On the use of lecture capture software

During the recent bad weather a student who was unable to make it to a lecture asked if I could record it and make it available through Panopto, the lecture capture platform Northumbria is subscribed too. I've been thinking about this a lot recently and below is an extended version of the email i sent the student with the reasons why myself and colleagues are not using it very much.

Dear Student

Lecture capture software is controversial at the moment. While it can act as a useful tool there are a series of reasons why staff aren’t using it very much, and until these issues are resolved myself and colleagues are not using it. The arguments are below.

Pedagogically, Panopto and similar systems are seen as a useful learning tool because it allows students to revisit a lecture. For science subjects where there is a correct answer, or in medicine there you want to be sure students learnt everything, this makes sense. In discursive subjects, such as a human geography, where value is placed on arguments, a system where students focus too much on what is said in lectures can lead to too narrow an understanding of the material. A much wider understanding come from students reading around the topic and developing their own argument based on a variety of material, ideally going beyond what is covered in a lecture and is on a reading list. We don’t want to reinforce this narrow mode of learning where students come to understand lectures as the key site for learning. You’ll see in assignment outlines that repeating what was in a lecture isn’t going to get very good marks. We want to foster independent learning and critical thinking skills so when you graduate and won’t necessarily have someone instructing you, you have the ability to develop your own ideas.

Related to the previous point, there is a concern that recording a lecture will see attendances drop. Dedicated students will likely still attend, but those with a different attitude may decide to miss classes but then not catch up. Data on viewings of online courses (MOOCs) shows that a very small percentage of students watch all the material.

Recording a lecture also have the potential to change the nature of the session. Staff may become more self-conscious and therefore everyone suffers because the information is not communicated as effectively as it might have been. Giving a lecture to a class of students whose attention you can track, and whose understanding you can check, is different to providing distance learning materials. Having students in the room allows a lecturer to reiterate points, expand on, or even skip elements depending on how well the class is following. This process also helps lecturers get better at knowing what works and what doesn’t.

Some staff may object to being recorded for personal reasons. They may have had bad experiences in the past, recordings may have been misused or there might be mental health issues acerbated through the recording process. There is an increasing audit culture within academia and while peer observation can be a useful process, knowing that management may login and watch your teaching without you knowing may negatively influence performance management, development opportunities and promotion chances.

Hopefully you have noticed that colleagues and myself like to make lectures interactive, involving the class by asking questions, having discussions and doing exercises. The feedback we get from students through various mechanism is that this makes lectures better and more enjoyable. But this can be difficult to do when students are nervous about contributing and we are acutely aware that we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. This is why we ask for volunteers to answer questions rather than calling on individuals who may suffer from anxiety or are not comfortable speaking in front of such a big class. If students know a lecture, and therefore their contribution to a lecture, is being recorded, it’s going to change the nature of interaction, potentially stopping it from happening at all. That is something we want to avoid for pedagogic and mental health reasons. Turning the recording system on and off isn’t really an option as that will impact the flow of a lecture in other ways.

There is currently no agreement between the University and the University and College Union about how lecture recordings can and should be used. There is a fear than once a set of lectures have been recorded the lecturer is no longer needed and can be asked to do other things, or worse sacked. You’re probably aware Newcastle University staff have been on strike this week and they have an agreement that lecture recordings can only be made available to students to whom that lecture was delivered. However, there are suggestions this agreement has been breached and lectures recorded last year have been made available to students this year while staff have been protesting. This fundamentally undermines the right to withdraw labour and threatens the position of staff. This is obviously a very serious issue and until a formal agreement has been reached many staff are reluctant to use Panopto.

In relation to agreements, there needs to be more clarity about who owns the performance element of a lecture recording. At the moment universities own materials we produce for lectures, but what ownership they have over our delivery is unclear. By recording lectures there could be an assumption universities own our performance copyright without formal agreements about this. An institution may seek additional value from a module by making the materials available through Panopto to students on other degrees or even in other countries through franchise agreements. We would like to think our modules are interesting and of use to other students, but they are not for distant learning. Developing those kinds of materials is difficult and should be done, and rewarded properly.

Memoryscapes Press Release

Memories brought to life in city arts project

Northumbria University has received a £60,000 grant to help develop new ways for people to share and access heritage and memories of significant events in Newcastle city centre.

Working in partnership with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and FaulknerBrowns Architects, the University will investigate how museum artefacts or historical events can be brought to life with input from members of the public, using technology in settings in and around the city.

