Even though it was nearly five years ago now, I remember applying to university extremely clearly. We were told in no uncertain terms that a university education was the gateway to a civilised, more mature way of life, and that if we thought the work was hard in Upper Sixth then, quelle surprise, we’d struggle at university. This seemed perfectly reasonable then, and it remains so now. The simple fact of the matter is that university is meant to be difficult – otherwise, why would anyone actually bother going?
It is with this in mind that I view the recent campaign to make it so that lecturers have to opt out of “lecture capture,” an umbrella term for recording lectures and making them available to students online, in a dim light. I have every confidence in the world that those behind the campaign have the best interest of students at heart but, as they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.
First of all, the campaign is being a bit disingenuous. They merely want to switch it from “opt-in” to “opt-out,” they claim, a seemingly minor, manageable, and innocent change. However, this falsely emollient language conceals the fact that “opt-out” systems invariably have exceedingly few who actually opt out of them (why else would they be so desirable?).
Inevitably, most lecturers will end up using lecture capture, with the very predictable outcome of the remaining minority of academics being pressured into doing so by either their colleagues or their students. Therefore, I wish the campaigners would just be honest. Ultimately, they want everything to be recorded. Unless, of course, the lecturer has a “valid reason” not to do so, a term which the campaign has deliberately left ambiguous.
You may well shrug your shoulders at this: I mean, so what if all lectures are recorded? It’ll help those that miss them, after all. We’ve all been too ill to leave bed at some point and, as the campaign points out, having a recording of their lectures would provide a great boon to those that are perhaps not as able as other students. So, chop chop, Professor, and don the microphone, if you’d be so kind. Oh, and ignore the camera – just pretend it isn’t there.
However, whilst these benefits (may) be conferred to some students, I think to make members of staff “op-out” of lecture capture would be detrimental to the University experience and impact the wider student population. The campaigners haven’t really addressed the elephant in the room: far fewer people would actually go to lectures and classes if they knew that they’d be immediately available online. I mean, I know I wouldn’t.
The effect on most people’s education would be immediate and obvious. As much as people may like to pretend otherwise, it is much more edifying to actually be in the room with your lecturer or tutor and listen to the lecture in person as opposed to staying in and half-heartedly looking at the recording of it online. This also removes the possibility of asking questions and getting difficult concepts explained to you immediately, with a student’s education suffering as a result.
Something that I think most people have neglected to consider is that teaching would be changed greatly by the introduction of an “opt-out” system for lecture capture. Most academics entered the profession because they love teaching, and lecturing to a truncated audience isn’t really why most academics took the job. Lecture capture would make sure that lecture theatres are never full.
The campaigners have also seemingly missed the fact that the problems they outline would surely be better solved by talking to academics on an individual level, rather than coercing the whole University into changing their teaching practice. If you have a disability which disadvantages you in your studies, you should tell someone: it’s hard to imagine that the University would be unable or unwilling to help.
It’s not like this hasn’t been debated before, either. The School of International Relations has previously promised to “actively fight” the introduction of lecture capture, pointing out that recordings of lecturers expressing their political position may have a detrimental effect on the careers of the School’s academics. My lecturers discouraged bringing laptops into class, stressing that busily typing notes is worse than sitting up and actually listening.
Lecture capture is also mandatory for the School of Medicine and, given that the University’s policy was reviewed just a few months ago, I doubt there’s much appetite for change. I’m not seeking to restrict higher education to the most able; I recognise that there are people that struggle with lectures more than others. However, effectively coercing faculty members into changing their teaching practice is surely not the answer.
Those that require extra help should instead try and reach an accommodation with their individual lecturers; an “opt-out” system would be exploited far too quickly for it to be effective or desirable.