Face-off: Should lectures be recorded?

The topic: "All lectures should be recorded and distributed to students online"

Debate podium Art: Stephanie Barahona

Theodora Von Arnim argues ‘for’:

It is true that many students find physically attending class more effective for their learning experience. These students will continue to attend lectures, as many currently already do. However, there are also students for whom full physical attendance is not possible, or unproductive.

Some reasons why students might not be able to attend lectures include needing to work to support themselves, having physical or physiological disabilities which mean that coming to university every day isn’t a realistic option, or even timetable clashes that prevent students from attending both of their desired subjects. In light of the wide range of barriers to attendance, it is bizarre that some lecturers seek to punish students by refusing to record lectures, or leaving content off slides.

Lecturers say that recording lectures reduces student attendance. This is probably true, but attendance doesn’t mean that students are actually learning. Stand at the back of any lecture theatre and you will see students scrolling through Facebook, shopping on ASOS, and checking football scores.

Students aren’t machines. Demanding that all students stay perfectly focused for a two-hour lecture, take perfect notes, and understand all content immediately is unrealistic. Even students who avoid all distractions may miss content if a lecturer covers a difficult concept too quickly for them to follow. Failing to record lecturers may get more students in the room, but their understanding of the content will be rushed. At worst it means that students who are struggling with course content are left behind with no avenue (beyond consultation hours) to catch up or revise the lecture content in their own time.

Unlike tutorials where students have direct contact with a teacher and can ask questions during the class, lecture theatres contain hundreds of students with little to no engagement from the overwhelming majority. It is unclear how sitting in a lecture theatre would make a difference to this learning experience as opposed to sitting in their room at home.

Accessible lectures are also in line with shifts in the workforce designed to increase flexibility and improve work-life balance. Employers have recognised that their employees are happier when they can fit their work into their schedules. Lecturers, too, should recognise that current system does not provide adequate avenues to cate for a diverse range of learning styles in the lecture room.

April Holcomb argues ‘against’:

To adopt this policy would undermine the rights of academic staff. Not every lecturer is comfortable with having their work available indiscriminately, and there are valid reasons for this.

The general shift to “online learning” is like the shift to self-serve checkouts at Coles: replacing workers on wages with machines. Online lectures lowering turnout is also a legitimate concern, since this can be a pretext for cutting a course. It is profit logic like this that sees forty percent of Australian university employees and more than half of undergraduate teachers on casual work contracts. Whilst lecturers are free to put their work online, making this compulsory increases risk of redundancy.

Recording lecturers also increases management’s surveillance of staff. For example, a left-wing lecturer could be concerned that their comments in class about trade unionism, or Palestine, could attract management scrutiny.

Those in favour of mandatory recordings point out that many students cannot make it to class due to work or a disability. In the first case, funding cuts to education and welfare leave students with no choice but to work extensive hours during study. A mass movement must be mounted to win more funding for students from a government currently planning to cut more.

In the case of disability, a lecture recording request can be made privately and most staff are happy to oblige. But discouraging students from entering campus is another way for uni bosses to expand student enrolments without employing more workers. In fact, universities like UNSW have tried to defend their inaccessible lecture theatres by saying students with disabilities could simply watch online.

Since compulsory online lecture recordings could be harmful to staff, it is not a principled position for a student to take. We should not pit our interests against members of another oppressed group — in this case, underpaid and casualised teachers. Staff and students should work in solidarity against the enemies in management — Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and the like — who are turning a profit from both of us. Our demands should unite our interests as workers and students by resisting the profit motive at the core of today’s higher education sector.