Friday, 15 July 2016

Guest Post: Vene Vidi Recordari

My last blog post - on the Etiquette for Tweeting at Conferences - got quite a bit of attention, and a number of comments. One person who commented is Dr Andrew Flaus (@andrewflaus) who sent me a long email including a discussion on etiquette for students in lectures. I invited him to contribute a blog post on the topic.

My wife is an early childhood teacher so people sometimes ask her what she teaches to 3-4 year olds: “Everything”. Children who are new to the school environment start by learning etiquette of the classroom: How to wait in turn to answer, how to respect the efforts of others, how to share crayons.

The recent post about twitter at conferences reminded me how fresh we and our students are to the use of technology in our lecture theatres.

Whether they are “digital natives” or not, most students reflexively use smartphone technology for a variety of activities. If a student can see or hear something they have the technology to record it in their hand. They are also very savvy about the usefulness of this recording, yet many seem to be naive or oblivious to the etiquette of this copying.

Last month I presented a secondary school outreach activity in a PC Suite. Our computing support has professional security practices so I dutifully obtained temporary user IDs and passwords then distributed these to the students on a sheet of paper. Several students simply photographed the sheet and handed it on.

Very resourceful and not a big deal, but the concept of etiquette when dealing with security credentials clearly does not occur to the students.

(flickr photo by Dominique Godbout shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license)

Assume every teaching activity might be recorded 

Sit at the back of any undergraduate student lecture and you will see lots of smartphones on desks. Look carefully at the direction of those phones: At least a few will have the bottom (microphone end) facing the lecturer. If you watch as the lecture begins you might even see students turning on their audio recording apps.

I don’t have a problem with being recorded. I’ve given up caring. Anything that reduces the rate of despairing exam answers is ok with me. But I’m not sure every lecturer thinks that way. I also doubt the students are too worried about what we think.

It’s hard enough work to be interesting about protein structure and function, let alone controversial, so I doubt there is a back catalogue of Andrew’s Best Bits. And I’m not deluding myself about competing with Kanye West or Taylor Swift on my student’s smartphones. OK, I admit I’d like to be ahead of Justin Bieber ...

Who knows how the illicit audio of our lectures is subsequently shared. While I don’t mind being recorded in general, I would like to be confident that this is for personal study and revision only. Nothing else.

A handful of years ago when disabilities support issued voice recorders there was an etiquette of students asking before recording lectures, but I can’t recall anyone actually asking me this in recent years.


Be explicit about etiquette for invited speakers. 

As a research-led university we should be exposing our advanced undergraduate students to “real research”. For example, we have final year students write short summaries on a selection of departmental research talks given by invited speakers.

But real research is harder than predigested lectures, and it’s often delivered by people from research-led research institutes that have no idea about learning objectives. This places extra temptation for students to capture a recording of these research talks from invited speakers.

Recently we had a very interesting human clinical genetics speaker. I noticed one eager and ambitious student front and centre taking smartphone snaps of slides, including unpublished data and clinical cases. In fairness the cases were appropriately anonymized, but I doubt the student understood this or had thought about the sensitivity of clinical research. He had definitely not asked permission.

A couple of years ago I even saw a student bring a laptop into a research talk, dim the screen, turn it round and use the webcam to record the talk as a video.

In the days when we had smaller advanced undergraduate classes our students were more directly mentored and we could expect them to imbibe our etiquette implicitly. In the heady days before massification it wasn’t possible to record things anyway. What came on tour with the visiting speaker’s film slides stayed on tour.

Nowdays, what goes on tour ends up on Facebook.


Whose crayons are they? 

Our wonderful classroom full of learning technologies gives new and unique ways for students to engage with information to develop their understanding.

However, it’s important for them to understand that recording data inappropriately is just as improper as reproducing it inappropriately. Are we helping them to appreciate that everything they see and hear is not fair game for recording and publishing?

I came and I saw, not I went and I copied.

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