With the pandemic still ongoing, and Cornell at a yellow alert level, why is the university discouraging lecture recordings?

Date: September 2021

Question

Dear Deans,

This week I had to sit in a classroom (with no space for social distancing) next to a student who was coughing and sniffling through an hour and half long lecture. Besides the distraction, the fear of being exposed to COVID and potentially infecting my loved ones compelled me to leave the classroom rather than risk exposure. Everyone was wearing masks, but I didn’t trust my classmate’s handmade cloth mask to effectively stop particles from active coughing over a prolonged period of time.

With the increasing prevalence of breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals, I feel like I have no way to protect my loved ones from COVID exposure I might get in class. I have to rely on my classmates to stay home and get tested if they have covid symptoms, and clearly that is not always happening.

While I’m grateful to be able to attend classes in-person so far this semester, I’m concerned about the university’s stance on discouraging recorded lectures and hybrid Zoom options. Recorded lectures protect the community by encouraging students to stay home if they have mild symptoms without risk of falling behind academically. It doesn’t take much AV technology to record a lecture. A professor could even take an audio recording on their phone and upload the slides of their presentation.

With the pandemic still ongoing, and Cornell at a yellow alert level, why is the university discouraging lecture recordings? 

–Worried about classroom transmission


Response

Dear Worried,

I understand your concern about sitting in a classroom near someone who is coughing and sniffling. The last 18 months have reinforced a message that we should have all known, but too often ignored – if you are sick it’s important to stay home to recover and avoid spreading germs to others.  This applies to COVID-19, influenza, and even common colds. Of course, this is also a peak time for many allergies, such as goldenrod and ragweed sensitivities, so we can never be sure whether someone’s sniffles are a risk to us or result from their exposure to a more common irritant. 

Cornell’s models show that the multiple layers of protection afforded by nearly 100% vaccination rates in classrooms, extensive weekly testing, and mandatory masks reduce the risk of transmission by 99.5%. Even if there is an infected non-vaccinated person nearby and only you wear a mask, the reduction in possible transmission remains high, at 96% according to the modeling work of Professor Frazier. This context is useful to keep in mind because it is very different from earlier in the pandemic before vaccines were widespread.

You also mentioned a concern about Cornell discouraging instructors from recording lectures. In classrooms where the technology is in place and instructors are able to record lectures, Cornell welcomes them to either share the recordings with students who are unable to attend or post them for the entire class. 

The language on Cornell’s Academic Policies FAQ website states: “Only a subset of classrooms is equipped with the voice lift technology necessary to capture high quality sound suitable for recordings. Depending on the nature of the course, however, some instructors may be able to offer audio recordings (not audio and visual) to supplement other course materials, in order to support students who are in isolation or mandatory quarantine.” 

Unlike last year, when most classes were being offered in hybrid formats, this fall’s primary focus on in-person teaching makes it hard to concurrently offer remote options in many classes. The website further explains, “for the majority of our classrooms, remote access is not an option because classrooms are not Zoom-enabled. Instead, faculty may, for example, choose to use lapel mic recorders to capture audio recordings to accompany other course materials. Faculty want you to be successful in their class and will determine the most appropriate and feasible way to help you stay on track based on the nature of the course.”

Even before the pandemic hit last year, students caught colds, came down with the flu, and other had illnesses that kept them from class occasionally. It was always appropriate to inform a professor that you will be absent and ask if you can get the materials in another format.  Sometimes professors can share their materials or a recording, but it’s also possible a friend may be able to take notes or record the lesson (with the instructor’s consent). 

Sincerely,

Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration