By Francis Stagg
At present, there exists throughout the law school a movement to make classes available to students via online recordings. In this brief report, I will not defer to the merits of such a process; most of them are obvious and stem from the benefits of being able to access material instantaneously.
Rather, I seek to identify the dangers that are inherent in a move towards “online education.”
Firstly, it is worth noting that the teaching model at the school is tailored towards seminars, not lectures. This means that the ‘kind’ of learning that is currently practised requires a back-and-forth exchange between teachers and students. If a student explores this new content via recordings, they necessarily deprive themselves of this interactive component. For example, the student is incapable of deciphering the teacher’s body language, thus missing out on the physical emphasis placed upon a given point.
This is but one initial concern I have with what amounts to a far greater evil: the ‘uberisation’ of education.
Uberisation is no novel concept. Many aspects of modern society reflect this push towards achieving maximum output resulting from minimal input. This is a perfectly viable solution to an age-old question; how best to distribute a finite allocation of resources. However, there must be limits to a system of resource allocation that pursues maximum efficiency over and above all else.
In recent years, the task of facilitating maximal efficiency has seen a near-absolute displacement of traditionally human components in favour of wholly or substantially computerised processes. If this remark strikes you as far-fetched, I invite you to log in to Facebook and observe how the modern day social encounter has become inherently ‘digital.’
Which brings me to my central point. If the school were to wholeheartedly release recorded seminars, I am convinced that class attendance would necessarily suffer. Of course, students would still endeavour to attend classes. This will be especially so in the first month of semester. However, this does not account for the impact that would potentially be seen over an entire semester, or indeed a three-year degree, let alone the impact that might be seen over decades. For many, at some point, diligence will give way to practicality. Class attendance would therein be diminished.
The problem of reduced attendance is not just academic in nature. It also encompasses broader, socio-cultural qualities. To understand how this is the case, it is necessary to contemplate the current arrangement at the school.
The current set up is unique. Notwithstanding special circumstances, class recordings are not released to the main cohort. In effect, this has more or less created one hundred percent attendance. As a result of this, there exists a strong culture of scholarship, commitment and community. Such a culture would be sorely missing in a series of progressively sub-attended classes. Indeed, as soon as attendance is compromised, one loses the opportunity to make friends; to make acquaintances; to even observe and be around one’s peers.
In essence, this is why I think that the school should never make available seminar recordings to all students without restraint. In today’s landscape, where everything is being computerised and made instantaneous, we are nullifying a real, human element in our society. The ‘people factor’ is giving way to electronic screens. Given that the school has maintained a strict policy against recorded lectures, it would be a shame to see it succumb (in part) to the uberisation of education. This is especially poignant when so many other facets of our lifestyle have already been subsumed by the ‘digital revolution.’
Francis is a Second Year JD Student