Politics

Recorded Lectures Should Remain the Norm After the COVID Pandemic

“This is an issue of accessibility.”

After suffering a traumatic brain injury six years ago, Christina Beck, a senior at New York University, had to adjust to a whole new reality. This included learning how to cope with memory loss, anxiety and depression, and debilitating, chronic migraines. Her ability to complete her schoolwork declined: She would sometimes not remember entire portions of her lectures, or not be able to attend classes at all because of a migraine.

Beck relies on accommodations — a variety of supports and services meant for people with documented disabilities — to succeed in school. She has extra excused absences if she isn’t able to make it to class, and she is allowed to record her lectures using computer software so she can go through the day’s lesson at home and see if she missed anything.

It hasn’t always been easy for Beck to use her university-approved accommodations. Sometimes professors won’t excuse her absences or let her record their lectures. When this happens, she feels like professors may not understand how much she relies on these accommodations to complete her schoolwork. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Beck has had easy access to lecture recordings — a change that makes her feel like school is worth the cost.

“If I pay the same amount to be in these classes, then how come I don’t have the right to access these classes, whether it be over the internet or whether it be in person?” Beck said.

In a comment to Teen Vogue, NYU spokesperson Shonna Keogan said that since professors are not given access to disability-related information pertaining to students, it is not up to them to determine whether a disability-related absence is valid, and that NYU’s accessibility center can assist with any concerns.

Most universities see the widespread use of recorded lectures as a temporary matter — something that will return to only being available for students with accommodations after the coronavirus pandemic ends. But Beck and other activists believe that they are not the only people who benefit from recorded lectures, and think schools should continue to offer them. They say recorded lectures can help those dealing with things like hectic work schedules, caretaking responsibilities, or internet outages. With so much else for students to be stressed about, being able to easily catch up on class by watching a recording can take some of the edge off.

As the copresident of NYU’s Disability Student Union (DSU), Beck has been advocating for more widespread use of recorded lectures and events at the school. She first noticed that many rooms had recording capabilities in her first year at NYU, and started looking for ways that events put on by the DSU could be available via Zoom so that those who were unable to attend the event could still be included. While Beck was able to work with the university to get most DSU events online, she says administrators were less eager about making recorded lectures the norm. (Teen Vogue reached out to NYU for comment.) She thinks the pandemic will help bring schools around to her side.

“Now that everyone has seen the benefits of recorded lectures, there’s a better chance that our advocacy will come to fruition,” Beck said.

Andrew Robinson, a professor of physics at Canada’s Carleton University, has been seeing those benefits for the last 15 years. In 2005, he decided to start recording the audio from his lectures for students who missed class. He then switched to recording his lectures once the technology became available. Robinson said that he received so much positive feedback from students in the first couple of years that he decided he had to continue to do it for his students’ benefit.

“A lot of them liked the fact that they could replay what I said, and quite a number of them said it was really useful when [they] missed class or were sick,” Robinson said. “It kind of took the pressure off a bit.”

Despite that positive feedback, Robinson said he has some reservations about any kind of university-mandate on requiring recorded lectures. After news broke that Concordia University had been using recordings from a professor who passed away in 2019 to teach a winter 2021 art history class, the issue of who owns the rights to the recordings became a big concern among many of his colleagues. This issue has yet to be fully resolved, and Robinson believes it must be before there is a broader move to require professors to record their lectures.

“It raises a lot of questions about if we sign off our work in perpetuity or not,” Robinson said. “I’m kind of ambivalent about that, and I think it should be very clear.”

Beck said that this was a concern she heard over and over again from professors at New York University. But professors mentioned few other concerns about adopting the practice, like students skipping class if they could just access the recorded lectures on their own time. So she thinks the path forward will clear once universities create some guidelines regarding the ownership rights issue.

“I know that for the most part that’s why recorded lectures aren’t the norm is because of the fear coming from professors,” Beck said. “If we could just find a way to calm them so they don’t have that anxiety we could help so many students.”

For Drew Carter, a sophomore at Pomona College, recorded lectures are just one step in making college a more inclusive place for low-income students who might be working part-time or serving as a caretaker while attending school. Last fall, Carter was living in Chicago and working as a fellow at Degrees of Freedom, which is located in Virginia. Both school and work were remote, and they had to balance both while also living in a different time zone. This meant that Carter sometimes struggled to attend class or keep up with homework.

Carter says that for people who have to work to support themselves through college, the issue of not always being able to attend class won’t just go away when the pandemic is over.

“We should not be looking at this as a pandemic issue,” they said. “This is simply an institutional issue. This is an issue of accessibility that goes beyond whether or not we are remote.”

Robinson said that increasing accessibility to lectures is something that can only serve to benefit students who, like Carter, are juggling multiple responsibilities on top of attending college. Beyond that, there are plenty of more mundane reasons to adopt recorded lectures more broadly.

“We get quite a bit of snow, and there’s been a few times where the university has remained open, even though the local police have said unnecessary travel is strongly discouraged, and to be quite honest, I consider traveling into university to teach a class pretty unnecessary,” Robinson said.

When classes are in session, many schools have mandatory attendance policies in place that will continue to deter students from blowing off lectures. And for the most part, Beck believes that the people who will benefit the most from recorded lectures post-pandemic are not people who just want to skip class, but who, like her, just want to be able to learn the content that they’ve missed.

“You can take shortcuts on anything, and watching a three-hour recording is not a shortcut,” Beck said. “I want that recording so that I can listen to it two or three times, and that’s a large amount of work I’m investing into knowing what they’re trying to teach me.”

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