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An Open Letter from Staff to the University

University Staff have penned an open letter to University Management about its new, pilot lecture recording program.

University Staff have penned an open letter to University Management about its new, pilot lecture recording program.

For the past few weeks a collectively written, open letter has been circulating among University of Sydney academics about the University’s University-wide pilot lecture recording program. Under this program, all lectures will be recorded and it is up to staff to opt-out. The letter sharply criticises the University’s decision, which it says was made in response to student feedback.

Below is the letter itself and the names of 150 academics who signed the letter as of it being sent to its recipient, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education, Professor Pip Pattison, on March 17th. The names on the list, Honi has been told, continue to grow.

Associate Lecturer Charlotte Epstein, one of the primary authors of the letter, says that staff were not consulted in the process and this has made the letter a necessary move. She says that staff were informed almost inadvertently, through an administrative email, the week before teaching started. ‘This top-down approach is very much part of the problem that we are raising with the letter.

On April 8th, staff have been invited to participate in a University-wide forum on lecture recording. The aim of which is to “discuss lecture recording from a variety of perspectives in order to provide an opportunity for staff to consider a range of views on lecture recording, and provide feedback on the opt-out lecture recording pilot of this year”.

Honi will provide more coverage of this disagreement between staff and the University as it unfolds.



An Open Letter from Faculty Members to the DVC Education

Dear Professor Pattison

We write to express our concerns regarding the new ‘opt out’ policy on lecture recording that is being piloted across the University this semester. Our concerns are both pedagogical and ethical. In this letter we present these concerns for the University’s consideration.

The University has identified student retention as a significant problem. There is already significant evidence that lecture recording has a negative impact on student attendance. The pilot ‘opt out’ policy, which seeks to universalise lecture recordings, will only compound this trend. Student attendance at lectures and issues of student retention are related. The University should be developing policies that engage the students more with university life, not providing opportunities for them opt out of that experience.

Findings from a study conducted by Drs Anna Boucher and Lynne Chester show that there are clear negative effects of lecture recording on attendance. The study analysed the learning outcomes for 1500 first year students in Political Economy and Government over a two-year period.  According to the authors:

  • Lecture attendance is negatively correlated with the presence of lecture recordings at the University of Sydney. The estimated effect is a 14% reduction in attendance.
  • This amounts to an estimated indirect reduction in final marks of approximately 0.5 to 0.6 marks via the reduced beneficial effect of lecture attendance  (1 per cent significant level).
  • Lecture recordings also show a ripple-on effect on tutorial attendance of -2.7%, which amounts to an estimated indirect effect in final marks of –0.369 (1 per cent significant level).

Source: initial findings from Lecture Capture Study, Drs Anna Boucher and Lynne Chester, funded by the Teaching and Learning Initiative Award, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, 2011.

We believe that lectures are a learning experience based on being present and are concerned that this this policy will re-shape student’s expectations as to what constitutes a lecture, and what is required from the learning experience it represents. In effect, signalling to students that lecture attendance is not required sends the wrong message about what a university education involves. In particular, this is the wrong message to send to first year students.

To be clear, ours is not, in any way, a statement on those colleagues who choose to utilise lecture recordings. In fact, some signatories to this letter record their lectures. Rather, it is a statement about respecting individual teaching choices, and diversity in teaching practices, rather than the homogenisation and imposition, that this shift from the current ‘opt in’ to the piloted ‘opt out’ policy represents.

Which leads us to our ethical concerns.

First, a policy that makes lecture recording the default setting does not respect those who, for pedagogical reasons, do not want lectures recorded and freely available. The lecturers who choose to opt out are then asked to justify their request. There are, however, no standardised criteria for subsequently accepting (or not) their justification, by the Dean, or their delegate. In effect, instead of making both choices equal and legitimate, the opt-out policy puts those who choose to opt out on the back foot. Moreover, with this policy the University risks creating tension between the ‘opt out’ lecturers and their students. Indeed, one important damaging effect is that it provides grounds to students who want recordings to be able to challenge those lecturers who choose to opt out.

Second, as it is being rolled out, the policy is revealing itself to be inequitable: teachers of first year units may not apply for opt outs. Although we understand this may be faculty-specific, the University should be aiding, not punishing, those who are doing the hard work of teaching first years. A policy that applies inequitably and differentially to different teaching levels, and is more constraining for 1st year coordinators, is uncollegial.

Third, we do not find that the concerns about privacy, with regards to the rights of both the students and the lecturers have been adequately addressed, including in the ‘Lecture Recording in 2015 FAQs’ document.

Fourth, although we know this has begun to be recognised, we are deeply concerned at the lack of consultation. Such a fundamental change to the teaching environment should not be introduced without detailed consultation with the staff who will ultimately bear responsibility for implementing it.

We understand that the policy has been deployed as part of a broader e-learning strategy. We agree that universities have to embrace new forms of technology and consider new modes of teaching delivery. However, technology cannot be the answer to all problems and in some instances can worsen them. We are unconvinced that the case has been made that lecture recordings will enhance the learning experience.

In sum: This policy is problematic on both pedagogical and ethical grounds. For all of these reasons, we respectfully request that the University abandon the ‘opt out’ route, and return to the current ‘opt in’ policy, which has not, in our view, been proven dysfunctional.

This would enable both those who do, and those who do not, want to use lecture recordings to continue to be able to do so equally.

We look forward to your response.

