Panopto and online teaching concerns

  • BUCU advice is that you may opt not to record lectures or to allow students to record your lectures, as the University’s Code of Practice allows for.

As the University has now moved to near-100% use of online teaching methods, the question of the technology used to perform this has become more important.

When the University management introduced Panopto at the University of Birmingham in 2017, UCU did not agree to the way that it was introduced.

This branch adopted a resolution in 2017 on the introduction of Panopto.

We had several objections, including:

  • it wasn’t clear who would own the intellectual property contained in the recordings. The University management argued that they would own all intellectual property as they were the employer. We did not agree to this. Many universities have opted to share this intellectual property.
  • We were also worried that downloaded videos of Panopto can be kept by students and shared, apparently indefinitely – meaning staff have no control about where the videos might end up, with no time limit to when they could be shared, creating a number of potential risks for staff.
  • The other concern was that recorded lectures might be used at some point by the University management to discipline staff – for instance, if the teaching is considered inappropriate or poor quality. We did not agree that this was appropriate but we were unable to persuade the University to guarantee that this would not take place.

The ‘compromise’ that resulted from this difference of views has always been that the University management does not insist that we must use Panopto – but if we refuse to use it then we are supposed to use some other alternative (such as written notes, or a recording done/distributed using your own device).

Of course no-one ever anticipated this “lockdown” so we are now receiving more queries about Panopto. Given that online/video teaching is universal across the University, UCU are seeking an agreement with the University management on how this technology is used. The management have so far been absolutely reluctant to enter into any such discussion.

Whilst the option to ‘opt out’ of Panopto still stands, it is unclear what this would look like while we are under lockdown and required to deliver teaching. The provision of additional advice on online teaching that avoids Panopto could be helpful. Other universities have adopted a ‘stream-only’ version of Panopto, yet we are unaware of any move by UoB management to consider this option.

Many members have raised important concerns about how much more easy it is now for online teaching to be shared outside of the university context. This creates considerable risks for lecturers, who may be targeted for teaching views that are unpopular with certain sections of the public and media. This therefore relates to an important aspect of academic freedom, and the safety of teaching staff performing their teaching duties.

There are also important implications for intellectual property rights, especially performance rights, which are covered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). In short, “a performer’s rights are infringed where a recording of a substantial part of a performance is made without consent (s.182 CDPA), where a copy of that recording is made without consent (s.182A CDPA) or where copies of that performance are issued to the public without consent (s.182B CDPA)”. Lectures are not named in the CDPA, but ‘it is arguable that a live delivery, a dramatic communication to others of opinions, thoughts and interpretation would be covered by the definition of ‘performance’’. This means that the University must ask staff to consent to any attempt to transfer performer’s rights to the University. BUCU’s advice is that members should not consent to transfer their performer’s rights to the University until we have been able to reach an agreement with the University regarding how online teaching is conducted. (Source: Jisc.ac.uk)

Other concerns have been raised regarding the impact on staff with visas (tier 2/5 status). These staff are potentially more at risk if they express views that are controversial. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that academics are being denied indefinite leave to remain for completely unclear reasons (the Home Office isn’t required to give any).

In brief, we as your BUCU Committee feel there needs to be genuine informed consent involved in any filming/recording of staff by the university. That is, careful consideration and explanation by the university of the risks involved and a clear strategy to mitigate for that risk.

University management response: Details of the University’s position on this matter can be found in the University’s Code of Practice on Lecture Capture: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/registry/legislation/documents/public/Cohort-Legislation-2020-21/CoP-Lecture-Capture-20-21.pdf

BUCU view: As the Code of Practice shows, the University does recognise performance rights for staff. This is welcomed, as is the fact that the University confirms its commitment to this Code of Practice. In particular we highlight these sections:

“Lecturers retain performance rights and a lecturer therefore has the right to prevent the recording from taking place in the first place, or to remove recorded content that has previously been made available.”

“Where a lecturer declines to record a taught session that would otherwise be appropriate for lecture capture, they should provide an ‘acceptable alternative’ […] This alternative support could, for example, take the form of detailed lecture notes, enhanced notes supporting slides; a podcast that provides a commentary on the lecture slides; or a video explaining the session.”

BUCU advice is that any staff member concerned about the implications of producing recorded lectures should choose not to record lectures or to allow students to record your lectures, as the University’s Code of Practice sets out. With this measure in place we are confident that many of the concerns that members have raised can be dealt with.

Please also note that we have already circulated detailed advice for staff seeking to limit the availability of their online teaching recordings on Panopto: Panopto Boycott: A Practical Guide