Students are Not the Audience

Gearing up for the Digital Praxis Seminar, I want to raise questions about the complexities involved in videotaping and posting class sessions online. As digital humanist Kenneth Price has said, “Because scholars who collaborate in digital undertakings are more fully involved in questions of how their work will be created, presented, distributed, and maintained, they must master—or at least thoughtfully engage with—both the subject matter of their specialty and the practices of digital scholarship.” Along those lines, I will attempt to tease out some of the issues around posting the entirety of the class on the Internet.

The course requires that students establish a social media presence on the CUNY Academic Commons, Twitter, Zotero and a blog. The syllabus suggests that people concerned about creating a “permanently searchable identity trail” on the Internet might want to use a handle instead of their names.

How is having video of class discussions posted on the Internet different from students posting their own text? Tweeters can post under a handle; and blog posts can be private or public. Anonymity isn’t an option during videotaped class discussions. Depending on the set-up of the room, students will usually be on camera. Not speaking isn’t realistic when participation is a requirement constituting half of the grade. Bloggers and tweeters can polish their posts. Class discussion is fluid and off-the-cuff.

The instructors aren’t coercing anyone into being videotaped, but have asked students to sign an audience release. The release gives CUNY the right to “exploit” the material in any form, to use the name, likeness and “biographical material” of students, and says that students forgo the right to sue CUNY. The release doesn’t restrict CUNY’s rights only to noncommercial or educational use; and there is no prohibition on resale (although the instructors have negotiated a Creative Commons license which might inhibit that).

I think the language of the release is too broad and won’t sign it. If CUNY lawyers want students to sign a release, they should craft one that is much narrower.

To be clear, I am not objecting to the videotaping of class discussions per se. I am objecting to becoming an asset to be exploited by CUNY.

It is completely inappropriate for students to be asked to sign an audience release. If you attend an event as an audience member, you have the option to titrate your participation. You might decide to stay out of the frame of the camera, or choose not to speak during questions-and-answers. But students are not audience members. They are participants in an educational process that they are paying for. Because it is graded, their participation is compulsory, and, for successful learning, desirable. Writing about MOOCs, which are also “televised” on the Internet, James Porter says “The value of many college courses is not simply “the content” per se. Rather, the real value added lies in the performance: the social exchange, the enactment, the interaction that happens between content, instructor, and students, and that results, ideally, in learning.”

Speaking as a film and video archivist, I am in favor of documenting the classroom experience in Digital Humanities at a time when the field, set of methods, or whatever you want to call it, is actively being formed. I just want us to think through the issues around the public performance of our work together.

Works cited

Porter, James E. “MOOCs, ‘Courses,’ and the Question of Faculty and Student Copyrights.” Conference on College Composition and Communication – The CCCC-IP Annual: Top Intellectual Property Developments of 2012

Price, Kenneth M. “Collaborative Work and the Conditions for American Literary Scholarship in a Digital Age.” The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Web. 15 Sept. 2013



4 thoughts on “Students are Not the Audience

  1. Matthew K. Gold (he/him)

    Thanks for this thoughtful (and brave) post, Eileen, which lays out very reasonable concerns. Steve and I spoke about the issues involved in the taping after class last week and had already intended to start tomorrow’s class by clarifying our intentions; sorry for not notifying the class via email/discussion forum post of that decision. But here is what we settled on:

    1. We want to tape only the public lectures by invited guests, not the class discussions that will follow them.

    2. We are interested in taping some of the workshops, particularly the speakers, but also any students who *opt-in* to being taped during those sessions.

    I hope that these changes will ease your concerns, as it means that we’re disassociating our classroom discussions from any recording. We will have a discussion about all of this first thing during Monday’s class.

  2. Lindsey Roth-Rosen

    We are living in a digital world. These webinars and streaming of courses serve the greater good. When access is available students and regular folk have the ability to learn which can only lead to discussions which in turn leads to knowledge. If people are able to become more knowledgable, then society as a whole moves forward.

  3. Amy Wolfe

    Thank you Eileen for voicing your concerns regarding the video recording of the Digital Praxis Seminar and the Audience Release form written by the lawyers at the CUNY Graduate Center. I share many of your concerns and I too am not planning on signing the document as it is written. I feel the CUNY lawyers’ document was too wide ranging and granted CUNY too much power. I am not comfortable signing away my rights to my “name, likeness and biographic information”, giving CUNY permission to “use, promote or exploit my recording” however they want. I’m glad to read that Matt and Steve have decided not to film the class.

    I understand that our class is “digital” and that a lot of the work we are going to do or may do in the future as digital humanists will be online and/or in the public sphere but I don’t feel it’s cool to make public discourse which personally identifies us, on streaming videos or online videos and audios part of our class requirement/participation and even hoping people will “opt-in” to be recorded at the workshops worries me. Peer pressure is a bitch, no matter where you are in your life and while I don’t believe Matt and Steve thought this request could result in such worries, it has. I think some consideration really should be made that people may have some very valid reasons for not wanting to be video taped or audiotaped at all and asking them to be taped puts people in a very awkward position. People wanting to control their privacy shouldn’t feel they have to explain why. Just my 2¢.

  4. Alex Bordino

    Speaking as both a filmmaker and a teacher, it seems a bit unreasonable to think that CUNY would intentionally do anything to harm or defame its students. But more importantly, it seems that one of the goals of DH is to promote knowledge sharing beyond the walls of academia—a notion that I think has value, not simply because we have the tools to do so but because increasing private university tuition costs are harmfully widening the socioeconomic gap in higher education participation.

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