Lecture capture & widening participation: keynote excerpt

This blog is an excerpt of a keynote speech I gave at eduhub days 2020.

When I first started talking about lecture capture research, I was so concerned with showing academics that lecture capture wasn’t about to bring an end to academia as we know it that I put all of my focus on that link between attendance and recording use. Aside from the issues I’ve already talked about, I think that in doing so I neglected the most important point of lecture capture, its raison d’être, it’s humanity. Lecture capture, at it’s core, is a second chance and that’s a good thing.

In some respects this isn’t too controversial; we know that non-native speakers and students with learning disabilities hugely appreciate the provision of recordings and we also know from the many studies on staff attitudes that these two issues are cited quite frequently as “acceptable” reasons to provide recordings, but lecture capture is more than this.

When it comes to how lecture recordings impact the experience of those with physical and mental health problems, we’ve got less evidence. It’s touched upon in a number of studies but I’m not aware of any work that has this as its main focus despite the fact that unavoidable absences that include illness are the number one reason students give for missing lectures.

I believe that part of the reason there’s not been a great deal of work on this is because we, as learning tech advocates, have been cautious about making the case that lecture recordings could be used as a tool that would allow students to miss lectures. There’s that fear that if you bring up the subject of lecture capture and attendance in any capacity then the conversation will stall, I’ve seen it happen.

Now, this isn’t to say that I believe that providing lecture capture reduces attendance, there’s more studies that show no effect than do and when they do it’s generally a small effect. This is simply to say that I’m now willing to recognise that some students have personal circumstances that mean they choose to watch a recording rather than attend and I don’t think this is something we should necessarily be trying to prevent.

I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve had this change in approach and I think that one reason is the job move I mentioned. I feel extremely lucky to be at the University of Glasgow for many reasons but one of them is the diversity, I mean, it’s still academia, it’s still the playground of the able-boded, white, middle-classes, but there’s been a definitive difference in the people who are in my classroom and the that people I work with.

One of those people is Steph Allan and I include her in this talk with her permission. Steph is a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, she’s in her 2nd year, she’s just had her first first-author publication accepted, she teaches on my 1st year course, and she recently came back from a trip to Palestine where she was teaching programming in R using open-source software and materials so that they could continue learning at no additional cost. She’s the type of person you want on your team and the type of person that academia needs.

Steph also happens to have psychosis and she essentially didn’t go to any lectures for all of first year and she cites lecture recordings as the reason that she was able to continue her undergraduate degree and the reason she’s now doing a PhD. Not just because of the course content she could catch up on but all the other stuff that got captured, the enthusiasm of the lecturer, the class announcements, the insight into what academia actually involves.

“While not a perfect substitution for being on campus, they captured elements such as a lecturer’s enthusiasm for a topic which was inspiring when trying to engage with the content away from campus. Furthermore, this meant I was privy to “class announcements” (For example, the psychology society hosting an event) which were not on the actual slides. I would not have gone to them, but at least I knew what was on. This helped demystify the hidden curriculum a bit as I could see academia was not just remembering facts and regurgitating them for exams, but also seemed to involve meeting up and discussing ideas…I would not be doing a PhD without lecture recordings.”

I know the counter-argument to this, I’ve heard it many times before, this is an exceptional case, if she wanted recordings she could have requested them through the disability service, this isn’t a reason to provide recordings for all and let me just put a pin in that for a moment and tell you about the second thing that’s happened to change my thinking.

Last year I received funding from the Quality Assurance Agency in Scotland with my colleagues Jill MacKay from the University of Edinburgh and Jacqui Hutchinson from the University of Aberdeen to look at how lecture capture can be used to support widening participation. I think that widening participation might be a UK term so just in case, what this refers to is trying to make academia that little bit less of a white, middle-class haven. The standard definition of widening participation tends to focus on socio-economic variables, i.e., the aim is to try to encourage students from deprived areas into higher education but in recent years the definition is getting a bit broader to include people who have caring responsibilities and first generation students.

We had our first open meeting for this project back in December and the discussions we had there have really stuck with me. First, when we talk about lecture recordings being useful for certain groups of people, the conversation never normally goes much further than non-native speakers, learning disabilities, and health problems; but there’s a whole range of other, more hidden reasons why you might need a second chance at a lecture that are tied to widening participation.

Our classrooms are becoming more diverse and that’s a good thing. But that diversity comes with a range of issues that aren’t hallmarks of the middle-class academic experience – poorer students are more likely to have caring responsibilities, they’re more likely to live at home and have a long and expensive commute, they’re more likely to need to work to support themselves, more likely to be the first person in their family to go to university which means they’re more likely to have poorer study skills when they first arrive because no-one at home could tell them what being in a lecture was going to be like. Lecture capture is a second chance for all of these people, it’s a second chance to participate fully in university life.

I understand that whenever you put a system in place that some people will abuse it and take advantage of it. I understand that if we record our lectures then there will be a handful of students who don’t’ attend and out of no reason other than sheer laziness and apathy. But I also believe that you shouldn’t punish the most vulnerable because a few might not use the system as you intended. I grew up in poverty, I am one of the people that would now be categorised as a widening participation target, and I can assure you that whilst the pearly gates of academia might look pretty when you’re let in through the front door, there’s barbed wire on top if you have to try and climb over them to get in.

I acknowledge that there are good reasons not to record lectures, I would never want to stifle discussion or debate or change someone’s pedagogy to fit a recording and I am loud and clear that staff should have the right to opt-out when recording would not be appropriate or if it would negatively impact on the educational experience.

But what I’m becoming increasingly angry about is a refusal to engage with the evidence, a refusal to listen to people who try and tell their stories of the impact that lecture recordings can have, a refusal from those who got the gates held open for them to look up and see the barbed wire because they just don’t want to record their lectures.

I’m angry that at our first meeting in December, Jill, Jacqui and I realised that we were all from a WP background and that maybe the reason there’s not been any research that looks at this is because no-one who hasn’t been through it themselves has cared.

Lecture capture isn’t a panacea by any means but there’s a socially progressive case to be made for it and it’s not an easy one to make because it involves admitting that recordings allow students to choose not to attend. What we need to do is highlight that many of those choices are for very good reasons.

To return to the pin I put in the example of Steph and disability provision, I don’t agree with the argument that students should have to request access to lecture recordings through disability because aside from generalised benefits like helping to support note-taking it means you miss out on all of the people for whom what’s wrong with their life doesn’t come with a diagnosis.

Yes, you could say that students could still ask for it if they wanted it and academics would probably agree but can you imagine how humiliating that would be? “Dear Professor Smith, would it be ok if I record your lectures, you see, I’m the first person in my family to go to university and I’ve got no idea what I’m doing”. We have a responsibility to our students and I increasingly I think lecture recordings have become part of that responsibility.

Emily Nordmann
Emily Nordmann
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

I am a teaching-focused Senior lecturer and conduct research into the relationship between learning, student engagement, and technology.