Lecture recordings make for inclusive learning

Research from Emily Nordman and Chiara Horlin highlights the benefits neurodiverse students see from lecture recordings

Emily Nordmann is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology, at the University of Glasgow.

Chiara Horlin is a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow and founder of the University’s Neurodiversity Network.

The emergency pivot to wholly online teaching required by the covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that “needs must” can result in a renaissance of sorts in our approach to balancing tradition with flexibility.

Despite many challenges and a need to accept that done was better than perfect, post-pandemic higher education is arguably more active and inclusive due to a move away from traditional methods of teaching and assessment.

However, the longevity of these hard-won changes in both practice and attitudes is inconsistent. The difficulties of the return to on-campus teaching has for some resulted in a regression to orthodox mainstays of pre-pandemic higher education, particularly regarding the provision of lecture recordings.

In the immediate aftermath of the pivot-to-online, attitudes towards lecture recordings appeared to be moving in a positive direction. However, across the sector, the return to campus has been accompanied by problems with student engagement and photos of empty lecture theatres circulated academic social media.

The implicit and explicit suggestion accompanying many of these images was that lecture recordings were the cause of the disengagement, rather than the fact that our students are still recovering from living and learning through a traumatic pandemic and that expectations on both sides of the lectern may have changed.

Change is hard

Higher education can sometimes seem a little insular in outlook and parallels are drawn too infrequently between wider societal patterns and the issues we face in our university classrooms. Problems with attendance and engagement have also been reported in primary and secondary schools where there are no lectures and no recordings to blame. Instead, absenteeism is attributed to increased rates of illness and health anxiety around spreading infection, as well as mental health challenges, in particular those relating to anxiety and self-confidence.

There is also the impact of the wider shift towards hybrid working to consider. Although some companies are now moving back to requiring employees to physically attend their place of work, partial remote working has become the norm in higher education with most institutions now having a formal hybrid working policy. Many staff meetings are conducted online to help facilitate scheduling demands in addition to some sessions simply working better online. However, it is also true that some staff meetings take place online even when they don’t work as well as they would in-person because staff refuse to attend in-person. Where such attitudes and behaviours exist and staff also refuse to record lectures, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than blinding hypocrisy.

From a pedagogical perspective, the experience of the pandemic has necessitated that we explain why in-person attendance is necessary. Both authors of this piece deliver in-person lectures where recordings are provided and attendance is not only monitored but explicitly and strongly encouraged due to the inclusion of interactive elements and community-building activities as well as the development of self-regulation skills. The intent of this piece is not to argue that attendance is not important but that it should be justified and this is particularly the case for passive, didactic lectures – if you can be replaced by a recording, why shouldn’t you?

From an inclusivity perspective, the provision of lecture recordings is perhaps the lowest bar for Universal Design for Learning – an educational framework that aims to provide flexible learning environments and approaches to address the diverse needs of all learners as standard rather than requiring tailored adjustments such as those provided through disability services.

Access is progress

In our most recent research exploring the experience of disabled and neurodivergent students, our participants highlighted that access indeed equates to progress. Flexible modes of engagement are more conducive to learning for many whose circumstances do not afford them the privilege of perfect health or financial autonomy. The accidental accessibility and incidental inclusion during the pandemic has been difficult to relinquish as some institutions again insist upon in-person attendance at unrecorded lectures. Mandated physical attendance does not equate to learning and may indeed be prohibitive of it as was thrown into stark relief with the OfS’s recent report highlighting concerns that the University of Bedfordshire’s business and management courses provide limited flexibility despite acknowledging the high number of non-traditional students in full-time work.

Our sample of over 300 students highlighted the numerous competing demands on students who are recovering from a pandemic whilst also managing economic, mental health, and housing crises. Lecture recordings were often reported as a lifeline in allowing them to continue their studies but more positively, our study adds weight to an increasing body of evidence that lecture recordings can promote and support engagement as an inclusive tool that meets diverse individual needs of an increasingly diverse student populace.

Extraordinary challenges aside, five central messages resonated from our research:

  • Consolidation/preparation: Students of all ‘types’ use lecture recordings in addition to in-person attendance to compensate for the limitations of the traditional 50-minute lecture format and to consolidate their learning and prepare for assessments.
  • Functional flexibility: In concert with the above, lecture recordings afforded a degree of functional flexibility that allowed it to become an adaptable tool to meet individual needs, such as using subtitles for second language speakers or adjusting the speed of playback.
  • Flexible safety net: Even when not strictly needed, the presence of lecture recordings afforded a ‘safety net’ that reduced anxiety, FOMO, and (at least as some student’s perceived it) facilitated engagement with the lecture in situ.
  • Lifestyle flexibility: Undeniably, students currently face multi-layered challenges to their time, resources and wellbeing that are rarely compatible with mandated in-person lecture attendance. Although nearly all participants preferred to attend lectures, reality did not always afford this possibility.
  • Health/care/safety: Of concern to all students, not just those most at risk, was the salient threat of communicable disease. Additionally, a recognition that the physical environment at and between teaching locations can be inaccessible at best, or physically/mentally harmful at worst.

The return to campus has not been as smooth as many of us had hoped, in part fuelled by new challenges from the appearance of generative AI, and in part fuelled by the wheels falling off a funding and admissions model that has encouraged senior management to view the capacity of the university estate, local accommodation, and staff workload as entirely unrelated to the number of students admitted.

With such difficulties permeating every facet of our jobs it is easy to get nostalgic for seemingly simpler times, however, we must not let such challenges lead us back to regressive policies that compound disadvantage on our most disadvantaged students.

3 responses to “Lecture recordings make for inclusive learning

  1. Excellent analysis and research that puts the onus where it should be, on the lecturer, not the student: “if you can be replaced by a recording, why shouldn’t you?”

    The view that students are simply lazy or disengaged is ableist and lacks nuance and empathy for the innumerable number of pressures and personal circumstances that students face.

    Thank you for demonstrating the positivity of lecture recordings and their impact on learning!

  2. Thank you for this compelling and timely article. I am equally confused as to why we have so quickly reverted to avoiding the recording of lectures. In my view the argument has been won as to the huge value of having such a resource, and it is good to see the link between attendance and recording rendered spurious at best. The wins are significant across a large proportion of the student body and for relatively little additional effort.

  3. Staff here increasingly opt out of recording their lectures because of concerns about the reliability of the technology, and about promising things we cannot actually guarantee to deliver. Our capture system is flaky to say the least, and gives lecturers no live indication of whether it is functioning or not. A unit I taught this semester has lost almost 25% of supposedly recorded lecture hours to failures of the recording equipment (in two separate rooms), leading to (entirely justified) student complaints that a promised resource isn’t being delivered. As a result, I don’t think I will using the capture system next year. I’d be interested to hear if we have a uniquely dysfunctional capture system, or if technical issues are undermining uptake elsewhere too.

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