I began working at the University of Wollongong in 2002 when “information technology” classes meant that rooms were usually to capacity or overflowing. Large classes meant a huge investment in administration for coordinators of subjects- checking on tutorial attendance, assessment grading, and answering loads of questions during consult time. I soon developed strategies to assist those who were falling behind, or those who needed access to repeat lectures.
By session 2 of 2002, I realised that I had spent 90% of my first session of full-time teaching attending to students, and doing very little research. In a single week I had been expected to deliver 7 x 2 hour tutorials and 1 lecture. I wondered at that time where I was supposed to find the energy to get new studies off the ground, let alone finish my ‘almost complete’ PhD. The other matter that floated in my mind was how to retain records of what I had delivered so students who had missed lectures could catch up.
So I thought on my feet and boldly went and bought a video camera and used my old walkman to record myself. My tripod had remote controls so I could press record from afar, but after a few lectures I would give the camera to a student and ask him/her instead to record and follow me around the room. I would make copies of these artifacts manually and distribute them on a needs basis. I still have some of the remnants of those classes- VHS video tapes and audio tapes of “Business Online IACT 406”. Some students even digitised my audio tapes with converters… I felt I was behind the times already.
I remember students with serious illness being grateful they could be a part of the class even though they had missed 3 weeks+ at a time, one due to chemo and another due to a motorbike accident; I remember international students feeling relieved that they could hear or see the video and when they needed to check on a word’s meaning, pause the video, use their translator, and then continue on with the lesson. Students would joke at the end of a session: “Katina, I listened to 13 weeks of lectures in a single day” or “I fell asleep to the sound of your voice…” LOL! I was particularly surprised when students who were seemingly disengaged for much of the session wrestling instead with life’s challenges, would stop to ponder and email me their thoughts as they got to tape 6 or 7 and engrossed by the content: “I agree with what you said in lecture 3…” or “I have a question about what you said after the break in lecture 4″… Wow, did that prompt me to go back and reflect… Having performed poorly all session, some of these students would surprise me in the final examination.
I graduated with a PhD in Dec 2003. At the graduation, unbeknown to me at the time, I was sitting next to Dr Richard Caladine who was the university’s lead technology support guru, now manager of Learning Facilities and Technologies at UOW. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, Richard enthusiastically told me about his PhD and what was in stall for academics in the future. In 2004, he introduced “edustream”- a university rebranded audio recording system for lectures. Effectively edustream allowed people to talk into a microphone and for that lesson to be recorded and uploaded to WebCT within a few hours of the lecture delivery. Not all rooms had edustream but by 2007/08 most did. For those rooms that were not outfitted, handheld top end ZOOM recorders were used. Students could receive the lectures they had missed via streaming media, at any time or download onto an ipod for listening to at their leisure. And lecturers had statistics available to them identifying which students made use of this media etc.
I do recall myself on occasion saying to the students- “these EduStream downloads are for your eyes only- please do not pass the recordings on.” Reflecting back I think this statement was redundant before I even uttered the words. On other occasions, when physical student attendance at lectures was down, especially near peak time of assessment, I would even segment the class while speaking- “for you here you obviously get what I am talking about and I am speaking to the converted”, and “for you guys at home, there are no excuses, you’ve got to catch up asap or else you will let the rest of your group members down”.
Conscientious students downloaded everything, some downloaded only what they had missed. The pressures of being a student these days almost certainly means you seek some form of employment to pay your way through university and sometimes your most productive hours are used up working for something else other than studies. I have spoken to many a taxi driver who work 9 hours a day and then somehow squeeze in full time study as well!
Edustream worked okay with slides but there was still the visual component missing. Edustream recorded what the lecturer was saying clearly, but anyone contributing a comment or a question could seldom be heard unless they went up to the microphone which most times was impractical. I would often go out of my way to ask students to read a passage, or ask the question using the microphone, so multiple voices could be heard on the Edustream and it sounded less like a “talking head”. I also taught my students to listen to the sound of their voice, because they’d have to use it every day of their working life. This was particularly important to those for whom English was a second or third language!
In second session of 2012 I returned to full-time work after my maternity leave and was asked to participate on a trial dubbed “Echo”. Echo I learnt was a complete audio AND video capture of a lecture which synched nicely to slides presented with time stamps throughout. It was extremely powerful, and the recorder was somewhere (to my knowledge) near the projector.
In my feedback to the team about Echo’s success, I insisted that a number of matters had to be resolved before it went university-wide as an innovation in teaching and learning. I pointed to ethics and I pointed to policies… I noted that although I had participated in this practice myself back when I began teaching that we as an institution may have been opening up a can of worms. This is despite that everyone today is talking MOOCs. Would I offer my own content up for the world to see? Yes indeed! Would I do it right this minute? No way! Would I prefer to pick and choose which parts of the lecture to make open? Indeed! Could I be better prepared for what is coming- without a doubt.
More concerned with my preparation for a subject I had never taught before, Advanced Business Process Management (session 2, 2012), I turned up to the lecture without worrying much about how I looked. Same routine followed in my usual set up routine. Lecturers are alike to sportsmen and women on how they prepare “for the field”. We each have our own idiosyncratic way to mentally engage and block out all else when we are in that lecturer-student (1:N) relationship (although I’d rather speak of an M:N relationship where everyone is learning from each other in a classroom).
So lecture was delivered. At any point throughout the delivery, I did not catch the camera rolling- rather I was completely oblivious to it all… tried to engage well with my new students… tried to finish on time… that went well… and then to the rest of my day.
Soon after getting back to my desk I was prompted about the video being uploaded with email instructions to view the first episode. Wow, I thought, that’s right, I had forgot about the trial, let’s go in and see what this thing does!
Sure enough I found out.
First and foremost, I was shocked to see that the camera was turned on 5 minutes before the start of class according to the clocks or according to the screen being activated. While there was no one in the room when I went in early, and all I could be seen doing was shuffling paper, and replying to email on the big screen, I felt like someone had done something they shouldn’t have. I immediately held my breath for each moment from 9.25am of the recording to 9.30am of the recording! Lucky, I reflected at the end of that long five minutes, I am not one to pick my nose, and even luckier was I that I was NOT replying to a personal email, in full view of the lecture hall- although I had been captured with my inbox open and replying to a general administrative matter! Goodbye privacy I thought, hello world!
Sure enough I skipped big portions of the lecture delivery. It was all there, and magnificently synced up to my powerpoint slides. How much better was Echo I thought than Edustream! Where was this technology 10 years ago?
The only glitch that occurred was that there was no audio recorded for that first lecture I delivered with Echo. I always use a radio microphone so I can be heard clearly, and it turns out that when I elevated my radio microphone and turned off the lecturn microphone I muted the Echo’s audio capture. So interesting I thought- this thing would tie my movements down in proximity to the lecturn microphone, and would mean that if I was to be seen in the video, I would have to stay put and be animated, rather than cover the space of the floor. In addition, only the students in the first few rows could be heard, and not right at the back!
Back to the matter of ethics and policies…
It was in second session in 2003, when I routinely took in my video recorder to a class, that one of my domestic students said “you know what you are doing Katina is illegal”. Hmm… I must admit that that made me nervous initially… That simple statement gave way to a 30 minute conversation- it had to be addressed. And I have to be honest it concerned me straight away because under no circumstance was I doing this to cause harm to anyone.
I had just come into academia and I knew from life experience that a simple exception could break down processes. I talked it through with the whole class, at all times being respectful to the accusation that what I was doing was “illegal.” I did not in any way demean or sideline the student but I did find myself saying to him- “if you do not wish to be recorded I will not record you and respect your wishes, but for the purposes of this class, individual reflection and enhancement, I will be taping individuals so that they can see themselves deliver a presentation and improve. Is there anyone else who does not wish for their seminar to be recorded?” I remember one other hand going up. I noted it. I also knew from my preliminary ethics training that I was not about to use the content for research purposes, and my camera was overt, and I did ask for oral consent upon the objection of “being recorded” so that probably I was “safe” from further scrutiny.
The overwhelming response from my class was positive (it was IACT304, Principles of eBusiness, and any student reading this post from that class would remember the moment well). I also remember the impact that the recordings had particularly on my international students- most loved the opportunity to be recorded and asked if they could keep the recordings of themself presenting, so they could send them back to their parents and siblings whom they missed incredibly. The video was a way for their parents to see the benefits of their labours in paying upfront fees, in addition to feeling some pride for a job well done. This was echoed to me many times by students.
I also would take lots of photos in the early years, and many students appreciated this. I remember my university days like they were yesterday- I have NO visual records of me at university in my bachelors degree however, save for a single photo the degree coordinator took of us at orientation day.
This incident in 2003, did make me ponder deeply however… very deeply… I started to research Surveillance Device Acts, Privacy Acts in Australia and the like… little did I know back then that I’d become so enthralled in this statement “what you are doing is illegal by taping us” that I’d spend a good ten years researching the issue and thereafter specialising in new technologies and their social implications! In fact, today, I am the Vice Chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation…
My feedback to the technical team trialing Echo was detailed. I will not rehash the contents of my personal correspondence.
