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Educational 8-Tracks

It is 2014. Professors should allow students to record lectures.

Photo by Donna Milligan
Photo by Donna Milligan

At the start of term this year, I heard more profs than usual saying to not record their lectures. I’ve never been one to record lectures, but this is a step backwards. I consider this a violation of my rights as someone who pays thousands of dollars for education fees annually and as someone living in the 21st century.

Dalhousie’s website has the following to say about recording in the classroom:

Check with your instructor and verify that you have permission to record a lecture before doing so. Copyright in the lecture would belong to your instructor and any presenters (if applicable) as they would own their “performances” under copyright law.  Notes that you may take during the class belong to you unless they represent the material presented verbatim.

Sounds boringly neutral, right?

Considering that we individually pay a bare minimum of hundreds of dollars per course (with professional students paying into the thousands), it’s pretty rude to disallow us the ability to perfectly record these sessions. There are philosophic problems at play. Are we supposed to get incomplete information from these lectures? Why should our academic outcomes in classes about biology, history, and commerce be directly proportional to the number of words per minute we can type during class? Wouldn’t it be better to spend our lectures engaging with the materials and discussion rather than typing like our lives depended on it?

We know that note-taking can only replicate the tone and presence of a lecture so well, and every student knows how useless rushed handwritten notes can be. Will Dalhousie be funding laptops for all of us to improve our note-taking speed? Doubtful; we’ve all been told repeatedly that laptops in lecture literally lower our grades, rot our minds, and contribute to ISIS. I can understand that not all of the lecture is worth taking notes on, because every public speaker has some umms and ahhs and a funny story or two, but that’s never been the point and it should be the student’s discretion anyway.

From another angle, the artificial scarcity of knowledge imposed by the policy against recording creates another problem. A number of my profs refuse to put their slides up online. This is certainly within their rights, but it’s another jab at the idea that students should be allowed to learn freely. Now accidentally sleeping in becomes essentially no different from throwing away sixty dollars (the amount my two morning lectures are worth), because the school will make no attempts to let me learn what I’ve missed. Don’t email your professor asking what was covered in class, unless you enjoy the scathing assumption of laziness you’ll get in response. Sure, you might be willing to put hours into reviewing the material you missed, but heaven forbid any knowledge is disseminated outside the classroom.

If we took any message home from the practices of these professors, it would be that learning is hard and if you can’t do it during your scheduled lecture hours then you don’t deserve to know. Ignore the fact that most lectures take place during working hours, and it’s a rare summer job that can pay for a year’s fees. It’s not their fault you weren’t born independently wealthy.

Of course, I feel for these lecturers too. The knowledge they share in the “Sacred Classroom” shouldn’t be sold illicitly. I get that the memetic nature of online data can be intimidating. However, as an old dead guy once said, “adapt or perish.” (H.G. Wells, actually.)

A solution to prevent illicit sales before they happen would be easy – equip each prof with a recorder (video cameras exist too, but I won’t be greedy), and let them upload their audio to Blackboard for all their registered students.

Of course, sometimes solutions cause more problems – I can hear the arguments already. What if online recordings lead to empty lecture halls, as students opt to stay at home where they can learn sans pants?

So what? What about our current model is so commendable that we shouldn’t accommodate other approaches? Is the same knowledge wrong if it is learned differently? If so, we should move back to papyrus scrolls.

It isn’t as if professors are currently the sole arbiters of knowledge; their subjects are covered in the books at our magnificent, publicly accessible libraries too. Their lectures are primarily useful to the students paying to take their classes and write their exams. Eventually most education will take place online. Technological backpedalling only delays the inevitable at an unjustifiable cost to current students.

Frankly, the way things are, it’s no wonder that Dalhousie pushes its community angle so hard. If you don’t have a support system of other students to rely on, you are SOL if you have to miss any time.

When your ability to attend and transcribe a handful of specific, often-inconvenient hours per week decides how bright your future will be, you don’t have to be studious to learn the cynicism of higher education.

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