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Panopto and Blackboard Collaborate: Leicester UCU’s response

Published: 23rd March, 2020

Dear Edmund and Emma, (cc Nishan Canagarajah and Kerry Law)

We are writing to respond to your request that Leicester UCU suspend its opposition to the use of Panopto lecture capture, at least for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide an amended statement, indicating our agreement to this suspension with some conditions. We would also like to take the opportunity to raise some further issues to assist the senior leadership group’s necessarily evolving response to the pandemic.

Amended statement regarding Panopto and Blackboard Collaborate:

All our teaching delivery has now largely moved online.  The Panopto Lecture Capture and Blackboard Collaborate systems are a key element of our digital teaching platforms.  As we head towards the start of next term, using these technologies as widely as possible is going to become even more important for our students.  For this reason, and with the agreement of the UCU local branch today, we are asking all academic staff to agree to record lectures, given the exceptional nature of the circumstances we are now facing, and publish all captured lectures on Blackboard.  This will mean that all our students will be able to freely access the materials they need to succeed in their studies for the rest of this academic year.  We hope that all staff will proactively support this approach over the coming weeks and months, and have agreed the following conditions with Leicester UCU:

– This agreement is only for the current period of crisis (COVID19), and will be reviewed after 4-6 months

– Recordings cannot be used in place of future teaching and cannot be shared without consent

– Staff without access to these platforms, or whose ability to use them is otherwise limited by working from home, can provide alternative materials, e.g. written notes or possibly Powerpoint recordings.

We hope you will find this response acceptable.

Further issues relating to the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Firstly, we are pleased that your communications over the last week have emphasised that the priority is ensuring the health and safety of all of the University’s staff and students. We obviously share this priority and we will do whatever we can to work collaboratively with the University’s senior leadership group to facilitate this. We appreciate that University policies have necessarily been under rapid formation amid rapidly changing circumstances, and we have some suggestions for further concrete actions the University can take to support staff and students through these challenges.

We encourage the University to continue to recognise the immense pressure that its employees and students are currently under and will remain under throughout the crisis and that staff and student needs are hetereogeneous. Some of us have pre-existing health conditions that mean we are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and its effects; some of us have symptoms that indicate we may have caught the virus; many of us have extra caring responsibilities, to children, partners, parents or others. Some of us also have increased financial responsibilities because we are giving money to self-employed or zero-hours loved ones who have lost their income. In addition, the transition to remote delivery of teaching, research and support services will affect staff and students in highly variable ways.

We also point out that significant additional burden is falling on those colleagues who have taken strike action and we would like the University’s leadership team to recognise the hardship this causes. The University is very well placed to make an important goodwill gesture here, with significant material and psychological benefits: namely to agree to reduce the deductions it takes from UCU members who struck.

We therefore request:

(1) Modification of the agreed rate of deductions from pay for striking members, especially those on precarious contracts

Given the particularly acute pressure on employees on short-term contracts, who face a very uncertain financial future in the context of this pandemic, we suggest the University of Leicester makes no strike pay deductions from any colleague whose contract is due to end within the next four months. This would provide one concrete illustration of your commitment to work with us to address the problems of precarity that were shared with you by our precariously-employed striking staff on 10 March. We further suggest reducing by half (i.e. for a maximum of seven days) pay deductions taken from all other striking staff, to help alleviate material and psychological stresses at this time of uncertainty for all. We believe these actions would embody your ethos of compassionate leadership in this crisis.

(2) The current impact of REF and TEF preparation on resources and the possibility that these projects could be deferred or abandoned in order to meet higher priorities

in order to allow staff to concentrate on supporting students and colleagues, and delivering core research and other services – in addition to their caring responsibilities ‘at home’ – we propose that all activity pertaining to preparations for the Research Excellence Framework and to the Teaching Excellence Framework cease immediately. In these times, these are a distraction: continuing ‘as normal’ can only result in colleagues who are even more overstretched. We think it likely REF will have to be postponed: by acting now, the University of Leicester will show itself to be a leader

(3) Pause all disciplinary and performance management processes

An online solution is not really viable in proceeding with existing cases. Indeed, a better solution might be for a senior team to review all such cases and annul all but the most serious.

(4) Practical support for the new policy of working from home – e.g. provision of appropriate hardware and software and (5) There should be no detriment for staff unable to fulfil their normal duties as a result of working from home

Many colleagues have extremely limited ability to work from home. It’s worth remembering that the University does not habitually provide its employees with the means to homework and as a union branch we have provided casework support to a number of members who have encountered managerial resistance to their requests to work from home. Those of us who can and do work from home typically provide our own computing equipment, not to mention paying for our own internet connection, space, heating and lighting.

(6) There should be no detriment to students unable to fulfil their assessments and assignments etc as a result of working from home, or other factors related to the pandemic.

Students’ abilities to continue their studies remotely will also be variable. Some of our students have caring responsibilities. Some do not have the necessary IT hardware – indeed, the library’s provision of laptops that may be borrowed is an implicit recognition of this. Some students lack internet connections or the physical space in which to study effectively. Again, there must be no detriment to any student whose studies are jeopardised by accessibility problems associated with remote teaching-and-learning systems.

Leicester UCU Committee