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Oxford students call for better recorded lecture access

The Oxford SU has launched a campaign to standardise lecture recording, following calls to make sure lectures can be accessed by all students in the ways they are needed. The VP Access & Academic Affairs Jade Calder told Cherwell that the campaign is for “the spread of best practice on lecture accessibility and recording policy across as many university departments as possible.” 

In-person lectures were one of the casualties of the pandemic; even after lockdown restrictions lifted in Oxford, they have not been the same. Complaints of quality control, incomplete lecture series, and missing key parts of teaching have pushed the SU’s campaign for the provision of standardised recordings.

Access to recorded lectures for disabled students and those suffering from short-term illness has also been a key motivation for the campaign, which is keen to work closely with the SU’s Disabilities Campaign, DisCam. Currently, students with Student Support Plans (SSPs), personal tuition plans for disabled students, are sometimes granted permission to access lecture recordings. However, one student pointed out that this does not benefit individuals with undiagnosed condition, who do not qualify for an SSP, or those who are temporarily unwell. Moreover, the SSP’s largest caveat means that lecturers can always object to recordings.

The SU campaign, therefore, hopes to fairly standardise lecture recordings for students and lecturers together. Meanwhile, a Cherwell poll clarified that 92% of respondents think lectures should be recorded for all students, irrespective of disability or illness. 

Cherwell polled over 300 students about their views on recorded lecture access.

The VP-Academic Affairs, Jade Calder, noted that “now that we know that universal lecture accessibility is possible because of the pandemic”. Students at the campaign’s launch also commented on the University of Oxford’s impressive academic creation, but decried the lack of innovative action on standardisation of lecture recording. One of the launch’s attendees labelled the University’s lack of action “discriminatory” for those who can’t attend due to COVID-19, other illnesses, mental health conditions, and accessibility issues. To not be able to attend lectures can “end the career” of those students who frequently have no choice but to miss lectures or those who have not had access to recordings of them. This is especially problematic when degrees, STEM subjects in particular, rely on lectures to deliver the bulk of their teaching. 

The campaign focuses on students but, many would be quick to think of the academic staff and lecturers. That is, for humanities and STEM subjects alike, lectures are the intellectual property of the academic, so to record them would risk compromising ground-breaking discovery and research. Moreover, in times of mass strike action, there are concerns of lecture recordings being used to break strikes. The consideration of the data protection of students has an important role to play as well. Nevertheless, the SU launch proposed a standardised contract for students to sign to control this risk as well as training for staff to better manage recording technology. At the moment, for instance, the welfare of students and staff together has been impacted by missing parts of lecture series, poorly coordinated sound and image, and limited access to past recordings. One Computer Science student told Cherwell that the department had removed access to its archive of lectures, a key part of the course, without prior warning. A poll carried out by Cherwell found that 60% of respondents said their welfare had been impacted by lecture access disparities.  

The VP-Academic Affairs told Cherwell that a recent academic survey showed that lectures are among the top of student concerns for academic experience in Oxford. Calder was keen to emphasise the University’s response has been largely cooperative; Oxford wants to see “good practice implemented across departments and effective implementation of their Educational Recordings Policy.” The SU’s campaign is well under way and remains in frequent contact with the relevant bodies to ensure access to lectures is equal for all. Calder said to Cherwell that the most important thing for students to do is to speak to their tutors about added support for lecture recordings. 

While Cherwell has found that most students prefer in-person lectures, the figure is closely followed by those who would like to choose. It is the freedom to take control of how you learn that appeals to most. But, the SU campaign will ensure that those who don’t have a choice will still have appropriate access to a satisfactory level of educational resources.

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