March 05, 2004

"We could hire God this year"

More proof (as if more were needed) of the "We could hire God this year" syndrome. Chun cites an application requirement that I hope is an aberration and not the beginning of a new trend:

From a recent job ad:

Semi-finalists will be asked to submit a half-hour video of one of their classes by April 12...

Was there ever a sentence more deserving of academic censure? Is this even legal?

I wonder if there are legal implications to videotaping a classroom full of students. Would one require their written consent? And how much would this cost, anyway? Whatever it cost, the burden clearly shifts from the search committee to the individual candidate.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at March 5, 2004 01:41 PM

It's legal. The offeror is master of her offer. Basic contract law. Sorry. I am a lawyer. Can'!

Posted by: Nate Oman at March 5, 2004 01:58 PM

No need to apologize. But could you elaborate on the basics of contract law as they apply to this situation? My question concerns the students in the class, who might be seen and/or heard (if they ask questions, make comments, etc) on the videotape. Are they presumed to have agreed to a contract which stipulates that they may be taped for some purposes (or perhaps for any purposes whatsoever)?

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at March 5, 2004 02:06 PM

My daughter's third grade class had a student teacher from a local university this past fall. The student teacher had to provide a videotape of a science lesson she taught the class as part of her portfolio. They did indeed send home a permission slip for us to authorize our daughter's appearance in the video, and an option for us to "opt out" if we didn't want her to appear on the tape. (An alternate camera-free activity was offered.)

Posted by: UnderARock at March 5, 2004 02:24 PM

I read this exact same ad-- the job sounds fine otherwise (nice location, the right size for me), but the video requirement certainly makes the application process less desirable.

Posted by: Sylvia at March 5, 2004 02:41 PM

If you were going to publicly show the video, especially for for-profit purposes, you would need written consent forms for the people appearing in the video. For private showings (as I assume sharing it with a committee would be) I would imagine that telling the students that the class was going to be taped and giving them the chance to opt out without penalty would be sufficient.

As for expense and difficulty, I'd say both would be small if you were more interested in recording a class in action than cutting a video for a video's sake. When I was a new teacher, the Preparing Professional Faculty office would come and tape your class for you (and go over it with you afterward if you wanted feedback) if you made an appointment and gave them a tape. Presumably a friend with a video camera could do much the same thing.

I also had a smaller workshop class taped once by my writing program, with the intention of having a demonstration of how workshops function, for new instructors entering the program. Again, since it was for in-house, private use, all we did was warn the students ahead of time that they were going to be taped. (One young man showed up wearing a suit, which occasioned some teasing, but it turned out to be for an interview afterward.)

Posted by: Rana at March 5, 2004 03:18 PM

My wife has had to do this a few times. It's awful. It reduces a significant part of the interview to a one-way process, in which they get to watch you perform, but you don't get any interaction with them. I felt that they might as well announce that they want a dancing bear rather than a colleague with whom they would work.

Posted by: PZ Myers at March 5, 2004 03:38 PM

Can someone explain why this is so horrible? Seeing a tape is a much better way to get a sense of someone's teaching than, say, student evaluations. PZ's point about the one-way process is well taken, but that's a deficiency in the overall interview process, not a harm specifically brought about by the videotape requirement.

Posted by: ogged at March 5, 2004 03:47 PM

At the institution where I got my master's degree, we had to have our teaching videotaped. Then we had to schedule a conference with the Director of Composition and watch the tape with her. She would give her evaluation right then. No one ever mentioned anything about a camera-free alternative, permission form, etc. and they encouraged us to, if we wanted, make a copy of the tape for prospective employers.

Note: I have no idea whether or not they still do this--but they did it four years ago.

Posted by: Clancy at March 5, 2004 03:47 PM

I was taped for the teaching program at my University as a grad student. They made everybody sign releases. The tape was used to demonstrate innovative and successful teaching techniques. Does this mean I qualify to count myself as someone who can claim to be a good teacher? Also, I got good quantitative evaluations with lower average grades compared to others in my department. Would that count? (see Jilted Entitlement below) I had my first evaluation at my high school job last year. In it they found: my classroom practice needed a lot of work on a bunch of things I never thought about when I was teaching college (like what to have the kids do while you doing a homework check, when do you give a pop quiz if you sense the kids are not doing the work, etc.). My reviews on are generally positive and I score high on the hardness scale. On the whole, I trust my evaluation team (who had something like five advanced degrees and 50 years combined teaching experience) over the students.