I will simply say for anyone wishing to do something similar in their own institution, that some general concerns may include:
- How can the instructor be made aware of when the AV recording starts and stops? Is there an LED signal or something that can be used?
- Is there an option to mute BOTH the audio and video at any point in time? E.g. at break time when students approach the lecturn with private matters and there must be confidentiality ensured. It is easy to forget the microphone is recording everything even when you take a break.
- Who has access to the recordings? The technology administration team? Your students? Your subject coordinator? Your degree coordinator? Your supervisor? Your head of school? Your dean? Your Vice Chancellor? How will it be used?
- While the recording device is pointing at the lecturer, what of the voices that can be heard in the background? What about if students are asked to come up to the lecturn and present in an ad-hoc manner?
- What if these recordings make it public to the Internet? How can you prove who posted it? How can you control this flow of distribution? [The real answer is that you cannot but still some training must be granted to students and educators about what is and is not acceptable- different institutions will have different rules. The Copyright Act just won’t cut it these days.]
- Does it make sense that the rich media component of AV recordings of lectures be integrated into an institution’s Social Media policy, or is a different policy required?
- Will it one day become mandatory for staff to be recorded for validation purposes regarding student complaints? Absenteeism? Quality of teaching material etc?
- Given 7, will lecturers be able to “shoot back” at the class to ensure an equal footing in evidence gathering?
- For how long should these recordings be stored? Retention/physical lifetime expectancy? Does it depend on the subject material?
- What about recording tutorials? Is there a difference between recordings structured lectures and tutorials?
- What if a student does NOT wish to be heard in an Echo AV recording yet still wishes for the right to ask a question as a fee paying student?
- What are the risks associated with these recordings? Are there any?
- Is a lecture hall a public space or a private space?
Recently we had a European academic join our faculty. In our end of year assessment meeting in 2012, I raised the “innovation in teaching” aspect with respect to my subject. My colleague was alarmed to learn that lecturers could be recorded. And when I identified the matter that some students may object to being recorded in the future, the individual was even more alarmed- they turned to me and said “you are worrying about the student privacy, but what about the privacy of the academic?”
My colleague did not have to convince me with their argument- I understood it very well. I did not claim to have the answers… I also did not dismiss their claims… they are valid. It is always contextual and more importantly jurisdictional. My academic network know too well, that I have always stressed the “risks” associated with these new innovations and how they are used- anyone who says otherwise is not looking at the potential for harms against the person- very real possibilities.
There was also one other matter my new colleague raised with us which had to do with the intimacy of a class and the relationship/rapport that one builds with their students. Long serving lecturers will tell you, even when they are being peer reviewed, that an additional “external” body can create a different climate in the class. It can throw some individuals completely to know they are being watched, or to know they are being recorded… it changes the dynamics of relationships, and there is a chance you are not teaching to your students, but teaching to the other constituents- in a way playing to “a theatre”.
The greatest classes I have ever taught have been extremely non-traditional. I don’t break any rules, but I will go on the vibe of the class, think on my feet, and let the passion run- despite that I teach what others perceive to be a “dry” discipline- information technology. I teach to the human spirit, not to the text book and some of the best lessons I have given have had to do with more abstract aspects of life than of set conceptual principles. I try to marry the two up because that is what makes for long serving life-long reflection. At least that is what my students tell me.
“Tick box” teaching is what should be opposed in some parts of the curriculum that lend themselves more to “unstructured structure” … creativity is vital for classes to live and breathe. How audio-visual recordings will be used in the classroom remains to be seen. For some it will be liberating, for others it will be debilitating. It is certainly not for everyone. But as we move into the MOOC space we need to teach our younger academics coming through, that they must be good communicators, must be able to deliver in a vibrant way, and must be able to get across key messages in their work, because it is likely their lessons will be streamed to the Internet for all to watch! Those that excel in these aspects, will excel in their careers.
The question is how some disciplines might come on board? Teaching maths as opposed to marketing as opposed to law is very different. And what will it mean when everyone brings in a camera to film everything in their point of view- will there be any limits? And how will this translate to high schools, and even primary schools. Not much has been written on the narrow field of “visual surveillance”- but I would recommend the readings of Professor Roger Clarke here. It might be that in the future it is not a fixed device taking a recording of the class, but a drone that has a fly-through capability and a 360 degree view of proceedings- now wouldn’t that be handy?
BTW, see more about the UniComp motif in the post’s subject header here- thanks Jeremy Pitt and Ira Levin of course!