 Northumberland Street, 1915 from  Newcastle Libraries Collection

Northumberland Street, 1915 from Newcastle Libraries Collection


The nine-month long research project has been jointly-funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of a national scheme worth £1.88 million to explore the future of immersive experiences. 

It will see academics from Northumbria’s Geography, Architecture, Computing and Humanities departments share their expertise in heritage studies, urban design, virtual environments, human-computer interaction and participatory methodologies with architects, urban planners, artists and experts from the North East’s digital innovation cluster.

They will produce a development framework and prototype ideas that will help the creation of immersive experiences and memory-based connections with the past in public spaces, referred to as ‘memoryscapes’.

Lead researcher, Dr Jon Swords, a Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography at Northumbria University, explained: “One of the problems we are seeking to address is that so many of our museum collections are housed in archives and are rarely seen. 

“We will be working with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums to understand what assets they have and assess how we can best use them to create memoryscapes in public spaces. By bringing them to life outside of their usual contexts, we can encourage members of the public to add their own memories, to create new narratives.

“At this stage, the actual memoryscapes that we’ll explore are to be decided, but an example of what we could do is to project footage of historical events, such as the 1952 FA Cup Final, or recreations of places such as Stephenson’s works, into public spaces. Using virtual and augmented reality technologies, we can enable the public to become immersed in these moments and encourage them to participate by adding or uploading their own memories and responses.”

The project will coincide with the Great Exhibition of the North, providing a unique opportunity to engage with the public on ways to bring these memoryscapes to life. 

It will also support the work FaulknerBrowns is undertaking with Newcastle City Council on a major scheme to regenerate the area around Northumberland Street. This research will inform part of their planning on what could be delivered in the newly modelled city centre.

Dr Swords added: “We have some outstanding digital businesses in the North East of England. They are at the forefront of some amazing new technologies but what they don’t always have is the content to utilise them to their maximum potential. 

“This project will bring together the vast collections of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums with the excellent skills of our digital sector; the academic expertise of the University and the planning and development teams at FaulknerBrowns and Newcastle City Council who are designing the new spaces within the city centre, to create some truly innovative experiences for the public.” 

Lindy Gilliland, Manager of Collections and Research at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, said: “We care for some of the region’s most historically significant collections which comprise fine and decorative art, science and technology, natural sciences, costume, archaeology, world cultures, military and social history. We also hold the region’s archives, which are a tremendous resource for investigating local and regional history. We’re hoping that the Memoryscapes project will encourage more public access to both everyday and internationally significant objects and documents.”

Tania Love, Director at of FaulknerBrowns Architects, said: “We have been working with Newcastle City Council and NE1, preparing a series of interventions to reinvigorate the Northumberland Street Area to help position Newcastle as a vital, regional European capital. The masterplan aims to make the area a more vibrant, attractive and inclusive destination. This exciting Memoryscape project could helpfully contribute to this ambition and lead to some highly innovative and interactive experiences for residents, workers and visitors alike.”

The project forms part of Northumbria University’s multi-disciplinary research into Digital Living and how digital technology can be used to make the experience of living and working in a city better. The University is bringing together world-leading experts in artificial intelligence, information processing and modelling, architecture, built environment and human-computer interaction to explore the future of the human-centred smart city.

For more information on the project, visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/memoryscapes or follow Memoryscapes on Twitter.


Re-imagining place through immersive and participatory experiences that re-contextualise memory assets

Colleagues and I have awarded funding from the AHRC-EPSRC Immersive Experiences call. As the call document outlines, the focus of the funding round is on:

"...encouraging research proposals exploring immersive experiences in three areas where the UK has world leading creative assets and technology partners [memory, place and performance]. These three areas have arts and humanities research at the core of developing experiences and practices. They also represent areas in which the benefits of research offer significant cultural and economic value for the UK."

The immersive industry is built around the use of a range of technologies including virtual and augmented reality, 3D audio effects, haptic technologies, machine olfaction, gesture and speech recognition, and bespoke software.

 Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. (From  Newcastle City Library Photographic Collection )

Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. (From Newcastle City Library Photographic Collection)

Project Introduction

Our project seeks to develop a new framework to support the creation and application of immersive memoryscapes: multi-sensory and participatory experiences within public spaces that re-contextualise heritage assets, and reimagine and reinvigorate public spaces as destinations. These will provide connections with the past along with the capacity for users to contribute feedback and their own memories.

