Network of Teachers of Land & Property

Month: June 2018

Introducing the Virtual Land Law Field Trip Project

by Dr Verona Ní Drisceoil, University of Sussex

This blog post provides a brief introduction to the concept, development and implementation of the Virtual Land Law Field Trip Project @Sussex. It also revisits some of the key arguments in favour of the incorporation of the ‘visual’ in our teaching.

The concept

The Virtual Land Law Field Trip Project @ Sussex grew out of a simple desire to take students out of the lecture theatre and on a ‘field trip’ through the use of bespoke videos. In terms of early conceptualisation, the project sought to offer a counter to traditional lecture and seminar modes of instruction and to provide a means – through video – to move further into reality and help our students in their spatial understanding of the subject matter and to see, and feel, the operation of land law in practice.

Once filming began however the primary objective of the project shifted somewhat. The project, and ultimately I, became driven by a desire to provide a space within which to challenge the narratives of, and in, the land law curriculum. The primary objective was no longer therefore merely about using the visual to enhance “response strengthening and information acquisition” (Mayer, 2009) but it was also about building another platform for constructive and deep learning and to tap into our students “zone of proximal development”. (See previous blog by Graham Ferris)

The videos – 10 as it currently stands – are intended therefore to provide a platform, within the land law module, to ask questions of the curriculum itself. Who is land law for? Who does it alienate and exclude? In this respect, the project is inspired by the work of Cowan, Layard and Finchett-Maddock (to name but a few) in challenging themes of “alienation, exclusion, responsibility and power” within the subject of land law (Cowan, Fox O’ Mahony and Cobb, 2016).

The videos are short in length and include topics on homelessness, the housing crisis and the Grenfell Disaster.

Development and implementation

Filming for the video project began in January 2017 and ended in July 2017. To produce the videos, I worked with two students from the School of Music, Media and Film. Though time consuming, this was a most rewarding process and experience and certainly endorsed Eilam’s theory on the “dual function of visual literacy” (2012). According to Eilam, when teachers increase their visual literacy they improve as teachers because they are better able to select, construct and use appropriate instructional communications. Teachers improve as teachers (and learners) when they improve their knowledge of how to use and interpret visual representations.

Following the process of video revisions and editing (July/August 2017), the videos were then uploaded to YouTube (private setting selected) which in turn allowed me to upload and add to our VLE before the start of the 2017/18 academic term.

Next Steps

Whilst I am happy with the videos produced for this project – and the objective of providing a platform to engage, critique and question – on reflection, I am not happy with the way in which the videos have been utilised and embedded into the module. Further work is needed before the next academic year to ensure more effective engagement and use of the videos and to ensure more tangible links with learning outcomes and assessment. Over the summer period therefore, it is my intention to further develop the videos by using technologies such as H5P, Vizia or EdPuzzle to make the videos more interactive by asking questions at different points during the videos, for example. It is also hoped that we will be able to allow space this year for students to develop their own land law videos in groups.

Does it matter? Is there any benefit to utilising a more visual approach in the teaching of land law?

I absolutely agree that there is no point in innovation for the sake of ‘innovation’ or the use of technology for the sake of it, but the research clearly tells us – particularly that of Richard Mayer – that multimedia instruction does works. It works because of how the human mind works. The rationale for presenting material in both “words and pictures” or “as dynamic visual representations” is that it takes advantage of the full capacity of humans for processing information. Learners have different sensory paths. There is more than one channel for learning, observing and sensing. Multimedia instruction therefore taps into different sensory modalities for learning.

Whilst there is no denying that verbal and written representations hold, and should hold, a most privileged place in the discipline of law and by correlation in legal education, the concept of literacy in legal education could “be broadened to include more visual representations so as to foster more meaningful learning” (Eilam, 2012: xiii). More visual representations need not replace the text and the verbal but rather these forms of instruction can be used to enhance and support and to allow situations ‘speak’ for themselves and to allow for a more “multisensory approach” (Brunschwig, 2012, 2014) in the lecture theatre and the seminar room.


Drawing Students into Property Law

by Dr Susan Farran, Northumbria University 

At the time of writing the Commonwealth games are in progress on Australia’s Gold Coast, which reminds me that it was rumoured that ‘parkour’ or freerunning (‘an athletic activity in which the participant seeks to move quickly and fluidly through an area, often an urban locale, by surmounting obstacles such as walls and railings and leaping across open spaces, as in a stairwell or between buildings’ [the free dictionary]) might be nominated as an Olympic sport. This would be an interesting badging of acceptance of an activity that can, in some forms, involve trespass, nuisance, invasions of privacy and disregard of the most fundamental aspect of property rights: excludability.

Taking over the use and benefit of  surfaces of the built and natural environment without the entitlement of ownership  manifests itself in a number of ways, especially those surfaces – whether in public or private ownership – which can be accessed, more or less easily, by the public. If one looks around there is evidence of surface uses which challenge definitions and understandings of property law. For example, across the road from King’s Cross station (opposite the imposing red brick St Pancras Hotel) is a building with a mural over its façade. It is too extensive to be merely graffiti and was no doubt commissioned, perhaps as trompe d’oeil. But what if it was graffiti? Who would own it? This dilemma arose in the case of a  piece by the secretive but well-known graffiti artist, Banks, called ‘Mobile lovers’ which appeared on the boarded up doorway of a building leased by Bristol Council to a youth group. Graffiti is illegal, insofar as such acts can attract criminal and civil liability. But Banksy’s work fetches high prices and the discovery gave rise to a bidding war. But who should benefit: the youth club that leased the building and so were in possession; the council that owned the building; the city art gallery that took the work in for safekeeping ‘for the citizens of Bristol’; the graffiti artist who owned the intellectual property in the piece? Or was this equivalent to what Gray called ‘property in thin air’: property belonging to no one or property belonging to everyone? Or was this really a debate about property interests in art rather than property interests in part of a building (for the board was attached to the building)? If so were there different rules?

This one example could lead us to consider a range of property law questions. For instance:

  • Is this a question of public or private law and where is the division?
  • Is an art work the same type of property as a building? Is it governed by the same law?
  • In what circumstances is or might graffiti be acceptable and why?
  • Whose interests are being weighed against each other and what does this tell us about the values which inform the rules which shape property law?

Graffiti is just one example which might be used to ‘draw’ students into property law. There are of course many others such as spikes placed in doorways to prevent rough sleepers; ninja knitting of physical objects to protest development; the exclusion of the public from national heritage sites; the physical benefits and drawbacks of easements and covenants; provisions for and objections to skateboarders; restrictions and prohibitions on the use of and access to public parks; the ways in which regeneration of neglected or unsightly areas (including guerrilla gardening) might raise different property interests and challenge existing claims; the impact of certain disasters on property rights and liabilities and so on. Teaching property law does not have to start with 1066, 1925, unregistered and registered land or section 1 of any legislation!

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