Parkville Station

Law school rejects seminar recording

The Melbourne Law School (MLS) has decided to stick to its position on lecture recordings, saying that it will not record them as a matter of course, despite University policy designed to encourage lectures to be recorded across the University.

Dean of the Law School, Professor Carolyn Evans, announced the decision in an email to JD students on Thursday, 29th September, saying “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”.

In particular, the Law School contends that their teaching material is delivered through “seminars” rather than “lectures” — the much-contested central university policy on lecture recording only covering the latter.

According to Evans’ email, “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.”

In 2013, the Academic Board — one of the University’s top decision-making bodies — agreed in principle to approve automatic recording of all timetabled lectures, making those lectures available on the LMS. The University also redoubled its programme of upgrading lecture theatres with lecture recording equipment.

Starting 2016, the University completed its move to an “opt out” model, in which all lectures are automatically recorded, except if a lecturer opts out (and provides an “acceptable” justification for why they’re making that decision).

A University-produced practice guideline provides some guidance on the circumstances under which a subject (or, in this case, group of subjects) are permitted to opt out of the policy. The closest match for this case is: “A class is being conducted as an active learning session, which makes substantial use of a question and answer format, break‐out discussions, or similar. In this case it may not be possible to capture the entire educational experience”.

The Melbourne University Law Students’ Society (MULSS) accepts the Dean’s decision. MULSS President, Henry Dow, told Parkville Station that MULSS was “satisfied that the decision of Dean Carolyn Evans was made after sincere consideration of the concerns raised by the cohort at Melbourne Law School, and the research conducted by both MULSS and the Later Law Students’ Network.”
Similarly, the Later Law Students’ Network on their website described themselves as “disappointed with the ultimate outcome”, but that they welcomed the acknowledgement from the Law School “that some students require more appropriate support”.

A key argument in support of lecture recording is student equity — making lectures available to students who, for various reasons, must miss certain lectures, have clashes, or learn better with the ability speed up or slow down the delivery of content.

Evans’ email addressed this point in some detail, saying that MLS would put in place measures to address students experiencing difficulty. “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).”
MULSS President Dow said the Law Students’ Society “trust[s] that assurances to improve the services to students most in need of lecture recordings will be faithfully kept, and look forward to assisting the Dean in these efforts.”

Recording of classes in Law emerged as an election issue in the 2016 University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) elections—as it has been in past years—with the successful More! ticket promising to “fight for law lectures and seminars to be recorded”.

One of UMSU Education (Academic Affairs) officers, Tom Crowley, was sanguine about MLS’ decision, saying that he didn’t feel it was inconsistent with the University’s lecture recording policy, a policy which UMSU has pushed hard for.

(Crowley ran in this election on the More! ticket for the Creative Arts committee, but emphasised that he couldn’t speak to their future position on education issues.)

“To the extent that the current policy encourages subject coordinators […] to think about how they can make their classes more interactive, and for faculty to have a detailed reason why it won’t record, it is consistent with the policy.”

Crowley also emphasised the importance of MLS, and other faculties that might go down this road, ensuring that lectures, recorded or otherwise, were accessible to students. “I think that particular consideration is the most important thing about lecture recordings — accessibility”.

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