Our framework will combine academic understandings of the construction of these memoryscapes with practical guidelines for their creation and application. It will be scalable and offer not only new pathways for memory based organisations to disseminate their collections, but provide new approaches to enhance urban (re)development projects through the inclusion of immersive and participatory experiences. Through a series of interviews, desk-based research, collaborative workshops and public engagement, we will explore and evaluate ideas, challenges and opportunities for immersive experiences that employ memory assets to reinvigorate place as a destination. By examining the intersection of immersive experiences, memory assets and place, the proposed research aims to establish the potential application of immersive experiences to:

  • re-contextualise and increase access to, and dialogue about memory assets by bringing them out of the museum/gallery/archive and presenting them in new ways and in new locations
  • reimagine and reinvigorate our public spaces contributing to their character and identity, and our relationship to those places by utilising memory assets

Our key outputs will be:

  • New interdisciplinary partnerships which can go forward to the next round of funding to develop immersive experiences
  • A framework for understanding the generation of immersive and participatory memoryscapes, including 'prototype(s)' to illustrate potential ways forward

To help us we're working with two project partners:

Partner 1 - Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums is a major regional museum, art gallery and archives service based in North East England. They operate nine museums, support a further 55 and manage the region’s archives. Their collections are of international importance in archives, art, science and technology, archaeology, military and social history, fashion and natural sciences. TWAM will provide valuable insights and access to their collections, as well as expertise on user experience and curation of pasts.

Partner 2 - FaulknerBrowns Architects

FaulknerBrowns are a multi-award winning architectural practice with over 50 years of experience working nationally and internationally. They are recognized for their design, masterplanning, placemaking and strategic expertise, and have worked on multi-million pound projects for public and private sector clients. FaulknerBrowns bring to the project extensive research from their collaboration with Newcastle City Council on masterplanning the development of Newcastle’s principal retail area.

We'll also be working with immersive experience providers (including VRTGO members), urban designers, heritage organisations, civic bodies, artists, designers and academics

The project lasts for nine months and will include a series of workshops to develop our outputs. If you're interested in this project we'll have a dedicated twitter and website up and running soon. In the meantime feel free to contact me.

Project team

Jon Swords (Principle Investigator) - Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography, Dept of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University

Richard Watson (Co-Investigator) - Senior Research Fellow, Dept of Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University

James Charlton (Co-Investigator) - Lecturer in Architecture, Dept of Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University

Claire Nally (Co-Investigator) - Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century English Literature, Dept of Humanities, Northumbria University

Kay Rogage (Co-Investigator) - Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow in Digital Living, Dept of Computer and Information Sciences, Northumbria University

David Kirk (Co-Investigator) - Professor of Digital Living, Dept of Computer and Information Sciences, Northumbria University

AHRC Creative Industries Clusters Programme

Yesterday I attended the AHRC’s Newcastle briefing for their Creative Industries Clusters Programme. It was held at the Sage Gateshead which wasn’t a great start, but that’s not why I’m writing this blog. What prompted me to write this is the potential this funding, together with the Bazalgette Report, has for redefining the creative industries, what they are celebrated for and how they might develop in the future.

I should start by saying i've not had a chance to deeply interrogate the call documents and i've not watched the videos from other briefing sessions, so this is a set of early thoughts... which may not be that coherent!

The creative industries as we know them now have a long history and they have gone through various round of re-definitions to be called the creative industries. These definitions have evolved from academic and policymaker’s interest, and as a result of technological and industrial change. Generally speaking we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on the economic value of creativity, especially since the DCMS’s famous mapping project, at the expense of cultural and artistic value. It’s almost automatic that whenever the creative industries are discussed in a policy context there are accompanying statistics about them being the fastest growing sector of the UK economy for GVA and employment, producing huge exports (insert British TV show currently being enjoyed by Americans) and big employment numbers. The political and discursive shifts about what counts as a creative industry and their role for the country have been reflected in, and reproduced by the organisations tasked with fostering their development and sources of funding to achieve this. The AHRC’s Creative Industries Clusters Programme (CICP) has the potential to harden this shift.

The AHRC describe the programme as “ambitious research and development investment to establish up to eight Creative Research & Development (R&D) Partnerships within existing creative clusters across the UK.” Partnerships are expected to be consortia of universities, businesses and “other key partner organisations”. The funding is from the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which means there are strings attached. As Andrew Chitty (AHRC creative industries champion) put it, access to this money means fitting creative industries development into what government finds acceptable to spend ISCF money on. To put it more explicitly: achieving medium to long term economic growth through research and development. Yes, that’s economic growth funding run through the AHRC, not the ESRC, and neither artistic value or audiences were mentioned at the briefing session. A potentially fascinating institutional shift - i'd love to know why the ESRC aren't involved.

Chitty explained the R&D element is primarily about research for creative industries (rather than about or with them) by/through higher education institutions (HEIs). This differentiates it from programmes which Creative FUSE NE which includes elements of research about, with and for, and from knowledge exchange hubs. Knowledge exchange hubs focused primarily on SMEs, but there is an emphasis in the CICP programme on what were referred to as ‘large corporates’, ‘national partners’ and ‘big players’ (Google, Youtube and ITV were mentioned at various times). The reasoning is that larger companies can provide scale for SMEs, while the latter can more nimbly provide innovation and talent for the former. So this is economic growth led by key challenges faced by firms, harnessing HEI resources. My immediate thoughts were what’s going to stop larger corporations extracting all the value at the expense of SMEs? What role for freelancers who represent a major part of the sector? And what about third sector organisations?

A second key element of the call is that rebalancing the economy and driving regional economic growth through bids is key. [Is regional development policy back under the Conservatives!?] To do this funding will be channelled through existing clusters. Potential bidders were told that: “We [AHRC] aren’t going to tell you what your cluster is, that is up to you.” However, it was made clear the AHRC understands clusters using NESTA's very broad definition based primarily on measures of co-location and networking, rather than tangible relationships between firms you might find in the business studies or economic geography literature. But if you’re examining national datasets it is difficult to do the latter, so it makes sense to leave it up to bidders to make the case for what they consider to be a creative cluster as they are closer to the ground. That said, we were shown some new data the AHRC is going to provide bidders to help them prepare their proposals which maps hot spots of different creative industries (based on location quotients for firms and employment). We were told suggesting you have a cluster in a ‘cold spot’ would be treated with suspicion and require further evidence. There was also a great deal of emphasis on the collaboration and networking potential of clusters – chance meetings at various events was mentioned a number of times – and the role of knowledge exchange. The role of competition wasn’t really addressed. Given NESTA’s influence this isn’t surprising, and a quick search of their The Geography of Creativity in the UK reveals the word competition only appears once (in the title of Saxenian’s 1996 classic about Silicon Valley and Route 128). World class clusters have competition at their heart and it is central to Porter’s work on clusters which is the most popular theorisation of clusters amongst policymakers (and the reason why various types of agglomerations are referred to as clusters in policy discourse). Afterall, competition drives firms to innovate and to outdo their rivals in search of market share, the best workers, funding etc.

The emphasis on collaboration and the downplaying of competition leads to a potential issue in relation to R&D. “Creative R&D Partnerships to…Produce new creative content, products and experiences that are frequently the key driver for digital technology innovation in the creative industries.” Why would a firm collaborate with an HEI if the new product that partnership produces is going to be shared with rivals? There are reasons which might motivate a firm to do this, but balancing collaborations with competing firms is a hard task and it might constrain the types of R&D done by consortia.

This also leads to a further question, is the programme about development of clusters or firms? This is a common problem identified in the regional development literature from the late 1990s and 2000s which highlighted the subtle, but important differences between growth of firms in a region versus development of a region. If I get a chance I’ll interrogate the call documentation more closely to try and bottom this out.

The rebalancing element of the call suggests we’ll see a decent spread of successful bids around the country, but if this is the case I wonder how national players will fit into things. Bidders were told that they don’t need to worry at this stage about engaging large corporates as the AHRC was doing this and they’d potentially help match-make partnerships once bids were shortlisted for the second round of the process. Many of the biggest firms in the creative economy are based in London/SE England but Chitty explained that this wasn’t a barrier for partnerships with clusters elsewhere. It may not be a barrier, but relationships between regional clusters and large partners from London/SE will need to be managed carefully to minimise exploitation of the former’s resources.

A geographic spread around the country is relatively straightforward to achieve, but balancing that spread with the range of creative industry sub-sectors is going to be harder. If consortia from Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool-Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast all go with film/TV/screen sub-sectors, will the AHRC allow it? These areas can justifiable lay claim to significant hubs of activity in this field, but it would be more than half the partnerships. It will be interesting to see what negotiations happen between the first and second rounds of the bidding process, and how long the promise to led bidder define their own clusters lasts. 

This is going to be a challenging programme to respond to, let alone deliver (which is the point). And it is important to get right - as a couple of speakers made clear - because there might not be a second bite at this level and type of funding from government. Furthermore, the content of successful bids will shape how creative industries are defined by UK policymakers. I’m pleased to see the creative industries getting multi-million pound investment as they are important, but what is left out of this programme of funding could alter their shape in the years to come.