Online webcasts may be restricted to UC Berkeley students, campus tech service says

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Online webcasts of lectures, currently publicly available on YouTube, may become accessible only to UC Berkeley students beginning in fall of this year.

Educational Technology Services, or ETS, has operated its lecture capture service since 2001, recording about 3,000 lectures each semester. Currently, though, ETS has a department-wide structural deficit of approximately$1 million, which it hopes to reduce  with the “students-only” webcast model, according to deputy director Ben Hubbard.

At an ASUC Senate meeting March 11, Hubbard said ETS will “prioritize critical teaching services that support students and faculty” when looking for ways to reduce spending. He added that ETS will not close or reduce the hours of computing labs.

Because ETS currently allows public access, the service trims videos to the start and end points of each lecture; removes copyrighted material from recordings,  such as videos that professors might share; and requires guest lecturers to sign media releases. Hubbard said in an email that restricting video lectures will cut costs because these extra tasks will no longer be necessary and ETS will need fewer people to monitor each video in real time.

Some professors oppose the change. Richard Muller, a former professor of the class “Physics for Future Presidents” at UC Berkeley, said he has had a “fantastic” experience with public lectures.

“I have received emails from people from 99 different countries and 49 states thanking me and the University of California for our generosity in putting (the lectures) online,” Muller said. “To suddenly be reaching thousands (or) tens of thousands of students is a gift and a great reward.”

Professor Daniel Kammen, who teaches the class “Energy and Society,” said that UC Berkeley is a “service to the public” and that many people who study energy refer to the lectures for technical information.

Muller said he recommends that other professors broadcast their lectures but also noted that if the webcasts become private, they could become more popular with professors who may be self-conscious about the videos’ broad audience.

Campus freshman Hailey Zhou said that as an international student, she could experience what UC Berkeley classes were like before actually visiting the campus by watching webcasts.

“I’m really proud of our classes, and I would definitely not want them to become private,” she said.

According to Hubbard, the benefits to the students-only model include quicker availability of videos online, faculty members feeling more comfortable with webcasting their lectures and availability of all lecture materials to student viewers. He also said there will be fewer concerns among faculty about infringement of their intellectual property. But he said ETS will no longer have the capacity to improve low-quality videos or edit poor audio.

The recommendation is currently being considered by an Information Technology Governance committee.

Frances Fitzgerald covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.

A previous version of this article may have implied that the lecture capture service is operating outside of its budget. In fact, the Educational Technology Services as a whole is operating outside of its budget, with a department-wide structural deficit of roughly $1 million.