Lecture capture: Privacy, please

Colleges work to create policies and guidelines for instructors

While the benefits of lecture capture and the flipped classroom model have caught widespread attention in higher ed, it is crucial to note its risks—particularly in the area of privacy and copyright violations.

FERPA noncompliance can result in the loss of federal funding, while copyright infringement could lead to costly civil or even criminal penalties. Recorded lectures released to the public could bring unwanted attention to a school—as in the February case of a guest speaker at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, whose lecture was picked up by conservative media and called “anti-Republican.”

Close to 90 percent of private universities cited lecture capture as an important part of their campus plans in a 2013 survey by The Campus Computing Project, up from about 72 percent in 2010.

And yet, many colleges and universities using the technology have still not formulated clear guidelines and policies for handling privacy issues. With so much at stake, and with the capabilities and ubiquity of the technology expanding rapidly, it’s more important than ever for institutional leaders to take a serious look at the issue.

Following are six best practices that can help protect your institution against privacy violations.

1. Make guidelines and policies apply to all.

Because much of the responsibility for enforcing privacy policy rests with individual faculty members, having clear, campuswide standards in place can help ensure across-the-board compliance.

At Brigham Young University-Idaho, lecture capture guidelines concerning copyright and privacy concerns—including sample consent form templates—were developed, distributed directly to the entire campus community and also made widely available online. The process took about three months, says Nate Wise, the university’s digital content/intellectual property specialist, who was tasked by the academic vice president with creating the guidelines. He collaborated with an academic technology IT coordinator and BYU’s Office of General Counsel.

Managing the top lecture capture privacy concerns

  • Intellectual property of the recording itself: It‘s important to determine who owns the material—the individual faculty members, the institution or both?
  • Using outside sources within the presentation: Faculty should secure permission or omit copyrighted material when sharing content that is not their own.
  • Audience and guest speaker privacy: If students or class guests are in any way identifiable on the recording, FERPA guidelines dictate the use of signed consent forms.
  • Distribution of controversial material: In some cases, classroom recordings have been leaked to the media and taken out of context, bringing negative attention to faculty and institutions. At some institutions, such as the University of Virginia, there are strict policies prohibiting students from recording lectures without permission. Many policies prohibit students from sharing captured lectures beyond the class.

In several cases—such as at Saint Louis University—privacy guidelines are set and distributed by IT. Faculty, students and others with questions are referred to the institution’s general counsel and the library for further information on copyright and fair use.

2. Decide who owns the content.

An extension of the privacy issue relates to content ownership. If the university owns the recording, for instance, it may be able to distribute that material at will, without the faculty member’s knowledge or permission.

But in many, if not most, cases, intellectual property rights fall to the faculty member, who decides whether to distribute the lecture to the public (provided any distinguishable students or guest speakers give their consent). In some cases, the institution owns the content and can freely reuse the lectures for its own purposes. And in other scenarios, the ownership is shared.

“I’m a big fan of co-ownership,” says Eugene Rutz, academic director of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Cincinnati. His college uses Sonic Foundry’s

Mediasite for a special program called “Engineering Your Future,” which teaches high school students about careers in engineering and technology.

“When we create these lecture capture opportunities for a program, if the faculty move to a new university or retire, we can use that, say, for the next three years,” Rutz says. “But it’s also relevant that if they move to another college, they can take that content generated and reuse it, though of course not with UC branding on it.” The policy is clearly indicated in the instructors’ contracts, he adds. “We haven’t had a lot of issues. Most are seeing this as a way to reach a broader audience.”

3. Be transparent about expectations.

Faculty should be transparent with students about what lecture capture entails. “Faculty members typically talk about office hours, course materials, resources and everything else in their syllabi,” says Kenneth Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project, which studies the role of information technology in American higher education. “If they’re going to use lecture capture, they should include an explicit statement about what’s being captured, how it will be used and who has access.”

Instructors can convey this information in a slide at the start of a presentation, and signs should be posted in classrooms where lectures are being recorded. Saint Louis University’s guidelines ask this of faculty: “Announce in class that you are turning on the recorder and that students can request at any time to have it turned off, should the lecture or discussion involve sensitive topics.”

4. Limit the scope of recordings.

One of the most basic ways to protect student privacy—even if it’s not going to produce the most visually interesting lecture—is to record only the instructor, typically with one camera at the back of the room.

At Saint Louis, student consent is not required as long as the following are true:

  • Faculty members are broadcasting just their own images/content
  • No student participation is recorded during a lecture 
  • Incidental student participation (such as a student walking in or out of class) is recorded and the broadcast is directed to a defined course.

Consent is required from students who are caught in a lecture the instructor wants to use in a future class. Capturing audio from students is typically not a problem if they are not identified by name. Some faculty will begin with a lecture and turn off the recording during a discussion period.

Mediasite has a pause or privacy button that faculty can use, particularly in the case of sensitive discussion topics. If students inadvertently appear on camera—by walking in late, for example—or if a student is concerned about his or her voice being recognized, most lecture capture technology enables audio and video editing. At Saint Louis University, which uses Tegrity, policy dictates that any editing must be done before the recording is made available to students.

Cornell University’s guidelines remind faculty that “students who don’t wish to appear in a recording must have the same experience as students willing to be recorded.” That means faculty can’t ask students to sit in a certain seat or refrain from speaking.

A lecture also might be edited if the instructor decides to make the content public but has used copyright-protected material. While sharing images, video and other texts within a particular class is usually protected under the fair use provision of the Copyright Act of 1976, BYUI’s guidelines state: “We can no longer rely on the existing exceptions for face-to-face teaching when distributing content to the public.”

Instructors must get permission to reuse material or use content that is licensed for reuse. Also, invited guest speakers must sign a consent form or obtain a Creative Commons license that permits free distribution of their lecture.

5. Limit lecture access.

At Eastern New Mexico University, more than 4,300 of the school’s 6,000 students took at least one online course through Mediasite in fall 2012. Privacy is maintained by restricting access to registered students, who log in through Blackboard. The school has not considered making its recorded lectures public, says Mary Ayala, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Faculty can also limit the length of time that students have access. At Saint Louis University, Tegrity recordings remain on its cloud-based server for two terms after a course ends. Before they’re automatically deleted, faculty can transfer the lectures to a private course for storage.

Restricting access to students enrolled in a course eliminates many, though not all, privacy concerns, as any student comments expressed or material used will remain within the classroom community just as non-recorded courses would. According to Rutz, of the University of Cincinnati, this means the level of diligence is lower than if a recording is distributed to a general audience.

Still, privacy can be violated in unexpected ways. At Cornell, a sample waiver asks students to agree that they “understand that while this/these lecture(s) are not intended for public viewing, there are circumstances in which people outside this course may be able to watch them (e.g. someone watching over the shoulder of a student viewing a recording, a student improperly sharing links, etc.).”

Cornell works with Mediasite but also lets faculty use Panopto, a no-cost service that allows instructors to record their computer screen synchronized with audio or video. However, the university does not have an agreement with Panopto to protect students’ privacy, so faculty must have written permission from students who appear in a Panopto recording prior to posting.

Privacy is not just the concern of faculty; students, too, may inadvertently violate policy. At Saint Louis University, faculty can make lectures available as downloadable audio or presentation files, or as a streaming video. Students are prohibited from duplicating or redistributing recorded lectures. Faculty who choose to make their lectures downloadable are reminded to remove copyrighted material.

6. Be strategic about policy.

The question of making lectures public is a strategic one, says Rutz. In the case of its “Engineering Your Future” program, the University of Cincinnati chose to make its lectures public because it wanted to showcase its programs and encourage prospective students to enter the field of engineering. “We want it widely distributed. The university has made a strategic decision to highlight that content, and we want it to be viewed by many people because we think it has benefits for the university.”

Wise of BYUI recommends being proactive—staying ahead of the technology and its capabilities and anticipating future needs. After all, even an institution not planning to make lectures public now will want to be prepared in case officials do make such plans in the future.

Ioanna Opidee is a freelance writer based in Milford, Conn.


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