At the beginning of each semester, students will hear a familiar message from many of their lecturers: “we do not record our lectures, because we feel that you should attend them in person.” The justification for this that students should aim to attend all of their lectures, and to many this seems like a reasonable request. It is taken as fact by many departments that students will gain more from experiencing a lecture first-hand, and that to record them as well would only reduce incentive and encourage laziness.
The position that so many departments at Glasgow University take is based upon the assumption that not attending a lecture is merely the result of a student’s idleness. They conjecture that showing up for a morning lecture, for example, is simply a case of overcoming the pull of the snooze button for a sleepy student, or powering through a hangover. But this attitude also takes for granted that whenever a student misses a lecture, they do so because they are simply unwilling – and the reason is well within their control.
For some students with a mental health condition, missing lectures is not a choice borne out of laziness but an unfortunate inevitability. I think back to my own first semester at university when my mental health took a downturn and I would find myself unable to attend lectures for weeks at a time. It wasn’t a case of being unwilling to learn, but rather one of being unable to even get out of bed: waking up was not an inconvenience but an impossibility. Something that made this experience significantly worse for me was the added stress of worrying that I was going to fail my first year at university because I had no accurate or adequate way to catch up on classes that I had missed, as only one of my subjects recorded their lectures. This stress is made all the more daunting when more often than not, lecture slides do not reflect the full content of the lecture itself, making it virtually impossible to prepare for essays and exams.
Of course, this isn’t to say that every student with a mental health condition is incapable of attending their lectures regularly, but rather drawing attention to the worrying reality that far too many students are faced with. During a particularly bad period of mental health, students have enough to deal with without the added anxiety of having no sufficient way to catch up on lectures they have missed for reasons beyond their control. This, coupled with the still very prominent stigma surrounding mental health, can leave those suffering with a mental health condition feeling like there isn’t appropriate support in place for them in higher education. The lack of access to a recording, along with the fact that PowerPoint slides alone are simply not enough, means that it can be all too easy for students to slip behind academically through no fault of their own.
In a society increasingly concerned with inclusivity, it should go without saying that departments within the university should consider the needs of mentally ill students when they decide to restrict our access to learning through refusing to record their lectures.
Attention should also be drawn to the fact that most rest of UK and international students pay extortionate amounts in tuition fees, and for many this is only to receive only a handful of contact hours per week. For all of the money put into the university from thousands of fee-paying students, it does not seem unreasonable to request that students should therefore have access to as many learning opportunities as possible. If the defence for not recording lectures in the first place is that students should experience the lecture itself, then surely the next best thing for students who have to miss one would be access to an online recording. Needless to say, having this extra resource would be invaluable to all students during revision periods, and it is a small ask for the amount that so many students pay.
The university having no mandatory policy of recording lectures means that it not only fails to recognise that it would be beneficial to all students for revision purposes, but also that not doing so unfairly detriments mentally ill students. Thinking back to my own experiences, I know that this is the case for far too many students: we want to learn, but for reasons we cannot help – and are often made to feel ashamed for – we cannot always function in the same way that other students can. This is not an issue of laziness or unwillingness to learn, but one of accessibility.
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