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.
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