English Department defends refusal to record lectures


After over a year of lecture recording technology being installed, Durham University English Department are continuing as the only department to prevent their lectures from being recorded.

Whilst every other department is now committed to using the lecture capture technology, which uploads an audio recording alongside lecture slides, the English Department has continued to object to the change.

Professor Alastair Renfrew, Head of English told Palatinate: “A comprehensive, automatic system of recording lectures was introduced at Durham last year without any meaningful discussion of its potential impact on educational experience, attendance, and attainment, or of its legal implications for staff and students.

Unmanaged use of recorded lectures poses a threat to the educational experience

“It was introduced in a way that means individual departments or lecturers can’t exercise judgement about how best to use it, as would be the case with any other pedagogical resource; this is particularly important for a discipline that requires extensive reading and active engagement with teachers, texts, and sources, as opposed to passive reception of a fixed body of knowledge.”

An email was sent on November 18th that reminded English undergraduates that they may “make their own recordings of lectures on personal devices, without seeking explicit permission from the lecturer” and that this “is strictly for personal use.”

English is already a low contact hour subject

It is also stated that these recordings “must not be shared, or made for other students, or disseminated or broadcast in any way” and that they must be deleted at the end of the academic year.” The same email told students they may face disciplinary action if this policy is breached. Palatinate however understands from multiple English students that recordings of lectures are shared. One third year student commented that they “record nearly all of (their) lectures” and regularly distribute them to people that were absent.

Many English students feel their department’s decision is unfair. “My issue lies in the imbalance between the resources offered to English students compared to other subjects, despite paying the same fees”, a third-year English student told Palatinate, “English is already a low contact hour subject, so the opportunity to go over the content in our abundance of free time would be highly valuable”.

Lecturers can opt out of uploading up to three lectures per module before needing approval from their Head of Department.

But the English Department considers the technology to be a dangerous substitution for quality teaching. “The system as it has been implemented doesn’t allow us to make recorded lectures available selectively to students according to their needs. The Department therefore feels that comprehensive and unmanaged use of recorded lectures – which is all that is on offer – poses a threat to the educational experience and attainment of our students, a position supported by the weight of available academic evidence and endorsed by our SSCC,” said Professor Renfrew.

Saul Cahill, Undergraduate Academic Officer for 2018/19, argued that the English Department’s reluctance was “entirely indefensible”, due to the support it offers to students with disabilities. His successor is now heading a Lecture Capture steering group, to continue to improve the effectiveness of recorded lectures.

Image by valePerzolla via Flickr and Creative Commons

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