1.Should staff agree to record lectures?
We believe that as currently formulated, the lecture capture policy could be very harmful to your interests, and not as helpful to students as it might be. We urge members therefore to think carefully about whether they choose to engage. Individuals have a number of options:
- Do not record lectures at all. The current policy (following the law) asks you to give permission for recording. You do not have to do so and you do not have to give a reason for this. Currently the University is attempting to gain your permission to record your sessions by asking you to complete a spreadsheet (sent to you in an email around 21/22 September). If you wish to complete the spreadsheet for planning purposes, we also suggest that you state that you do not agree for the University to record your lectures. A template letter for your line manager regarding this can be found here.
- If you do feel under pressure to make some recordings available, do not use the university facilities. Recording it yourself and uploading it to an independent site gives you far greater control over your work.
- Make sure you assert your moral and performance rights.
We believe that management will agree to negotiate an improved policy once they realise that the current version is unpopular and limiting take-up.
2. Aren’t UCU trying to block measures that are for the good of students?
No! UCU members are committed to supporting students, and we are not necessarily opposed to the recording of lectures per se. That is why we have been so keen to meet management and agree reasonable changes to the policy which will protect our members. Indeed we have been asking to negotiate this policy since 2017! In refusing to meet us or to accept any of our simple requests, it is management who are hampering students. If no progress is made, it may be the case that students are encouraged by management to blame us for denying them the chance to watch recorded lectures, but in fact we have been proactive and constructive in this situation, and if students feel aggrieved we would encourage them to ask management why they have not been willing to compromise.
Besides the research on the benefits of lecture capture is at best equivocal. Reputable research (there is much that is shoddy and / or published by firms with a financial interest in lecture capture software) suggests that attendance falls when recordings are made available. Marks often decline as well. It looks as if high-performing students who would get top grades anyway, benefit slightly; poorer students, those who are working or have home situations not conducive to study do significantly worse. Access to recordings reduces note-taking skills and evaluation of material, encouraging surface learning.
The University has gone ahead and promised recordings to students in the knowledge that students like the idea (although recordings are not always well used in practice) and in the hope that student pressure will make lecturers give in.
If management is confident that recordings will not infringe lecturers’ rights, why are they refusing to discuss it with UCU?
3. Isn’t this a case of resisting what is merely a modern method of teaching?
Recorded lectures are not the same as ones delivered in person. They may be just as good but the dynamic is different: it is not simply a matter of updating old-fashioned ideas. If management sees recordings as an extension of lectures, why not agree to restrict access to those who need it and to relevant times? If it is a supplement to attending lectures, why not make it available only for revision periods? Why should it be possible to download recordings? It is easy to download lectures from both Moodle and Blackboard Collaborate.
Moreover, the UNESCO statement on academic freedom, to which the UK is a signatory, lists freedom to choose teaching methods and content as a component of academic freedom. Demanding that all academics record their teaching breaches this.
4. Aren’t UCU blocking measures that are vital for disabled students?
This is also inaccurate. UCU has never opposed aides for disabled students who need them. On the other hand, not all disabled students have the same needs and we are concerned that the University is using lecture capture as cover for avoiding making adjustments that would really help or which are tailored to individual assessments. Where recordings would be genuinely useful, there are ways of making them available without giving them to all students and without stealing lecturers’ copyright.
5. But isn’t it true that lectures and other course materials are the University’s copyright?
Not exactly: it’s much more complicated. In fact, your contract of employment distinguishes between course materials (syllabus, module outlines, handouts) which are copyright of the university if drawn up in working hours and lecture notes which are the lecturer’s copyright. It is silent on the lectures themselves but if the notes on which a lecture are based is yours, then the lecture delivered from them is also yours, especially as there are issues of performance rights and moral rights (which belong to the lecturer) at stake as well. Has anyone ever been told that they may not deliver a lecture outside Roehampton? That is because the lecture itself is not the university’s to ban.
6. What’s the big deal? What are UCU’s concerns?
There are a number of problems with the current policy which was written without any consultation with UCU.
As it stands, these issues are problematic:
- The Data Protection Act states that all those who are identifiable (in this case, staff and students) must give their explicit permission. Automatic recoding breaches that. It also states that data (in this case the recording) should be deleted as soon as it is no longer needed. This provision is also breached in Roehampton’s approach.
