RHUL UCU Concern for Classroom Recordings

Izzi Vaughan | Editor in Chief

A Royal Holloway UCU Working Group have raised concerns on the use of classroom recordings for the wellbeing, safety and teaching experience of both staff and students. I spoke to them about their concerns and the impacts of classroom recordings.

The biggest concern raised by UCU staff was that the classroom would no longer remain a safe space. In particular, staff raised the issues of domestic safety of some students and staff in unsafe living environments, where their privacy in the classroom can be incredibly important for their personal safety. Also, the wellbeing of some international students who perhaps have come to the UK to study from countries where freedom of speech is not a protected right. As such, some students may find themselves in a similar position where their freedom of speech is restricted in the classroom. One staff member commented that such a learning environment becomes ‘genuinelly potentially dangerous’.

Such safety and privacy concerns lead on to concerns of participation in the classroom. If students no longer feel safe and protected in the classroom then it becomes less likely that students will participate with such awareness of a recording taking place. In my own experience, the recording of classroom spaces creates an ucomfortable and exposed environment which discourages the discussion and debate necessary for effective learning.

The recording of classroom spaces creates a difficult dichotomy for students who do not feel comfortable being recorded, for whatever reason: to opt out of recording, or to not speak up. Commonly students will choose the latter, easier option in recorded classes. Staff raised their concern that this will change the dynamic of the classroom space, and that in some instances staff may avoid certain topics for awareness of the recording. Such a classroom environment creates a distinct ‘fear of being wrong’ which ‘threatens pedagogy’, and makes teaching ‘extroadinarily difficult’. The thought process must be involved in the teaching process, and loosing the privacy and the safety of the classroom environment threatens that.

Online learning since March has also placed a huge strain on the workloads and wellbeing of both staff and students. Within a very short space of time staff were asked to change their entire teaching practice, recording lectures and moving classes online using technology and methods they were not familiar with and had not been trained for. One staff member mentioned that making one edit to one video can take up to half an hour, more so if there are multiple edits necessary. Such an excess of workloads has now become expected, with a growing concern amoung staff of the casualisation of contracts and unpaid labour. Students have also faced increased workloads due to online learning, with lectures which would normally last 50 minutes lasting upwards of two hours on occasion, due to such a loss of schedule and structure in the learning environment.

The policy which was put in place for online learning last March was an emergency measure which simply pushed on with the university policy for lecture capture. Staff commented that the policy for online learning and classroom recording seemingly reflects university management prioritising what is cheap but not what is best or safest, and without consideration for staff expertise or wellbeing.

Such a change to the learning environment also diminishes the mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students. Where classroom recordings become available, it becomes a lot easier for students to miss lectures and classes and eventually, to not watch the recordings. We have already seen the impacts of online learning on mental health, reflecting the risks of classroom recordings to the wellbeing of staff and students. One staff member commented that pastoral care was a hugely important part of their job, but when they are suffering as we are, that role becomes increasingly difficult.  

With online learning since March, staff have been pushed into putting more effort into logistics than teaching. Attendance has been low, and the wellbeing of staff and students alike has plummeted. The use of classroom recordings after lockdown will only see an extension of the problems and concerns faced with online learning, and the educational environment and teaching process will be put at risk.

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