Lecture Capture at RHUL

Earlier this summer we blogged about our initial reaction to the Senior Management Team’s (SMT) clumsy attempt to impose lecture capture on all teaching staff. Remember, UCU officers and staff were assured by the SMT that lecture capture would remain opt-in in June 2018. Following that blog post, we received a barrage of concerns from our members about the policy and complaints about the manner in which SMT are trying to impose the change, which we will lay out below. It is both surprising and disturbing that Management are publicising the six-fold increase in recording, based upon the failure of academics to opt out sometimes under pressure from their HoD, (3rd September 2019 Principal’s newsletter to staff), as being due to lecturers throughout the College ‘seeing the light’ and recognising the monumental pedagogical boost to be gained from student non-attendance at lectures.

Tracking back through Academic Board (AB) minutes, or at least those that are actually available, we see the original paper on Lecture Capture, produced by Vice Principal Rosemary Deem, was presented to AB in March 2019. This accepted that evidence of a positive impact on students’ attainment and attendance was unconvincing but that students were keen on this provision. In fact, this very much understates the largely negative outcomes associated with lecture capture that are succinctly discussed in this paper. VP Deem’s paper tried to find “a third way” and advocated that staff use either lecture capture; annotated lecture notes (post session); or podcasts. While this introduces an element of choice, it still entails additional work without an accompanying allocation of time, and de-professionalises our educators. Further, it assumes that one of these procedures is the best approach to education. Some experienced lecturers may feel strongly that students actually attending the lecture and taking their own notes, supplemented by doing the readings on the course outline and problem sets/essays, tested by rigorous unseen written examinations, remains the best approach to learning at the university level.

Somehow, beyond the gaze of the full AB, this morphed into a demand from another Vice Principal, Professor Badcock, that all content-heavy lectures be videoed. (We are bemused as to the notion of a ‘content-light’ lecture, but could see that it could cause embarrassment for any such lectures to be recorded.) As a result, at the end of the last academic year teaching staff were invited to submit reasons why their lectures would not be suitable for consideration, presumably by confessing that their lectures were ‘content-light’, a process followed by an understandable if unearthly hush.

At our July 2019 meeting with Senior Management we voiced our objections and asked how the College had arrived at such a position, having chosen not to discuss the issue with the recognised trade union for lecturers at all. It was explained that the motivation to change policy was in response to demands from the Student Union, but the actual policy had been misrepresented in these emails and the policy in force bears more resemblance to the proposal of VP Deem. We indicated that we remained extremely “unhappy” with both the proposal of VP Deem and the process by which a lecture capture policy had re-appeared. We stated we would be prepared to examine the initial three options in VP Deem’s paper as part of a working party on the topic but that we must be involved in policy setting. As usual, our willingness to join a working party on the topic has been ignored.

Continue reading “Lecture Capture at RHUL”

Lecture capture: a UCU first response

With no discussion with the lecturers on the ground –the real experts in teaching at the College – Management has agreed with the Student Union on greater use of ‘lecture capture’. Lecture capture is shorthand for a system that tries to record a lecture without integration of the full aspects of their lecture.

Even if the technology was remarkable – which almost certainly it won’t be – it would be like one of these cinema showings of National Theatre plays: a poor substitute for being there and participating in the full experience.

We can understand why the Student Union might have found the idea of ‘lecture capture’ attractive as a supplement to first rate lectures taught by leading researchers in their field – the Royal Holloway style of research-led teaching. But what Management did not explain to the SU was that this would be an element in further casualisation of the teaching workforce (over 60% of RHUL teaching is now done by casual employees), along with substantial increases in the student-staff ratio. It is not an element driven by a coherent package of improving the teaching and learning experience at the College. Indeed, the weight of evidence has shown it is detrimental to student attendance and grades.

What was agreed with the Vice Principal in June 2018 was that ‘lecture capture’ was entirely optional for the lecturer. We thus advise members to feel free to just say no. You do not have to annotate your lectures for those students who didn’t attend, you do not have to do web-casts. Just continue to deliver first-rate lectures.

A sensible discussion can occur on how to raise the standards of teaching at the College, based on traditional RHUL research-led teaching, built around a low student-staff ratio and a personally adapted resource-intensive focus upon the student’s learning.

We hope to initiate that discussion with the Student Union and with Management.

Invitations to members to give us their reactions to the edict on lecture capture generated an unheralded response. We’ll shortly share a summary of the specific dangers of lecture capture as identified by our members; if you’d like to add your views (to be shared anonymously), please e-mail us at rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

Posted on behalf of members of the RHUL UCU branch committee.