The news that Durham’s law department is to schedule lectures for first years at oh eight hundred hours must have made some students wonder whether their “fall back” uni choice was not a better option. Going that far north (almost in Scotland) will be shock to the many Southerners who make the September trek up the Great Northern Road. Discovering that there are actually two eight o’clocks in the day may cause serious unhappiness for first year undergraduates.
And not just for the students. What about the lecturers? Those poor southern babies excited at their first academic post, shining doctorates on legal theory at the ready. And then the grim reality of a lecture theatre full of sleeping children, happily oblivious of the complexities of section 53(1)(c) LPA 1925, or the rule in Shelley’s case.
The papers say – and I have no inside knowledge – that it’s only for a year until the new building is finished and everyone can go back to a nine o’clock start. It seems rather careless to recruit more students than you have room for, but no doubt entitled bottoms on seats are needed to pay for the state of the art* accommodation.
I wonder why Durham didn’t take a bold step – which could also be extolled in suitably hyperbolic prose – and abolish – or at least suspend – the lectures altogether. Lectures no doubt had their place when books were rare and purposely written in small, dense type to make the writer look even cleverer. As a neophyte, you would have needed some knowledgeable type, who had better eyesight and more patience to explain things to you. Is that so necessary, now there are a whole plethora of books for all attention spans and abilities. Some law textbooks even have pictures, and colours and diagrams!
Some lecturers, a very few, bear you heavenwards like Peter Pan guiding you past the second star on the right and then straight on to a life time love of their subject. In my own limited experience, Professor Burn did this for land law. Alas, though, most lecturers are not Teddy Burn, nor do universities seem to audition their lecturers for golden globe potential. Some lecturers read from their own text books – which is probably good practice for aspiring barristers – others vie with each other to see how many words can be squeezed onto one power point slide.
I’ve also noticed that many students ignore lectures and lecture notes, and rely on power point handouts and crib books of A5 dimension. I was gratified when one of my students once reproduced my choicest bons mots and she automatically got a starred first†.
Recorded lectures, on demand, Netflix style are also good. They can provide a reassuring soundtrack for club rugby on the television, and can comfortably be combined with playing on your phone. You can feel virtuous that you’re doing some work, whilst catching up on the backlog of recordings clogging up Sky. I’ve got my doubts, as to the efficacy of that, but perhaps it’s my age.
Perhaps I’m being cynical. Just perhaps eight o’clock will be the perfect time for English Legal Systems and contract law and the marks and the student engagement will increase. I would have thought lectures into the night were the way forward. At least it will prepare the little darlings for those long years of all-nighters in their City firms.