A Student's Perspective: A Guide to Best Practices for Zoom Recordings
I am a Senior at Barnard College who has now spent almost half of my undergraduate career on Zoom. I entered Barnard in the Fall of 2018, and I am graduating early and remotely this April. When I envisioned my college experience at eighteen, I had pictured more picnics and library days with friends than Zoom polls or breakout rooms with Brady Bunch squares. The very features that drew me to New York—bustling tightly packed neighborhoods with people from all over the world—were also what caused me to flee during the pandemic. As I tearily hugged my residents goodbye in March of 2020, I never expected turning in my RA key to be the last time that I would set foot in the quad as a student.
In the Computer Science seminar that I am taking this spring—Professor Rebecca Wright’s Privacy in a Networked World— I am conducting a project focused on Barnard College’s Zoom recordings. I am specifically trying to encourage more conversation surrounding accessibility and privacy in relation to recordings. I have designed this project to both highlight the many benefits of recordings and to encourage Barnard College to take measures to better protect students and faculty members’ digital privacy with Zoom recordings. I am working to investigate questions around the accessibility, consent, use, and disposal of Zoom class recordings.
Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Barnard has transitioned primarily to remote learning. At Barnard and Columbia, most if not all virtual class meetings are recorded. Many students benefit from Zoom class recordings and use them to supplement learning in live time. Educators and students are recognizing how useful it can be to be able to make-up and revisit lectures that may have been missed or that need to be viewed again.
This relatively new way of learning allows students to learn at their own pace. Now, even synchronous classes can be supplemented with asynchronous material and extra review sessions. While supplementary material can be quite useful, professors, TAs, and students may all be expected to work hours beyond what used to be expected of them. Instead of scrambling to note down PowerPoint slides, some students now take in lectures in real time and then review recordings to fill in notes and refresh their memories before final exams. Additionally, if a student misses a class, now there is a simple way that they can bring themselves up to speed and ensure that they did not miss important announcements or class material.
This semester, I keep revisiting how John Locke and Hannah Arendt understand tacit consent in my Political Theory course, and I keep thinking about how these conceptions still have relevance today. Locke discusses how tacit consent is distinct from express consent. When I accept the benefits of a government—of Barnard College and its embrace of Zoom—then I have consented to what the government imposes on me (Locke 1980, Second Treatise of Government, 64; 119). In other words, I act in a way that shows that I consent. By accepting the benefits of being a student at Barnard during the Covid-19 pandemic, I am consenting to Zoom and all other forms of online communication that are now necessary to participate in the life of the College. Arendt expands on tacit consent by writing, “We all live and survive by a kind of tacit consent, which, however, it would be difficult to call voluntary,” (Arendt 1972, Civil Disobedience, 88). She stresses that for tacit consent to be anything but fictitious, there needs to be an option to dissent.
Both Locke and Arendt point to the dangers of overusing tacit consent, claiming that tacit consent alone is not enough of a basis for a legitimate government or membership in political society. I would argue that tacit consent also has its limits with Zoom recordings, since we are not explicitly and voluntarily agreeing to recordings and it is difficult to opt out of them. In the current online learning paradigm, when we continue to participate in Zoom recordings we are all tacitly consenting to a new reality where Zoom captures hours of footage of our faces, our voices, our words, and our ideas.
While there are many upsides to Zoom recordings, there are also accessibility and privacy concerns. College classrooms are often thought of as spaces to interrogate challenging and often sensitive topics, but recording class sessions can pose problems. Barnard is now equipping many of its classrooms with recording capabilities that may be used beyond the pandemic. Recordings may be a breach of students’ and professors’ privacy as their contributions (and names on Zoom) are often being recorded without their explicit consent. Although I have reservations about class contributions being recorded because recordings could be shared inappropriately and breach basic student and faculty privacy, I recognize the many benefits of Zoom recordings for students and particularly for some students registered with CARDS.
Since recording seems to complement learning for many students, I think that it is a worthwhile practice during Covid-19 and perhaps beyond the pandemic. In order to make recordings more available and to enhance current recording privacy measures, students, faculty, staff and the administration need to take an active role in ensuring recordings are used and shared appropriately. As a concerned student and community member, I have designed a Best Practices Guide that I hope will both highlight the many benefits of recordings and encourage new measures to better protect students and faculty members’ digital privacy.
