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The North Ignites a New Community of Learning and Social Justice

It is a grey and cold Manchester morning, mist clings to our dungarees whilst our hobnail boots make a timpani counterpoint to the droning of mill machines.

Upon arriving at the University of Manchester campus, the site of our conference, ‘How to succeed: Level 1 and Level 2 Law Conferences 23/24’ these phantoms are superseded by the welcoming faces of academics from the Student Experience Management team: Jen Harper, Bryony Gilbert, Ash Odedra and Wannette Van Eg Dom- Tuinstra. Our smiles and energy dissipate the industrial gloom of a city past, and this phoenix, a Northern powerhouse of knowledge is born as our students and staff congregate, meeting, greeting and excitedly choosing sessions and merchandise, as badges of their community of learning.

This community of learning was powered by the intrepid and vivacious students who descended on Manchester from far and wide in the UK, to roll up their sleeves and graft to develop their skills and knowledge; who unabashedly took risks, moving out of their comfort zones to test their ideas, and be challenged by those whose experiences were very different their own. This conference became a forge of new friendships and connections, making social media dull and redundant in comparison to the vibrancy of a live event.

One student expressed that this face-to-face learning opportunity transformed her feelings about law as a career and confirmed her decision to study at the OU Law School.

The sense of occasion was matched, as students were inspired by meeting in person, our special guests, Professor Devendra Kodwani (former Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law), Carol Sheriff (Associate Dean of Student Experience and Teaching Delivery) and Hugh McFaul (Head of Law School). These guests bestowed the significance of this site, this event, that even as sister conferences in Belfast and London were simultaneously taking place, the OU heartbeat was in the North that Saturday.
And rightly so, because just as the OU Law School is distinguished for its social justice ethos, this seamless community of learning, honoured this legacy in Manchester. 

In the W111 module sessions, led by Stephen Page, Amanda Smith and Wannette Van Eg Dom - Tuinstra students put the austerity measures themselves on trial.

In the W112 module sessions Katie Jukes and Liz Pryke paid homage to the pioneering spirit of one woman, of low economic standing, who over 100 years ago established the foundations of the law of negligence and levelled the playing field.

New futures were also imagined as students tried on the horsehair wig and gown of barrister Stephen Page who shared not only his day-to-day duties but heartened our learners with his unconventional path to the bar, borne of a natural evolution from campaigning for social justice.

These futures drew closer as Francine Ryan presented the challenges of Artificial Intelligence in Law, and together with Simon Lavis, invited students into the conversation on these ethical dimensions, relevant for students right now, and as future lawyers.

Forward into the future, Carrie Fox, Louise Ravenscroft and Debbie Wood, equipped learners with the tools of the legal scholar. Essay writing and research skills were honed for effective studying now, whilst skills in IRAC and using legal sources were sharpened as tools for learners now, as well as beyond, into legal practice. 

This was a conference for students, yet one in which our staff also became partners in this learning experience as expressed by Associate Lecturer and Student Experience Manager, Katie Jukes: 

Spending the day with so many students, and also fellow OU colleagues, in 'real life' rather than on a screen, was a wonderfully shared human experience and a day to treasure - can't wait for the next one!'

For all the intense learning that took place, the highlight of the conference was the opportunity for students to meet each other and their tutors in person. Uninhibited by online rooms and screens, students at the Level 1 and Level 2 Law Conferences 23/24 in Manchester were liberated to learn from our presenters as well as from each other. The conference instilled confidence in their learning, whilst reflecting their confidence in the OU Law School’s ability to provide a first class legal education and equip them to share in our mission.

 A community of learning, is a community with transformational power, and this Saturday our students sparked a new community of liberated thought, with the gritty determination as the standard ingredient of OU Law students, harnessed to edgy dynamism powering their collective Northern heart, beating to pioneer a new kind of learning for social justice. 

We are academics from the Student Experience Team rising to the rewarding challenges of innovating teaching in higher education and delivering excellence to our diverse student body at Europe's largest law school.

We are committed to teaching, as well as learning from our students, and creating a mutual learning environment.

'Where the student and teacher come together, there is the learning.’