Email to members from branch vice president Chloe Wallace, 9 June 2020
I hope that you and yours are well – it is for many of us a particularly challenging time of a particularly challenging year, and I hope that you are getting through it.
I am writing to update you on the situation in relation to the University’s proposed new Audio-Visual (lecture capture) policy.
Thank you to all those who took the time to give us feedback on the proposals: if you have not already seen it, the summary of feedback is here:
Thank you also to those who attended our General Meeting on the topic. You can find the text of the motion passed at that meeting here:
In response to our concerns, the university has made some changes to the draft policy. There is a welcome change on wording around performance management, and some movement on the issue of ownership. However, many areas of concern remain unchanged.
You may have seen in a general staff email that the revised policy is now out for consultation amongst the wider staff – the link is here. We’d encourage all members to contribute to that staff wide consultation. Attached is a document outlining some of UCU’s remaining concerns about the policy as it stands – it is not comprehensive and we have many other ongoing issues and questions from the document we originally submitted here, but we thought it would be helpful for members to have a summary briefing of the main heads of concern. We will be communicating these to management directly but would ask all members to use whatever voice and influence you have to express your views as well and would ask you to read our briefing before doing so.
A number of members during the feedback process expressed concerns about the automatic captioning process. The pilot on that is still ongoing and, if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to submit any recordings you might have to it to see how it works – I’ve submitted a few, and it’s enlightening, in the sense that some work much better than others. The link is here. We have not seen any evaluation of that pilot and would need to do so in order to be comfortable that captioning will not substantially increase staff workload without extra time being provided to do it.
All the very best
Lecture capture policy: update
After a first round of consultation with us, management have made some changes, which has been good to see. However, management have not responded to the bulk of our questions about the policy, and significant issues with the policy remain, such that we cannot agree to it as it stands. The issues fall under 4 main headings:
Whilst we have been told an equality impact assessment is being carried out we have not seen its results. A major policy such as this should not be being proposed, let alone agreed, without a comprehensive equality impact assessment.
UCU is committed to inclusivity across the university, including in pedagogy and student support – a commitment which is not merely limited to the fulfilment of legal obligations. . We have recently set up a branch working group on disability, and they are keen to work with the University and LUU to promote what will need to be a radical transformation in the way in which the university operates better to include disabled students and staff. Our objections to the policy as it is written are not objections to inclusive education, and could be addressed without harming opportunities of disabled students. But the policy contains no acknowledgement of the needs of staff, whether disabled or with other concerns which are impacted by this policy, and no recognition that Equality Act duties extend to treatment of staff as well as students. The Head of School guidance contains no mention of these duties and no examples that would serve to educate Heads of School about the circumstances in which a staff member may be disadvantaged by being required to use the lecture capture system, or ways in which they could be supported such that that disadvantage is removed. As a result, we believe that this policy risks placing the University in violation of its legal duties towards its employees.
Content ownership and control
One of the changes which the university has made is the addition of point 13, making it clear that only the content owner can edit, publish or share recordings. This is welcome. However, the question of who the content owner is is left to the Heads of School guidance, where it states that the content owner is the member of staff who is recorded. That point is crucial and needs to be in the policy, not the guidance. Taken together these provisions mean that if your lecture is recorded, only you can decide where and when it is used outside of the module you recorded it for, which is an important reassurance. However, this is incompatible with point 42, which says that staff leaving the University are not permitted to delete recordings on leaving, because “teaching material… is likely to be needed by other colleagues and students involved in the programme.” If the staff member leaves after a module is complete, which is by far the most usual scenario, we do not see any circumstance in which their recording might be needed again. This leaves the University with the option of deploying a recording of a member of a staff who has left, as an alternative to continuing to employ that staff member or employment a replacement. This is unacceptable.
Management tell us that they have taken legal advice on the application of GDPR to lecture capture, and in particular as to the special status of special category data (data concerning issues to which rights attach, including ethnic origin, religious or philosophical beliefs, and political opinions), for which explicit consent is required in order for it to be recorded and stored. We do not believe management appreciate how frequently this type of data is contained within teaching: both video (where ethnic origin and religious belief will/may be visible) and audio, depending on the extent to which the lecturer and students call upon their own experience and situatedness to explain, explore and discuss. We are seeking legal advice on this matter.
The reduction of the release time from 72 to 48 hours, and the introduction of captioning have good justifications but significant workload implications about which we need reassurance. Management state that most staff do not edit their recordings and most of those who do so do within 48 hours, but the needs of the minority are still important. The impact of this provision hits disproportionately staff who work part time, and may also require evening and weekend working for staff whose teaching falls at the end of the week. We understand the motivation, but more nuance and support is required to achieve the desired outcome.
Captioning is an important resource, but we are concerned about the potential workload involved. A pilot is ongoing, and anecdotally that gives very mixed results in terms of accuracy We have not seen any outcome or analysis of that pilot, and we have not been told what the quality threshold for captioning will be. If that quality threshold is set too low, the job of correcting captions is substantial and cannot be contained within a normal workload. We need more reassurances on this matter.
More generally, we observe that a significant cause of workload creep is additional requirements relating to technology. These requirements are often good in themselves, but the university fails to provide enough staff time for them to be carried out. We need the university to take our workload concerns seriously and propose a mechanism through which workload allocation will be reviewed to take into consideration the demands of new technology, particularly in relation to accessibility and inclusion. We support these values unequivocally, and the University must commit to them by properly resourcing staff to do the work.
 Examples might include being a survivor of domestic violence, many mental health issues, including anxiety and body dysmorphia, and the concerns of some trans staff.