College proposes steps to control recording, posting of lectures

A proposal to add a clause to the Student Handbook addressing digital recordings of lectures was presented at the faculty meeting on March 13. The  proposal addresses concerns over recent increases in audio and video recordings of classroom activities, often without the consent of professors or classmates. Lee Park, chair of the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) and professor of chemistry, emphasized that the proposed addition is not intended to add penalties but rather to increase student awareness of the potentially unconsidered consequences of their actions. Park pointed to two issues the recording of lectures raises: privacy and distribution rights.

“There are really two issues: one has to do with recording of classroom activities (not just lectures) and the other has to do more generally with the distribution of materials associated with classroom activities,” Park said. Reports and faculty observation show “increasingly, some students come to view such recording as a normal part of their in-class note-taking and study strategies.”

The practice prompted the CEP, which includes, faculty, staff and six students including Student Chair Michael Girouard ’13, to consult College Council (CC) and the Faculty Steering Committee. The CEP expressed a need for a policy that “provid[es] enough flexibility to cover a spectrum of possible practices,” a summary distributed at a faculty meeting explained. “The goal of such a policy would be to protect the integrity of what transpires in the classroom, any materials prepared for the classroom, as well as the privacy of students and faculty.”

A new statement on the issue will soon be adopted into the Student Handbook, likely during the summer of 2013. “As [the CEP] started looking into it, it was clear that many other institutions already have something like this in place,” Park said.

The statement, similar to that of peer institutions, will convey the general policy that: “Williams College prohibits any recording (audio or video) of lectures, seminars, or other classroom activities without the express permission of the instructor. Authorized recordings and all other course materials may only be used for the purposes of an individual’s (or group’s) study and may not be shared with any wider audience on or off campus unless the instructor has explicitly given such permission.”

The summary distributed at the faculty meeting advises professors to clarify their individual recording policies. The CEP also suggests professors include statements about the new policy in their syllabi, perhaps next to the Honor Code policy that has become similarly customary. Another suggestion proposed adding a paragraph on the login page for Glow, since distribution rights for materials posted on the site may appear ambiguous to students.

Park also argued that recording class materials may involve unconsidered privacy issues. The CEP recognizes the variety of valid classroom situations that may warrant recording, such as to enhance performance-based classes, to aid students’ later study and to provide self-evaluations for faculty.

However, the CEP considers it imperative that students and faculty alike consider privacy issues and possible consequences of creating permanent copies of classroom events. For example, Park says the CEP is concerned that knowledge of being recorded may “change the dynamic” of a discussion-based class, making students less comfortable participating in discussions or asking questions.

Additionally, the proposed stipulation would address distribution of class materials. According to the faculty summary, “there are a variety of online sites … where students are encouraged to share and/or sell their study materials with students from other institutions.” Some of these Internet hubs include CourseHero.com, ShareNotes.com and NoteHall.com; materials the sites feature include “syllabi, lecture notes, videos of lectures, exams (and solutions) and papers.” Other issues surrounding distribution include sharing course materials that were posted on Glow, which Park points out may inadvertently violate “complex copyright issues.”

The new policy will have no effect on students who rely on disability accommodations. The Academic Resource Center will continue to assist students with such accommodations and help them navigate scholastic life at the College. While certain sharing may also violate intellectual privacy rights, the policy will likely allow students to share notes with classmates enrolled in the same course.

“I don’t see this having a big impact on most students,” Park said, but she advises students to “assume any materials prepared for class were designed for that classroom experience” and speak to their professors before recording or sharing classroom material. The policy’s authors intended to keep it “as simple as possible” and “not to prohibit anything but to trigger the conversation.”

“We realized it would be good to have some guidelines about it, not to constrict what people need to do for their academic success but to make sure that where there are conversations that need to happen, people take those up and work that out rather than being surprised and finding something that really shouldn’t be there out in the public domain,” Dean Bolton said.