Yours Sincerely,


Charlotte Epstein- Government and International Relations

Ariadne Vromen- Government and International Relations

Anna Boucher- Government and International Relations

Graeme Smith- Government and International Relations

Gil Merom- Government and International Relations

Colin Wight- Government and International Relations

David Schlosberg- Government and International Relations

Susan Park- Government and International Relations

Peter Curson- Centre for International Security Studies

James Reilly- Government and International Relations

John Mikler- Government and International Relations

Betsi Beem- Government and International Relations

Ben Goldsmith- Government and International Relations

James Der Derian- Centre for International Security Studies

Thomas Wilkins- Centre for International Security Studies

Anika Gauja- Government and International Relations

David Smith- Government and International Relations & US studies centre

Diarmuid Maguire- Government and International Relations

Jake Lynch- Peace and Conflict

Giovanni Navarria- Sydney Democracy Network

Robert MacNeil- Government and International Relations

Adam Morton- Political economy

Susan Banki- Sociology

Sarah Phillips- Centre for International Security Studies

Martijn Konings- Political economy

Yasmine Musharbash- Anthropology

Karl Maton- Sociology

Stuart Rosewarne- political economy

Bill Dunn political- economy

Fran Collyer- Sociology

Frank Smith- Centre for International Security Studies

Madeleine Pill- Government and International Relations

Jingdong Yuan- Centre for International Security

Susan Schroeder-  political economy

Damien Cahill- Political economy

Gyu-Jin Hwang- Sociology

Gaynor Macdonald- Anthropology

Elizabeth Hill- political economy

Terry Woronov- Anthropology

Robbie Peters- Anthropology

Cynthia Hunter- Anthropology and public health

Amanda Elliot- Sociology

Fiona Gill- Sociology

Stephen Mills- Graduate School of Government

Gaby Ramia- Graduate school of Government

Minglu Chen- Government and International Relations

Joanne Kelly- Graduate School of Government

Lily Rahim- Government and International Relations

Antje Kuehnast- FASS

Frances Clarke- History

Bronwyn Winter- French Studies

Benedetta Brevini- Media and Communication

Sarah Gleeson-White- English

Dilip Dutta- Economics

Julie-Ann Robson- SOPHI

Yaegan Doran- Linguistics

Nick Riemer- English and Linguistics

Avril Alba- Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies

Kristie Miller- Philosophy

Alec Pemberton- Sociology

Eric Csapo- Classics & Ancient History

Anjalee Cohen- Anthropology

Chiew Hui Ho- Chinese Studies

Roger Benjamin- Art History and Film Studies

Peter Kirkpatrick- English

Jelle Stoop- Classics and Ancient History

Su-kyoung Hwang- Korean Studies

Bruce Gardiner- English

Dalia Nassar- Philosophy

Rosie Findlay- Performance Studies

Monika Bednarek- Linguistics

Judith Beveridge- English

donald wright- Economics

Ben Brown- Classics and Ancient History

Pat Watson- Classics and Ancient History

William Foley- Linguistics

Michael Lewis- Department of Japanese Studies

Mark Allon- Indian Subcontinental Studies

Greg Martin- Sociology and Social Policy

Fiona Giles- Media and Communications

Huw Griffiths- English

Kunal Sengupta- Economics

Natalya Lusty- Gender and Cultural Studies

Caroline Yarnell- Government and International Relations

Brendon O’Connor- US Studies

Peter Morgan- European Studies

B Dexter HOYOS- Classics & Ancient History

Jonathan Newton- Economics

James Martin- Linguistics

Tiho Ancev- Economics

Ki-Sung Kwak- Korean Studies

Suzanne D. Rutland- Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies

Ruth Phillips- Faculty of Education and Social Work

Julia Kindt- Classics and Ancient History

Elisabeth Valiente-Riedl- Sociology and Social Policy

Graham White- School of Economics

Alana Mann- Media and Communications

Lionel Babicz- Japanese Studies

Ryan Griffiths- Government and International Relations

Justin Hastings- Government and International Relations

Louisa Peralta- Education and Social Work

Jacqueline Manuel- Faculty of Education and Social Work

Gail Mason- Law

Helen Proctor- Faculty of Education and Social Work

Pierre Rognon- School of Civil Engineering

Minkang Kim- Education and Social Work

Peter Rose- Law

Michael Muir- Architecture

Anne Twomey- Law

Robyn Backen- Sydney college of the Arts

Tim Allender- Education and Social Work

Shae McCrystal- Law

Murray Lee- Law

Peter Marks- English

Lesley Laing- Education and social work

Kurt Iveson- Geosciences

Belinda Smith- Law

Craig Lyons- Geography

Susan Colmar- Faculty of Education and Social Work

david kinley- law

Shahadat Uddin- Civil

Elaine Baker- Geoscience

Chris L. Smith- Architecture

Rebecca Millar- Law

Judith Keene- History

Chris Murphy- Anatomy and Histology

suzanne plater- Public Health

Arlie Loughnan- Law

Jaime Gongora- Faculty of Veterinary

Dmytro Matsypura- Business Analytics

Peter Windsor- Veterinary Science

Andrew Dart- Veterinary Science

Michael Kirkpatrick- Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering

Artem Prokhorov- Business Analytics

James Young- Government and International Relations

Anne Fawcett- Veterinary Science

Lucia Sorbera- Arabic Language and Cultures

Sanaa Zaki- Faculty of Veterinary Science

Meg Vost- Veterinary Science

Sara Oscar- Sydney College of the Arts

Navneet Dhand- Faculty of Veterinary Science

Ken Cruickshank- Faculty of Education and Social Work

Luke Nottage- School of Law

Christopher Neff- Government and International Relations

Tailoi Chan-Ling- Anatomy and Histology (Medecine)

Roger Pamphlet- Pathology

Daniel Oron- Business

Min Chen- Biological Sciences

Francesco Borghesi- Italian Studies

Elizabeth May- Biological Sciences