To all faculty:
George Brown College has recently switched from peer note takers to a third-party app, Note Taking Express (NTE). NTE is an Alberta-based company that allows students to audio-record classes using their app; then send the recording to the company; and have an unnamed person on the other end create written notes based on the recording. The notes are then sent back to the student within 72 hours. Many of you have contacted us with concerns about your classes being recorded.
There does not appear to have been a general announcement to faculty, nor was there any discussion with the faculty union about potential concerns and issues prior to Disability Services making this change. It is also unclear whether this was directed or approved by the Vice-President Academic.
Instead, professors are learning that their classes are going to be recorded from students turning in their accommodation forms. The existing College policy states that this type of recording cannot be done without the consent of the faculty and students in the class; however, we are now being told that consent is no longer required, and that College policy is going to be changed to allow for non-consensual recordings for accommodation purposes.
The use of this software raises a number of issues for faculty and students, and we wanted to make you aware of some of our concerns:
Electronic copies/recordings made of in-class lectures or notes can end up anywhere online. For faculty, the concern is that recordings could be used for discipline, or could easily be taken out of context. For students, the inability to control the spread of digital recordings of classroom discussions they are involved in violates their right to privacy.
The common practice in the professional media industry is that any public recording needs the consent of those being recorded. This is particularly important in a classroom, where professors and students discuss issues that are personally, politically, or socially sensitive. If any recording is to occur in the classroom, it should have the express written consent of the faculty in question, as well as the other students in the classroom.
Recording a classroom drastically changes the kind of interaction that will take place in that classroom. Teachers will change the style in which they teach, students will be less likely to participate, and conversations will be stifled that may have otherwise occurred. In classes that deal with sensitive or controversial issues, or are encouraging critical thinking, the impact of recording is substantial, and significantly impairs the effectiveness of the learning environment.
Faculty or students may not want to be recorded, as recording is anxiety provoking. For faculty, this creates an unsafe workplace, and is a Health and Safety issue. For students this violates the College’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment.
It is unclear what parameters around storage, privacy, and intellectual property rights are in place in the College’s contract with Note Taking Express. There has been no information about how long the recording will be kept, for example, nor where it will be stored. While under George Brown College’s current policies, the recordings should be the intellectual property of the faculty, it is not clear that those policies will apply to these recordings, nor that they will remain robust in protecting faculty’s course content.
As faculty, we are absolutely committed to providing accommodations for our students to ensure an equitable learning environment for all. We are not against our students having peer notetakers in our classes, nor are we unilaterally opposed to classes being recorded where it makes sense in terms of curriculum delivery, and has the consent of all involved. Indeed, we would prefer to work with Disability Services and the VPA on policies and procedures that benefit our students and faculty.
The College and faculty need to accommodate students, but it is up to faculty to decide, in consultation with Disability Services and individual students, which forms of accommodation are most academically appropriate. There are several options here: peer note-takers, faculty sending notes to students who require accommodation (where appropriate), faculty giving students print copies of notes, meeting with students for extra help, incorporating shared note-taking into evaluation, or recording. Indeed, the College receives significant funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities for the purpose or providing appropriate accommodations to students.
Finally, on a separate but related note, we have recently become aware of commercial course content sites, particularly One Class (oneclass.com) and Course Hero (coursehero.com), that are recruiting students to send their class notes in to the site (in exchange for honoraria such as coffee cards), then selling those notes back to other students in the class. We know that GBC faculty and classes are present on these sites, although these sites are not condoned or promoted by the College. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has issued a bulletin on their concerns here: http://www.caut.ca/docs/default-source/mailings-2015/caut-fact-sheet—commercial-course-content-web-sites.pdf. We encourage you to read the fact sheet, and to scan these sites for notes or other materials from your classes. While we cannot prevent students from using these sites, knowing how they’re used allows us to adjust our curriculum and evaluation methods.
We have scheduled a meeting with the College for September 23rd to review your/our concerns with them, and to seek clarification and further information. We will update you on new developments following that meeting.
If you’d like more information about Note Taking Express, the commercial course content sites, or want to express your concerns, please contact the faculty union at x2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your faculty union executive