Katy Hampson is a second-year JD student
The rest of this week’s issue of De Minimis:
Below is the email sent to students of the Melbourne JD by Dean of the MLS, Carolyn Evans. It has been reproduced with the Dean's permission.
Lecture recordings: Message from the Dean
Dear JD students
Over the last twelve months, students and faculty have been having their say about the desirability of moving to a system of using lecture capture for all or most law school classes. There have been serious and thoughtful representations made by people on various sides of this argument and for that reason I am writing to set out the Law School’s response to this issue in light of the debate. While these debates have taken some time, the Law School building at present is not set up for lecture capture in most teaching spaces and the work that would be required to set it up would be extensive and could only take place over summer if it is not to interfere with classes. For that reason, there was time to get views from a wide range of people.
In short, we have decided that we will not be moving to use lecture capture as a general matter but that we will work to try to implement a better system next year to support students who are registered as having on-going special consideration issues that might require lecture recording as part of their support package.
Neither students nor staff spoke with a single voice on this matter, although it could probably be said fairly that students were generally in favour of recording and lecturers were generally against. The Law Students Society made representations in favour of recording, partly on the basis of a survey that showed a clear majority of responding students to be in favour of recording. There was a wide-spread consensus from all consulted that we needed to be able to provide appropriate support to students with chronic or long-term special needs that made attending all lectures difficult and that is a work in progress with a new system to be implemented next year.
The reasons for the decision not to record lectures are outlined below.
First, faculty with experience of teaching in other law schools where taping of lectures is routine have noted that when recording is routinely used it tends to lead to a reduction in the numbers attending a class – sometimes to a very substantial reduction. Some students have responded to this by saying that this should not be considered a problem – those who want to come will attend and those who do not should be free to listen by lecture capture if they prefer to. However, the JD has been established as a degree which relies on a learning community in the classroom. We have kept class sizes limited on the basis that students should get to know one another and learn from one another as well as from the teacher. A reduction in the attendance of classes changes the type of learning community that we are trying to create.
Second, the JD uses seminar style teaching rather than lecturing and this form of teaching is not particularly conducive to being recorded. Again, the experience of some who have taught in environments in which recording is used as a matter of course is that there is pressure on teachers to teach in a manner which is suitable for recording – more lecturing from the teacher and less class participation in particular. Some students have noted that at least some teachers are lecturing for a fair bit of class time now, however, we see this as something that we should be working to change rather than to encourage through the use of recording. Classes at a graduate level should be participatory and engaged in a way that makes recording of limited utility and we will work towards that goal.
For this reason, I would also note that the claims that the MLS approach is in breach of university policy is incorrect. That policy only requires the recording of lectures and not seminars. MLS received assurances before the policy was implemented that it would not impact on teaching in the Law School but rather was designed for the very large lectures where the teaching style is quite different.
Third, there was a concern by some teachers and students that being recorded would inhibit both students and teachers from engaging as freely in intellectual exchange as they might in an environment where recording was not used. Students who might be nervous about putting their views to a class might be even more reluctant to do so if they know that their comments (including potentially mistakes) might be heard by a much wider group. Teachers who brought elements of their experience in practice or knowledge from their wider networks into the classroom were not always comfortable doing so if the information that they shared might be available to a wider audience.
Finally, feedback from employers, including the legal profession, was supportive of the current policy. A number noted their concerns that where law students had started to ‘dial in’ their legal education rather than participating fully in class, they did not have the same opportunity to build their oral and inter-personal skills as did those who had the challenge of participating in classes held face to face. Consultation with the legal profession showed that the policy of generally not recording was seen as a positive for MLS graduates by employers.
For these reasons we have decided that it is not appropriate at this time to move to recording classes. We do, however, acknowledge the serious problems that this causes for a small group of students whose medical or other serious and on-going problems means that they are regularly precluded from participating in classes. We will be working towards a solution to those issues (noting that lecture capture itself is not always the best solution given the problems that the system has been experiencing this semester in other faculties). Students affected in this way at present should discuss their circumstances with the wellbeing coordinator, email@example.com. We will have a more developed response by the start of next year.
We acknowledge that there are other reasons that students might miss classes from time to time because of sickness, work responsibilities and other commitments but we believe that these occasional absences can be dealt with through ad hoc meetings with teachers, sharing notes with other students and undertaking the readings. It is also important that attending classes be understood as a serious responsibility and not something that can or should give way to other priorities unless they are of the most pressing nature.
Students also suggested that they would like to be able to listen to some classes several times, perhaps later in the semester when the materials are starting to come together. Faculty did not believe that this was an effective or useful way to engage in revision and that students would be better focusing their limited time on more active forms of learning.
I know that this outcome will be disappointing to many students and I would like to thank members of the student body for the thoughtful and articulate way in which they have shared their views on this issue. We have taken these very seriously and only came to a final decision after detailed discussion and debate. We have done so in the context of understanding that over time we are likely to have more blended learning with on-line videos or recordings available to all students as part of the standard curriculum. This might help to mitigate some of the concerns expressed by students. I acknowledge, however, that this is a medium term solution and not an immediate one.
We have only come to this conclusion because we believe that it will provide you with the best quality legal education and the best teaching experience overall. We take teaching very seriously with our lecturers putting a lot of time and effort into classes, which is why they are concerned about anything that might undermine the quality of learning here. I have set out our reasons in some detail because I believe that the arguments that you have put forward deserve a respectful and detailed response, even though I know that many of you will not appreciate the outcome.