The University of Middle England launched its post graduate diploma course in ‘Lecture Capture Studies’ last summer. This went largely unnoticed and the university reported that twelve students had enrolled at the start of the academic year. But this week a storm has erupted about how the course is using historical data. Some say that the archive they have accumulated is being exploited. The university is the largest repository of video lecture data in the Former UK States housed in its Institute for Backward Education. Critics have dubbed the collection as ‘teaching from the grave’ or the ‘dead historians society’. The students have been allowed full access to the vast collection of video lecture material spanning the last hundred years and more. However, relatives of some of the lecturers no longer alive claim that they own the rights to the material. They have taken out a test case in the courts to challenge the university’s right to use the material for profit. Their solicitor told us that, “On the one hand my clients accept that the archive collection is of historical significance for bona fide research but the university has overstepped the mark by selling degree a degree course that relies totally on the data. Their ancestors sweated blood years ago yet they are exploited after they have gone.”
What is the root of the problem?
The so called ‘lecture capture’ became commonplace just over fifty years ago during the time of the ‘incident’ and its political turmoil and strikes. This led most universities to video lectures widely across their campuses. By 2020 it was assumed that all lecture hall and seminar rooms were being recorded. Some universities imposed the practice through tough new staff contracts with the aim of replacing live lectures with recordings during strike action. However, the reuse of the material came under a challenge as it often contained personal information about the lecturer concerned. This meant that, under the data protection laws of the time, the material should not have been disseminated without their permission. Indeed, to sabotage the practice, most lecturers deliberately included personal information at several points in their lectures. We spoke with one diploma student, who wished to remain anonymous, who said “at the time universities were forced to scour through the material to delete the offending clips”. Her project ‘What can we learn from deleted sections of lecture material from the 2020s?’ reveals the extent of the issue. She told us that some universities later started to deploy a director and censor into some lectures in an attempt to stem the tide of disobedience, However, none of this really worked well since their interventions caused chaos in most cases; with all of it captured on video. We were shown one good example from 2021 where a lecturer repeatedly referred to stories about his ‘talking’ English bulldog called ‘Churchill’ that barked “oh yes” when called. He referred to it as his “lecture capture insurance dog”. When the censor intervened the students all started barking “oh yes” repeatedly.
The relatives of some of the lecturers discovered, through a tip-off from students, that the editing of lectures had been relatively ineffectual in removing personal information. They now claim that they own the rights to most of the lecture material produced by their past family members who did not give consent for the material to be reused. This goes back decades and will be costly to unravel.
On a lighter point.
The University of Middle England launched a prize competition towards the end of 2069 to reward the most effective lectures to date. Working jointly with the FUKS Physics Society, a panel of students scoured through hours of video to find the most effective physics lecture. Surprisingly a lecture broadcast just over one hundred years ago by the Open University came out as the most popular. It featured a relatively young lecturer called Dr Tarquin Sunbeam dressed in a rainbow coloured ‘tank top’ sweater and pink flared trousers. The improbable size of his shirt collars was only matched by his wispy beard and shoulder length hair. The students seemed transfixed as he waved a length of rubber tubing up and down whilst scribbling how to derive the Schrödinger wave equation on a blackboard. His performance seemed as improbable as the output of the theory itself. However, its popularity now illustrates the timeless nature of much teaching and that the intellectual task has changed little in one hundred years.
The CEO of the University of Middle England, Virginia Fox, added her usual obscure comments after a short press briefing about the prize: “For a long time in recorded history we could say that nothing has really happened until it has been described. Now we can capture it and see it happen later but we are incredulous to describe it”.
By our Rome reporter, taking a break from La Dolce Vita, Marcello Rubini