Posted by: David Salmanson at March 5, 2004 03:50 PM

ogged said:

"Can someone explain why this is so horrible? Seeing a tape is a much better way to get a sense of someone's teaching than, say, student evaluations."

I don't think anyone's disputing that. But it does compromise students' privacy if their faces are shown on the tape, and that's why people seem to have a problem with the videotaping.

Posted by: Clancy at March 5, 2004 03:52 PM

I think it's horrible inasmuch as it lards on one more thing to be prepared in making an application for an academic job. A standard part of a campus visit ought to be asking one of the finalists to give a lecture or presentation to students, which accomplishes the same purpose, but integrates it into what a candidate does during their visit, rather than forces a candidate to prepare (and copy at their own expense) a videotape in advance. It is a non-trivial exercise to have yourself videotaped while teaching if you're not at an institution which has a pre-existing support network for creating such videotapes.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at March 5, 2004 04:03 PM

"But it does compromise students' privacy if their faces are shown on the tape."

Is there something shameful about being an undergraduate? Would it break a mother's heart if she knew her child was attending college?

If there is a problem with video tapes, it's that it leads us one more step towards the idea of teaching as performance. How can you help but play to the camera when the tape is rolling?

Posted by: Frolic at March 5, 2004 04:08 PM

I've never seen 'privacy' used so strangely as the idea that someone knowing you were in a class (just sit there silently if you're embarassed!) compromises something.

I agree with Prof. Burke, though -- it is a LOGISTICAL burden. Perhaps that's what the committee is trying to do: by creating yet another hurdle they cut down on the number of "complete portfolios." I was on a search last winter in which fully 1/4 of the portfolios weren't complete (though they were of the normal c.v.-cover letter-3 letters type).

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at March 5, 2004 04:31 PM

Nope, nothing shameful at all about being an undergraduate. It's just videotaping without someone's explicit consent--but hey. If we go out in public, we should expect to be videotaped, right? So everything is fine. Hooray for surveillance!

Posted by: Clancy at March 5, 2004 04:44 PM

It doesn't seem unreasonable, if you are hiring someone whose responsibilities will include teaching, to want to see them teach. Probably better done as part of the campus visit during the interview process, as someone suggested, but what is the objection to the videotaping, as long as consent is obtained from the students? (any student not wishing to consent could simply be excused from class that day). And the cost & logistics argument doesn't seem to carry much weight..this isn't 1970 when videotaping required expensive equipment and a highly trained crew. Just have a student volunteer operate the camera.

Actually, audiotaping would probably capture 80% of the value.

Posted by: David Foster at March 5, 2004 05:49 PM

I take it back. The strangest use of "privacy" I've heard lately was a person I team-taught with who wouldn't leave papers outside an office door for students to pick up because it endangered the privacy of their grades.

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at March 5, 2004 05:52 PM

From the other side of the fence, by the way, I have NO desire to deal with the arrival of 200 dossiers that have a videotape included, and I wager that my administrative assistant feels the same way. And again, if you only ask for this at the end of the process, then ask for the people to teach for you live and in person. I think you get a better read on teaching that way anyway.

Posted by: Timothy Burke at March 5, 2004 06:10 PM

Whether it's legal to tape a class for this purpose seems to me to potentially be a complex question. Maybe because I'm a law professor,I don't see the question as being nearly as simple as does Nathan Oman.

Here's one aspect: Most states have laws against taping -- some states are "one party consent" states. In those states the professor's consent suffices (persuming there is nothing to the contrary in the Faculty manual, or the student manual or other University rules). But in "two party consent" states, every speaker must consent to the taping.

In those two-consent states, you either need explicit consent from the students, or you need to find implied consent. Of course, if the student manual or other contract speaks to the question, that's your answer. But it probably doesn't in most places. Ours, for example, covers taping by the University for its benefit, or for pedagogical purposes, but not taping by the instructor for his/her personal benefit.

