Learning Capture: on Recordings and Redundancies

The University of Reading recently released its Policy for the Recording and Digital Delivery of Teaching in 2020/21. The Policy requires staff to participate in learning capture – departing from Reading’s prior ‘opt-in’ approach – and makes failure to follow the Policy a disciplinary offence.

All academic staff at the University of Reading should be made aware that an earlier draft Policy on learning capture, which sought to protect their interests, was explicitly rejected by senior management.

The Policy as it stands raises major concerns for the hard-working academic staff of the University, many of whom spent all summer recording lectures and seminars. Put simply: when academic staff are made redundant during Phase 2 of the University’s Post-COVID-19 Response Programme, the Policy permits the University to use such recordings to replace their teaching.

Is the Policy legal?

The University does not have a clear legal entitlement to require staff to make learning capture recordings. Academic job descriptions at the University refer to ‘teaching’, but make no reference to the creation of asynchronous recordings. While the creation of such materials may be a ‘related duty’ to teaching, the University and UCU Joint Commentary on the employment contract provides that the University is unable to ‘unilaterally make fundamental changes to your role without first consulting with you’. The move from an ‘opt-in’ learning capture policy to a mandatory obligation is a fundamental change to the academic job description, and no consultation with the broader academic community at the University has yet taken place.

Reading the University and UCU Joint Commentary alongside the employment contract makes it untenable to suggest that the duties of staff members extend to the mandatory creation of lecture capture material. Indeed, the Joint Commentary explicitly provides that the University has ‘no intention of requiring employees to participate in lecture capture, and you will be able to decide whether or not to agree to have your image recorded in this way’.

In the absence of a clear legal entitlement to require learning capture, it would have been sensible for the University to proceed in a spirit of cooperation with its staff. Did it do so?

The Deleted Undertaking

The initial authors of the Policy were sensitive to the need to gain academic ‘buy-in’ with compulsory learning capture. To that end, the draft Policy contained an undertaking that the University would not use any recordings in future years without the consent of recorded staff, and would never use the recordings of staff made redundant after the 2020/21 academic year.

Prior to the review of the Policy by the University Board for Teaching, Learning and Student Experience (UBTLSE), the authors of the Policy were instructed to delete this undertaking. In a leaked memorandum made available to Reading Between the Lines, one of the authors then urged the UBTLSE to reject the Policy unless the deleted undertaking was reinstated. The author described the Policy which was subsequently approved by the UBTLSE and the UEB as ‘reckless’, because it failed to offer ‘meaningful reassurance to colleagues facing redundancies about restrictions on the active reuse of their recordings after 2021’.

Why Fire and Rehire when you can Fire and ‘Press Play’ instead?

Senior management of the University of Reading have already exhausted the goodwill of its devoted staff over summer, both by threatening pay cuts when admissions numbers are up and workloads have increased, and by offering students the choice to not return to campus on health and safety grounds, without extending the same courtesy to staff.

Because it enables the University to re-use recordings in future years without the consent of academic staff who have been fired or made redundant, the Policy is ethically abhorrent and pedagogically unsound.

The deletion of an undertaking, which sought to balance the interests of the University and its staff, paves the way for the deletion of committed academic staff during Phase 2 restructuring.

Stop the predatory management of the UEB in its tracks by voting NO in the current ballot. Voting NO sends a strong signal to our scheming senior management that we – the staff of the University of Reading – will not take Phase 2 lying down.