UMD med school profs say school cannot post lectures

The Twin Cities campus posts lecture audio online.
November 21, 2011

A move to record lectures and make them available online at the University of Minnesota-Duluth Medical School is creating a stir among the faculty and causing tension with students.

Starting this fall, the school set in motion the use of “lecture-capture” technology to make class materials and lectures available online. For several years, medical students in Duluth audio-recorded professors’ lectures since the school did not provide the service.

Medical schools across the country, including Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan  post lecture slides and audio online for students whose learning style isn’t served by simply attending a lecture. The schools provide the option for students to teach themselves the material.

It has long been the case at the Medical School’s Twin Cities campus, said Mark Paller, an executive vice dean for the school who meets monthly with students.

Paller said he was surprised when students informed him in October that several faculty members at Duluth were unwilling to have their lectures recorded, despite the new policy.

Students used to elect a classmate to record all the lectures at the beginning of each year. Now they aren’t supposed to take their own audio. But professors in some classes have opted out of the new system, aggravating students.

“It’s standing in the way of people who feel they don’t learn best just sitting in the lecture,” said Jamie Totman, vice president of the second-year class.

Students who are sick have no way to catch up because a large part of the material is only delivered verbally, she said.

Paller and other senior administrators in the Twin Cities discussed the matter with Duluth’s regional dean and decided they needed to consult the University’s General Counsel’s office to determine if faculty members had a legal right to withhold their lectures.

“If it is their right, we need to support it, but right now we’re not sure. We’re going to get the legal opinion rather than creating a crisis,” Paller said.

In Duluth, the assumption has always been that faculty members “own” their lectures under intellectual property rights, said Alan Johns, assistant dean for education and curriculum at the campus. If they want to opt out of the recordings, they may, he said. The school is currently waiting for the final word from a lawyer, Johns said.

An additional concern at a campus with only 60 students per graduating class is that attendance will fall and the school’s tradition of collaboration between its faculty and students will be diminished, said Janet Fitzakerley, an associate professor at the school.

“We’re really a small operation here,” Fitzakerley said.

Already, some adjustments have been made based on concerns raised by faculty members, Fitzakerley said. In classes that brought in patients, for example, privacy laws ruled out the possibility of recording.

Arlen Severson, a professor in Duluth’s department of biomedical sciences, said he was initially worried that the “footage” from his lectures would be used by the University after he leaves instead of hiring a new teacher. Then he saw the low quality of the recordings, he said, and he’s no longer worried.

In an effort to capture content on the projector as well as the voice of the lecturer, the official recordings this semester have been uploaded as a movie file on the students’ wiki site, Totman said, so downloading them onto iPods isn’t even possible.

“As a student it’s really frustrating to hear,” Totman said. “Because it’s like, ‘I thought you were here to help me learn.’”

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