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Recording in the Classroom

Classes began yesterday, and right off the bat, a first-year student approached me and asked me if I minded his recording the class. Here’s the gist of what I said: First, in general, no. Second (and speaking to the whole class, not just to the student), bear in mind that you’re not just recording me; you’re also recording other students in the class. So I’m not the only person who may object. (At that point, no one else spoke, so for the time being, I assume that no one else in the class objects. But I can imagine revisiting that question.) Third, since I assume that you’re recording in order to ensure that you compile a complete set of notes, I encourage you strongly (again, I said this aloud to the whole class) to be generous in responding to requests from classmates for notes for classes missed or requests to supplement misunderstood or incomplete notes of their own.

So, now, on a desktop near the front of the class, there is an iPod with a microphone and an adapter.

So far as I know, our law school has no default policy on classroom recording. An informal poll of my colleagues suggests that as many decline recording requests as grant them. At least one of my colleagues believes that nonconsensual recording — which I assume is relatively easy, in light of the features of laptop computers these days — may implicate wiretap statutes.

Is that right? Whether or not it is, what’s the best approach here?

12 thoughts on “Recording in the Classroom”

  1. Oddly, I have no firm policy either way. When I first started teaching, I generally declined requests; the past few semesters, I’ve granted them.

  2. IANAL, but I think that as long as one of the two parties–at least on the telephone–know about a recording, it is not considered a wiretap. That is why people can get away with recording back CSRs and things.

    I think the biggest thing to consider is copyright. Is making a single copy of a lecture fair use as long as it is not redistributed? If so, permission is not even required. Is one lecture a complete work, or is it a percentage of an entire course-series? Could I reproduce sample clips for commentary or parody? I would assume yes.

    Just a quick search concerning these issues brings up this page which makes the case that, as your employer, the University might own the copyrights to any work done in relation to their employ. Does this include speaking at conferences, when the bulk of the research was done as a professor at your home university? Is your salary only connected to your instruction of students?

  3. Really? A quick read of the wiretap statute (federal) it might seem that the recording would constitute an intercept, but the statute also appears to require “an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation”. Could you really argue that a faculty member has an expectation that students would not record a lecture? That seems pretty preposterous to me… maybe state statutes are different? But there’s hardly an expectation of privacy in a classroom setting.

    Besides, doesn’t the school own the contents of the lecture, from an intellectual property standpoint, as a work for hire? (Disclaimer: I’ve not had copyright law yet.) It would seem to me that they, not the faculty, would set the recording policy. (Not that they wouldn’t defer to faculty wishes.) But going beyond that, if students are entitled to hear the contents of the lecture by paying the tuition fee that grants them access to the classroom, isn’t recording the content just their fair use of what they are entitled to?

    I don’t record lectures… I wouldn’t have the time to listen to one again anyway, but I can see how it would be valuable if there was a discussion you were having a hard time following… you could go back, listen to a point and pause to digest it. I can also see how it would make faculty a little more nervous, speaking in front of a large audience might already be nerve wracking. But I don’t think students record lectures to ridicule professors any more than professors write exams to ridicule students. It really is about trying to learn the material. What is wrong with that?

  4. I’ll chime in with a student perpective – I recorded last year as 1L and am doing so again this year. OneNote has a fantastic feature that syncs the recording with your notes. I use a Tablet PC, so I handwrite my notes onto the tablet during class, then type them up later – and basically use the recording only to figure out what I wrote when I can’t read a part of my handwriting – all I have to do is hit the playback button next to the text and it plays back the recording from a few seconds back from when I wrote that chunk of text (to account for the delay in what I hear to when I write it down).

    I shared the recordings with classmates who had to miss class, which made me feed more comfortable asking for copies of notes from those same classmates when I missed class. On my first day back this year, I already had a few classmates ask me if I’ll be recording again this year because they know they’ll be missing specific classes and want copies of the recordings.

    I asked my professors the first semester, and all seemed to act like it was strange that I even asked (and said it was okay), so I didn’t ask second semester. I use an external mic (the in-computer mics make terrible recordings in a classroom setting) so it should be very obvious what I’m doing, but probably best to go back to asking just to be sure.

  5. I think it’s an ethical imperative to allow students to record classroom lectures. I have had many dyslexic students and a few who were visually impaired. It’s not for the professor to judge the ways students choose to learn the material.

    There should be no school-wide policies in such matters. The University of Texas, despite being the greatest university in the history of the world and having the most impressive college football program as well, has the stupidest policy possible. It warns professors that by allowing students to record lectures they are sacrificing their intellectual property. This is not only stupid and immoral, it’s incorrect.

    One limit to my position: students sometimes say things in class they wish they had not. And professors often play devil’s advocate. No one should be forced to defend or explain statements after the fact.

  6. I always appreciate being asked, I always say yes (what the heck, everyone in there knows that everyone is listening), and when I do makeup classes I always try to record them myself. The school makes the makeups available online.

    I hadn’t thought of asking the recorders to make recordings available to others — that’s a good idea.

    In general, I don’t think this is a big deal, and I think your response was fine.


  7. I also use MS OneNote for note taking. I am not a recorder of lectures (mostly for the reasons mentioned in the original post). However, I have always been struck by how matter of fact the “tours” within OneNote are about recording classes. The product is almost exclusively marketed to students. It has always seemed strange that the product doesn’t have a disclaimer warning users about possible repercussions of using the recording features.

    I knew of students who recorded the lectures during my 1L year. However, the audio recordings never seemed to be distributed for their academic content. The only times I heard of anyone swapping files was when the lectures contained something provacative or comical. Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed with incoming students at orientation.

  8. The book “Who Owns Academic Work” suggests that it may not even be the professor’s decision to make. That book suggests the university owns the lectures, so students would have to apply to it.

  9. PA law (unlike federal law) makes it a crime to tape record without the permission of ALL parties being recorded.

  10. I could see tape recording a med-school lecture (which are so detailed and saddled with minutae), but a law school lecturel? You never have to regurgitate specific facts come exam time but rather demonstrate that you can see and argue nuanced positions with respect to a given issue. With that said, it’s best to not worry about verbatim capturing every little word out of your professor’s mouth but instead look at the big picture of his/her lecture for the day.

  11. Ah, Art, were that true. I’ve had *two* professors who liked to give their own definitions (with *slightly* different wording) for things like intentional torts, and you were expected to regurgitate their specific wordings on the exam. Not that it couldn’t be done just by taking notes, but occasionally, you *do* have to regurgitate in law school.

    More importantly, sometimes a concept is difficult to get the first time in lecture, and if you are paying attention (in order to get that big picture) then you might not get enough in your notes. Having a recording lets you go back and make sure that you actually *did* get the big picture. So not only does recording stop you from trying to get things “verbatim” but can also help you see the big picture when you’re having a fuzzy day.

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