Recordings are not appropriate for all contexts. Although it makes sense to harness the benefits of recordings, there are times when just because we have the capability to record does not mean that we should. One basic test to consider is if the situation meets one or more of these conditions:
- You would have recorded the meeting in person or on the phone before Zoom recording was common practice
- You plan to make the recording available for an audience after the fact
- You expect some individuals will not be able to attend the meeting and notes and slides will not be sufficient to fully understand the material
If none of these conditions are met, then it may not be appropriate to record the meeting.
What to Consider Before Recording
What is potentially gained by recording this session? Would there have been any archive of it before the shift to online learning? Try to think about the trade-offs before defaulting to recording. This is an area where it may be useful to consult with colleagues and have student input.
Classes are diverse in their material and expectations. As a general rule, it often makes the most sense to record:
- Lectures: often a great amount of material is covered, professors are speaking most of the time, and students may find it helpful to review lectures at a later time, particularly when preparing for exams and papers
- Discussion Sections and Labs: scenarios where students are often applying concepts from lectures in real-time and there is a high degree of student participation; recordings have some potential to be useful to review for future class learning
- Seminars: more student participation and largely discussion-based; potentially less useful for students to later review to prepare for class assignments
- Dance classes: professor and students’ entire bodies and rooms are often captured; can be useful for choreography-based classes (it might be worth starting recordings after stretches and warm-ups)
Physical Education Classes
Physical Education classes are generally one of the least useful class environments to record in; students may be exerting themselves, and it is unlikely that students would review footage; it may be more appropriate to restrict these class recordings if faculty member decides to proceed with recording.
In class settings, it may not be appropriate to record politically or personally sensitive discussions. In other settings, it is rarely advisable to record office hours, student meetings, or faculty meetings. During office hours, students are often encouraged to be open with faculty members and recording may hinder this aim. Similarly, with many meetings, it may make more sense to take notes like in the good old days than to resort to recording.
Creating an Inclusive Community
To create the most inclusive community environment, it is crucial to set classroom expectations and to welcome discussion surrounding Zoom recordings. Professors should write their expectations around recordings in class syllabi, as well as explain them orally to students. If as a faculty member you do not have a strong preference for whether class sessions are recorded, then it may be useful to solicit student responses. This could happen during a class discussion, an anonymous Zoom poll, or through a survey before the first day of class.
Add an addition to class syllabi about Zoom recordings. Have the new section include:
- Who can access the recordings
- How to access the recordings
- How long the recordings will be available
- Explicitly state if the recordings are to be used for the purposes of the class and not to be shared widely or used inappropriately (it may be useful to further explain what appropriate and inappropriate use entails)
- Specify that students can ask for a recording to be paused in order to discuss sensitive material
- State clearly that if classes are recorded and stored in Panopto (a video platform on CourseWorks), then students should not take surreptitious recordings for their own distribution (particularly when a recording has been paused in order to allow for more open conversation)
- Note if and when the recordings will be disposed of
"I will be recording lectures and large group discussions (small groups are not recorded) so that absent or asynchronous students have access to class material. These recordings will be stored and will be accessible to everyone through CourseWorks. However, I will pause the recording if we are discussing material that is politically or personally sensitive. I also will honor requests to pause the recording if you want to contribute something to a class discussion but do not want to leave a record of it. Because I will be controlling and making available the recording, I ask that you do not record our meetings yourself. This is especially the case when we pause the recording: it is essential to building a community and culture of accountability that you do not take recordings surreptitiously."
Courtesy of Dr. Alex Pittman, Associate Director of the Center for Engaged Pedagogy
Excerpt from Dr. Pittman’s Critical Approaches in Social and Cultural Theory Syllabus
“Class will be held primarily online, with class sessions taking place over Zoom and using other tools as appropriate. Depending on preferences of the students and the feasibility of doing so, we will have the opportunity for some in-person small-group meetings throughout the semester. Zoom links and recordings will be available in CourseWorks. Zoom sessions and recordings are for use only for students enrolled in the class and other course personnel. Please do not share the links, recordings, or screenshots with others.”
Courtesy of Dr. Rebecca Wright, Professor of Computer Science
Excerpt from Dr. Wright’s Privacy in a Networked World Syllabus
It is worthwhile to explicitly discuss the use of Zoom recording during syllabus week. Explain why or why not you have chosen to record. In the same way that you might discuss expectations for how students participate in class, it would be useful to articulate how you envision recordings being used.