[There is also some legal commentary suggesting that the Buckley Amendment prevents us from giving out any info that could allow anyone to identify where a student will be. Taping a class and then playing the tape elsewhere before the end of the semester might in theory violate that rule...]

Posted by: Michael Froomkin at March 5, 2004 06:12 PM

16: "The strangest use of 'privacy' I've heard lately was a person I team-taught with who wouldn't leave papers outside an office door for students to pick up because it endangered the privacy of their grades."

That thar's FERPA territory on most campuses. They can pick up their papers, but if a grade is on those papers and students can rifle through and find out each others' grades, there is definitely a privacy issue at stake, and possibly a legal issue. On many campuses, this is strictly verboten.

In terms of taping the class, while I recognize that there may be some privacy implication, I fail to see this as a major burden. Nor do I understand how this is a significant hurdle for applying for a job. You are already teaching--you just need to borrow/rent a camera and shoot the darn thing.

The privacy issue can easily be mitigated: tell the students what you are doing and why, and allow them to "opt out" for the day. (If they take this as permission to blow off a class: (a) you probably should be developing a better rapport with your students and (b) you are less likely to have bored-looking students in your teaching demo.) I've on occasion taken pictures in or of my class and routinely offer this "out."

The advantage, though, should be plain. Those who may not stack up in terms of research or who may not look as good "on paper" now have another channel through which to present their talents, and a useful addition to what should be a broader teaching portfolio.

Posted by: Alex Halavais at March 5, 2004 07:50 PM

I was also taped when I was grad student and it was very useful. I think my chair suggested it here....

I assumed that letting other students see students grades was not allowed in the US (or Israel it seemed where I was an undergrad). Though at the end I guess people know what class degree you got - magna cum whatever...

Posted by: moom at March 5, 2004 10:05 PM

My wife wasn't concerned about student privacy at all when she had to go through this -- it's not difficult to tape a lecture, at least, without including students in the field of view.

I find several things objectionable about it.

If it's a preliminary part of the application review process, it's added expense and waste. I've been on job searches with several hundred applicants...I don't want to even imagine sitting through that many half-hour tapes. You know the fast-forward button is getting a workout.

When this tape plus a phone interview is a substitute for a real interview, my objections are even more serious. An interview is about interacting with potential colleagues, and it must go both ways. This process is putting up a one-way mirror between the university and a prospective faculty member. It shortchanges the applicant and reduces the depth of the interview.

A video tape also emphasizes appearance, and dear gob, but most of us academics lackadaisical, shambling wrecks. I utterly rely on my pleasant personality to outshine my threadbare and grizzled looks.

And especially for women, sexism is a worry. The reviewers are demanding that she use a medium that emphasizes what she looks like, and you know that how pretty she looks is going to be a factor to at least some. This is a business where we're supposed to be evaluating minds, not superficialities -- so why treat it like they're looking for a new TV weather personality?

Posted by: PZ Myers at March 5, 2004 10:12 PM

"This process is putting up a one-way mirror between the university and a prospective faculty member."

I think that's right. Granted, there's something artificial about the undergrad lecture as a component of the campus interview: it's not your own course, you don't know the students, you haven't been privy to the dynamics of the classroom, and there are four or five faculty members sitting in the classroom observing and taking notes. But for all the weirdness of the situation, it is part of a two-way interview interaction.

There's always a performance element to teaching, of course. But this video idea seems to take things too far in the direction of stage-managed production.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at March 5, 2004 10:48 PM

The only reason God is even on the market is that he was denied tenure at Columbia.

Didn't meet the diversity requirements, no recent papers or book deals, etc. Real shame.

Posted by: CJG at March 6, 2004 12:28 AM

Unless you're in a small class, leaving papers -- or, even worse, exams -- outside the office door is a bad idea. I don't care if people see my marks, but I do care when it gets stolen because I got in the 90s. This happened regularly (mostly in classes that the med keeners were in) in my undergrad school; they ended up having a policy that you could not return things that way.

Posted by: wolfangel at March 6, 2004 07:37 AM

"This is a business where we're supposed to be evaluating minds, not superficialities -- so why treat it like they're looking for a new TV weather personality?" (PZ Myers, #21).

Hey ... I think you're on to something here.