- Although it says that it has no intention of ‘selling’ your lectures to others, this policy allows it to do so and management is refusing to alter it. Why? It also allows management to share the recordings with partners, to use them for others to deliver modules at Roehampton or elsewhere (an FE College perhaps where wages are lower, or a partner organization such as the one in Singapore, QA or any of their other existing private arrangements) even where you disapprove. The university has not denied an intention to share material.
- Your recorded lectures could be used during strikes; when you are ill; to reduce staff numbers; if you leave the university (just as they will use the research outputs of staff who have left for the REF) or if they decide to move you elsewhere. This would allow, eventually, a hierarchy of teaching with recorded lectures and lower-graded staff delivering seminars or workshops. There are already some teaching staff employed – in breach of all national agreements and in the face of UCU opposition – on grades below that of Lecturer.
- Your recorded lectures could be used against you in student complaint investigations, disciplinary hearings or performance reviews. They give a false sense of objectivity and as such can be highly problematic.
- There is very little except pious exhortation to prevent students – or others – abusing the recordings. In the States and in the UK students have uploaded lectures to youtube, circulated edited versions designed to mock lecturers or make them appear to be sexual harassers etc. There is nothing to prevent this happening at Roehampton except a pious statement that the university takes such abuse seriously, so seriously that it won’t specify consequences or take any measures to protect staff. Recording lectures yourself and making them available on your own site is slightly safer but not completely secure.
- Recordings on the internet can be spread and continue to have a life of their own, destroying reputations, even if ‘just’ allowing out-of-date material to circulate and brand academics as out of touch with the latest approaches and research.
- Copyright of material used is a serious issue. Under an educational license, material may be used in lectures because they are educational and In law, a recorded lecture is ‘published’ and so in most cases, written permission is needed and a fee payable. Otherwise there is an infraction of the law. Asking lecturers to obtain this permission would be extremely time-consuming and expensive; editing it out would also be time-consuming. The only safe alternative is not to use this material, not to illustrate lectures or enrich student learning. Students would then have a poorer experience than if no recording were made.
- Again, the law on defamation is different for ‘published’ materials, becoming libel with lower standards than slander. It is both easier to prove that it was said when it was recorded and has lower barriers to prosecution. Companies as well as individuals are very keen to use the threat of litigation: in one case a scientist was prosecuted for challenging claims that chiropractors could help cure asthma. He won but it took him two years and £200,000 to do so. Lecturers at Roehampton have neither the time nor the money to defend themselves like this. And this was no isolated example: there are a number of similar cases.
- Even where no formal case of libel is brought, academic freedom may be challenged in a number of politically-charged ways, from embassies objecting to throw-away comments about their countries, to the approach taken in teaching or individual campaigners challenging their perception of bias in teaching. Less than three years ago a Tory MP demanded the names of all academics teaching about European affairs: only one VC resisted. Imagine if lecture capture had been widespread then. It is far from clear that universities would have refused requests for recordings or protected staff harassed as a result..
- Management is refusing to allow time in workloads for the extra work involved in recording teaching sessions, checking copyright or even to allow for the editing out of students who did not wish to be recorded.
7. What changes are UCU asking for?
Management admitted over the summer that the changes we have asked for are not extensive. Our amendments flow from what management has declared about the policy, that it is about enhancing the experience for Roehampton students. There are two main areas we wish to change:
- If the preamble to the policy is correct, management should have no problems in limiting the use of recordings to make them available, via streaming rather than for downloading, for students registered on the relevant module while they are taking it.
- Again, if this is about helping Roehampton students then there is no reason to demand that the recordings become the University’s copyright. Firstly, this does not appear to conform to the contract of employment and secondly, it is pointless if they are merely aids to study.
We have also asked for time in the workload to deal with recordings, surely an unexceptional request if management wants us to do a good job? We have also asked for support in the unusual event of recordings becoming public. Again, we do not think that this is too much to ask from the employer pressing us to make the recordings in the first place.
8. Is this a new dispute?
No. We raised it several times in negotiating for a back in 2017. Management response then was to ignore us and pass a policy without discussion or even telling us that they were doing it. Since then we have been proactive in pointing out that we need to agree a policy. The Branch Chair raised it again informally in early March as the pandemic hit and in subsequent negotiating meetings and most recently UCU even re-wrote sections of the policy for management as tracked changes so that all they had to do was press ‘accept’. Management not only refuses to meet us to discuss the issue but won’t even tell us why they disagree!