Depending on your flexibility with your recording policy, it may be worth inviting students to ask any questions or express concerns that they may have during the initial class section— preferably before you begin the first recording. It is also advisable to invite students to reach out privately if they would like to discuss any of the recording policies further.
Class recordings come with a whole host of privacy concerns involving student and faculty member digital safety as Zoom recordings can be used inappropriately or shared with unintended audiences. In higher education in general, there are not adequate policies on the books or sufficient measures to prevent digital privacy problems with Zoom recordings. Here are a few resources that I recommend for further reading:
Without taking precautions that make students and faculty feel secure, class recordings may be hindering the learning process and negatively impacting the educational environment. Students and faculty members may not be participating or sharing their thoughts as they usually would with the knowledge that a digital archive is being made of their every word. Notably, Barnard College’s Honor Code includes some additional clarification in 2020 that notes how “electronic resources” include recorded class content and that it is the “the intellectual property of your professor and your fellow students and should not be distributed or shared outside of class.” Intellectual property law acknowledges the need to protect human intellect from “unauthorized use.” While this is a step in the right direction, the intellectual property argument is vague and may be limiting, as it does not fully account for more fundamental concerns about basic privacy rights.
Clearly state what will be recorded
Make clear what will be recorded and preserved. Will there be audio and video recordings? Will recordings happen in speaker or gallery view? Will class chats be captured? Will breakout rooms be recorded?
Set expectations about who recordings can be shared with
It is advisable, unless there is a compelling reason, to default to having recordings only be used for the purposes of the class being recorded. Therefore, students should not be sharing recordings with anyone and should only use them for their individual learning.
Make transparent who will have access to recordings
Will the link be available to anyone registered with the class? Will the session be published on YouTube? Ask yourself these questions while creating a specific plan for where these recordings will be posted and what the implications of those locations will be.
Storage and Disposal of Zoom Recordings
Decide on Zoom recording system and communicate it to students
It is useful for students to understand where recordings are stored so that they can access them and so that they understand who can view them. I recommend tailoring Zoom recording storage to how you would like the recording to be used.
Choose whether or not to record your course.
Here is a quick guide:
For most lectures, it makes sense to store recordings on the Cloud for greater use and student accessibility.
For seminars, it makes the most sense to store recordings locally on a desktop and to have students request the recordings.
Ensure students understand recording disposal policies
Students need to be made aware of if recordings will be disposed of. If recordings will be disposed of, then it is essential to have transparency around when that will happen. I recommend that faculty members leave Cloud recordings available until the end of the academic year and then proceed to delete them. I also think it is permissible for faculty members to indefinitely store their own class recordings on their desktops for future reference and course planning.
Recordings beyond COVID-19
There is currently no guarantee that Zoom recordings will continue after the Summer 2021 semester, and the issue of recording capacity of classrooms may be relevant after the summer. After identifying how useful the recordings can be for students who may learn best on a more self-paced review or students who may not be able to attend class (because of time zone issues, being sick or needing to help a sick family member, unstable Internet), etc. it is worth considering continuing this practice.
- Consider carrying forward recordings in some capacity beyond the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Think about if there are ways to utilize recording technology moving forward. There may no longer be students with connectivity issues streaming in, but even after the pandemic students and faculty will still get sick and have various reasons why they cannot make class. Additionally, students may not want to give up the extra review and other pedagogical benefits Zoom recordings can provide.
- Be on the lookout for IMATS and CARDS policies
As fully remote learning transitions to hybrid learning transitions to more in-person learning, be sure to stay updated on IMATS and CARDS policies. It may be worthwhile to continue to use tools that have been useful in the pandemic even when they are no longer an absolute necessity.
Continuing the Conversation and Support at Barnard
- The Center for Engaged Pedagogy (CEP) welcomes faculty and students to be in touch about navigating online learning and Zoom recordings
- The Center for Accessibility Resources & Disability Services (CARDS) continues to work to ensure that all students have the tools they need to thrive in the classroom whether that be in-person or virtually
- The Instructional Media & Technology Service (IMATS) provides help with online teaching, Zoom, and CourseWorks
This comprehensive guide was researched and written by Sonja Eiseman, '21.
Special thanks to Joscelyn Jurich and the Center for Engaged Pedagogy for support throughout this process.