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Law Profs, Beware: Videotaped Lectures Can Be Embarrassing YouTube Moments

Posted Mar 31, 2009 9:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Law professors who tape and post their lectures online would likely want to avoid the plight of a college professor at the University of Alabama.

He left his wireless microphone on during a bathroom break, recording “watery sounds” that could be heard on a classroom recording until the section was removed, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub req.).

Another professor at George Washington University made a frantic call to make sure a private conversation with a student worried about failing grades was cut from the tape. Officials complied, avoiding online dissemination of a conversation that would have violated federal law, according to the story. Yet another professor was placed on leave at the University of Florida’s business school after he appeared disoriented in a videotaped lecture posted to YouTube that was originally titled “apparently baked professor.”

Nova Southeastern law professor James Levy noted the article in a post at the Legal Writing Prof Blog. He says several law professors videotape their classes and make the videos available on school websites or through iTunes.

Levy began taping his classes in the fall as an experiment, and so far he’s pleased with the results. He likes the idea that students who miss a class or who have trouble understanding a difficult concept can watch the tapes to get up to speed.

Fortunately, Levy says, his school uses a platform called Apresso that uses streaming technology to post lectures that are password-protected on the school’s website. “Streaming technology allows students to view the tapes as often as they wish, but videos can’t be saved, stored or forwarded to a third party like YouTube,” he told the ABA Journal in an e-mail.

He says the Chronicle article “would definitely give me pause” if his lectures could be placed on the Internet. Students might be less willing to speak freely, student privacy could be violated, or professors’ lectures could be copied illegally by others. For example, a student who wants to clerk for a federal judge may be reluctant to criticize the jurist’s rulings in a classroom discussion. Or students may fear that potential employers will examine the tapes. Nontenured professors may have similar fears.

“The problem is—once a classroom tape is out in cyberspace, the professor loses all control over what’s done with it, what context it’s shown in, and how it might be edited and used by others in way that the professor would never authorize,” Levy said in the e-mail. “Plus, once it hits cyberspace—it’s memorialized forever.”

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