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.


We discussed this issue in the staff-student consultation committee (SSCC) last week and Kevin Glynn made a great additional point. The ability to take notes and to actively listen is an incredibly important skill to learn. Kevin explained that this is a skill which is especially useful post-university when in meetings, talking to colleagues or clients/customers, at events etc when you're told new information. This is a skilled practiced in lectures and if you know a lecture is recorded and you can re-listen, it is tempting to switch off and stop active listening.

The debate in SSCC was very constructive and the student reps completely understood our hesitation in recording everything. We also discussed the idea that if there is something which could reasonably be video captured (taking into account all the above) there should be a minimum attendance level before session is recorded.