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Students frustrated as some academics avoid recording lectures

Sam Langford reports.

Sam Langford reports.

Students have criticised the University’s opt-out lecture recording policy for failing to support students with disabilities, as well as those with work commitments and timetable clashes.

The policy, implemented in 2015, allows lecturers to apply to the faculty Dean for permission to opt out of automatic lecture recording. However, the absence of guidelines around acceptable grounds for opting out has led to inconsistent implementation across faculties, with students often left in the dark as to why recordings are unavailable.

In some cases, students have reported lecturers refusing to speak into recording microphones, failing to respond to emails requesting special access to recordings, and advising students to drop subjects they are unable or too “lazy” to attend in person.

While University statistics suggest that only 15% of all lectures are not recorded, lecturers also have full control over whether and when recordings are uploaded to Blackboard. It is unclear how often recordings are withheld in this way.

Noa Zulman, a first year International and Global Studies student, was told her Philosophy  lectures would not be recorded to curb attrition rates and counter student laziness.

“Here I was, a student with a severe physical disability and a High Distinction average being branded as ‘slack’ for not attending every lecture,” she told Honi.

“Worse still, as someone who experiences chronic pain when writing for extended periods of time, I had relied upon lecture recordings over the past semester in order to fill gaps within my notes, and to ensure that I wasn’t entirely exhausted by the end of my two hour lectures.”

Another student, who requested anonymity, said “as far as I know, disability services can’t really counteract this so I’ve emailed lecturers a few times saying I need access for X or Y reason, and have never received it. I basically just started to pick units based on which lecturers I know record and which I know don’t, which I suppose is the opposite of what they wanted to achieve”.

Widespread problems with the Special Consideration system, as reported by Honi in Week 2, add undue stress to students with disabilities or other “good reasons”, who now need to apply to the lecturer or Special Consideration.

Academic Board Chair Anthony Masters has noted that this self-identification requirement is problematic.

“We don’t always know such students are in our class and it is inappropriate to force them to self identify.  For some folk the provision of lecture recordings is a necessary adjunct to their learning,” he told Honi.

However, a number of academics have expressed competing concerns. In April 2015, 150 academics signed an open letter to the University criticising the policy’s potential impact on student attendance.

Dr. Joellen Riley, Dean of the Law School, said she had faced “some notable resignation threats” over the issue, and chose to treat the Faculty like an “autonomous collective”, where “academics are confident that they will not be leaned on by a Dean”.

She identified several common concerns within the faculty, regarding lecture attendance, theft of intellectual property, and a desire to discuss contentious issues off the record.

Honi spoke to a number of other academics who have opted out of lecture recordings. Dr. Susan Schroeder, who teaches ECOP2612, primarily works from a whiteboard and prefers to upload thorough notes prior to class. Dr. Aaron Nyerges and Dr. Brendon O’Connor, who teach AMST1001, record all lectures but release them to individuals on a case by case basis.

Jess McDonald Norman, a third year Arts student, is frustrated with the implication that “you’re not a good student if you don’t come”.

“I wish they could be more supportive of learning in whatever format is comfortable for individual students.”