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University to expand use of classroom recordings

Twenty rooms currently have audio and video recording technology, seven of which are on main campus. Graphic by Emma Stessman

Asking for notes and talking to a classmate may have been the only solution for a student who needed to miss class in the past. But now, some students are able to view a full recording of a class by simply pressing a button.

Chapman currently records classes in 20 classrooms, seven of which are on main campus, and plans to expand its use of this recording technology to more classes in the future, Director of Leaning Spaces Mary Litch wrote in an email to The Panther.

“What this technology is designed to do is allow us to capture a classroom and be re-broadcast at a later time for the student who misses class,” said Provost Glenn Pfeiffer. “And it’s not without controversy, because some faculty argue, ‘Well, if a student misses class, why should we make it easy for them to miss class?’”

Although the cameras and microphones are designed to film and record instructors, not students, Litch said, student voices may be audible on the recordings.
“In no case is a camera explicitly pointed at students,” Litch wrote.

Pfeiffer said that the university has received some complaints from students who were not aware that they were being recorded during a 15-minute break in a three-hour class. Pfeiffer said he does not know how the complaints were resolved.

Dean of Students Jerry Price said that although he did not know of any specific complaints, recordings should be stopped during class breaks or students should be reminded that the recording is still in progress.

Graphic by Emma Stessman

“Students should be aware if the class is being recorded and their voice or image may be captured,” Price said. “They absolutely should know.”

Alexandra Huynh, a freshman health sciences major, said that she thinks students should be told if they could be recorded.

“I’m curious as to which classes are being recorded, or if I’m currently being recorded. If I am, I’m a little bit upset,” Huynh said. “That’s just something to tell students, because it’s a little bit of an invasion of privacy if you don’t.”

The classes are recorded using computer software and cameras. Recordings are then uploaded to the Blackboard course site, where students and instructors must log in with their Chapman information before accessing the recording. Litch said that students “should not be sharing” the recording with people outside of the class.

“We have the microphones in the ceiling, and the technology is set up so we don’t have to pass that mic around. It captures everything,” Pfeiffer said.

California’s two-party consent rule states that both parties being recorded must consent if the conversation may be considered confidential or private. The rule does not apply in a situation where the people involved may “reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded.”

“I don’t think (the two-party consent law is) applicable in this context,” said Thomas Bell, a Fowler School of Law professor who specializes in copyright and technological legal issues. “What university policies are, I really don’t know, because I hand it over to administrators.”

Bell said that nobody can reasonably have an expectation of privacy if they speak in a classroom setting.

Neither Pfeiffer, Litch nor Price knew specifically how students will be made aware that they may be recorded before they enter a classroom. Litch said that she thinks all instructors do make this clear to their students when they are in classrooms with recording technology.

“(The Academic Technology Department) does not communicate with students about the possibility of their image or voice appearing in a recording,” Litch said. “We leave that communication up to the instructor.”

Sabrina Evanson, a freshman health sciences major, said that she thinks whether the possibility of being recorded might limit student participation depends on the class.

“I feel like some classes do have a lot more sensitive topics,” Evanson said. “If you’re a student and you share something, maybe you wouldn’t want that to be repeated and everyone else to play that over and over.”

Bell said that classroom recordings, which he has experienced in classes he has taught, do not concern him. He would not specify whether he informs students that they may be recorded in certain classes he teaches.

“I think anyone that goes around thinking, ‘I’m going to live in a private bubble, I’m going to be this special person, no one can listen to what I have to say,’ is not living in the present,” Bell said. “If students can’t handle other people hearing what they have to say, they should second-guess what they want to say.”

Steven Plantan, a third-year student at the Fowler School of Law, said that during his first year, professors recorded classroom sessions for a classmate who was hospitalized with cancer, and said that recordings could be helpful for classes with long lectures.

“A lot of times, people are really caught up with typing down everything that the professor says in classrooms, so as a student, it would be nice to have that option to kind of re-listen or re-watch lectures that can go by pretty quickly when you’re not paying attention, or if there’s complex material,” Plantan said.

Instructors who are trained to use this technology are told that the recordings continue during breaks, Litch said. The professors are given options to prevent sensitive material from being recorded, like turning off the microphone or pausing the recording.

Recordings can also be edited after the fact, Litch said, which allows instructors to go through and vet any potentially private information.
Some instructors worry that the knowledge of possibly being recorded may decrease student participation.

Hector Martinez, a sociology professor, said that while he thinks the university should be accommodating to students who cannot attend class, he isn’t sure whether classroom recordings would inhibit students from discussing sensitive topics. In classes Martinez teaches, like race and ethnicity, he said that students are taught to provide opposing viewpoints on issues like Black Lives Matter.

“What concerns me a little bit is, once a student has a recording, they can do whatever they want with it,” Martinez said. “Someone who’s not sitting in your classroom can take what you’re saying very far out of context.”

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