More seriously, IA raises the issue that imediately struck me; namely, the possibility, no, the likelihood that if this practice becomes standardized, these tapes will inevitably be evaluated according to their production values. TV-weather casts, however, aren't the model. Think "60-Minutes" instead. Imagine an enterprising applicant who can afford to pay for a professional videographer, someone who has facility with the camera and knows when and how to do a fade-in and a fade-out, uses multiple camera angles, and then has post-production know-how and can edit and create an engaging video narrartive.

I don't think this is all that far fetched. The rpice wouldn't be that prohibitive, and there are several comercially available editing programs that allow one to edit digitial home videos. Why one wouldn't someone use something like this to make a teaching video?

Posted by: Chris at March 6, 2004 08:00 AM

For those of you taping a lecture as an example of your teaching, don't bother. Lecturing is reading in a less interactive format. If they want to see a videotape, they want to see you interacting with students in a class discussion format: that is, teaching a class. That's the only reason I could think of for wanting to see a videotape. And incidentally, only semi-finalists would have to send the tape. I love this because you get to see what the applicant's definition of teaching is. My hope would be that everybody who sends a lecture gets tossed into the no on-campus interview pile. Of course, maybe this is why I bailed on academia for high school teaching.

Posted by: David Salmanson at March 6, 2004 11:56 AM

Discussion is the only form of teaching? Now, I value a good class discussion, and have tried valiantly to use that model for years, almost entirely to the exclusion of the lecture model.

What I have found--only quite recently, at that--is that except in very small classes (15 or fewer), students overwhelmingly despise the discussion model. As someone who is quite dependent on student evaluations at this early stage of a career, I have had to pay close attention to that finding. What I have come to discover is that students (with the exception of the very small seminars) regard "discussion" as a cop-out. They repeatedly have stressed in their evaluative comments that they want to know what *I* know about Early Modern literature, culture, history, theology, etc.--not what *they* know (which in many cases is not very much).

How does one adopt the "discussion" model (if, in fact, that is the only form of "teaching") to make it really and truly valuable to the students? (And not merely a "look how much my students talk in class" exhibition for a search committee with a VCR)?

Posted by: Failed Again at March 6, 2004 01:07 PM

Interesting. I'm going to start a new thread on lecture versus discussion.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at March 6, 2004 01:16 PM

Discussion is the only form of teaching? Now, I value a good class discussion, and have tried valiantly to use that model for years, almost entirely to the exclusion of the lecture model...What I have found--only quite recently, at that--is that except in very small classes (15 or fewer), students overwhelmingly despise the discussion model.

In the context of good or effective or popular teaching (and they are not necessarily the same thing at all) this very well could be the case. In the context of submitting application materials, though, the question is whether those students who prefer to see lectures are going to be on the search committee. If not, then you should submit what the committee wants to see. And that is probably evidence that you interact well with students and not that you read really well. Trying to convince a search committee that they want to see something different than what they think they want to see is a great way to ensure that you don't get the job.

Posted by: Jay at March 6, 2004 03:35 PM

The only reason God is even on the market is that he was denied tenure at Columbia.

But if God is on the market this year, then why aren't we seeing more Chronicle news stories with headlines like "Plagues of locusts afflict universities across the nation; authorities baffled"? Or "Entire hiring committee smitten with boils at MLA"?

Posted by: Amanda at March 6, 2004 06:36 PM

In response to #26, I can think of some other reasons why a search committee would want to see a videotape. How about screening for race, ethnicity, or even sexual orientation? There's alot you can't necessarily tell about a person from a CV, but from a videotape, it's a different story.

Posted by: Nick at March 7, 2004 09:30 AM

#26 #31 -- This does not strike me as a real problem. They also do face to faces routinely in these things.

I am not an expert on the Federal stuent privacy rules, but I am unclear as to why a video tape that was to be sent to a third party would not require prior consent. At the very least I would begin the taping by explaining what is going on and allowing any student who does not want to be on camera to either sit behind the camera operator or, absent himself from class without penalty.

Second, you would have to be less than interested in the job, if you did not 1) hire a cameraman (most campuses have budding film makers who would do it fairly cheap) 2) groom and dress appropriately, and 3) smile and put on a good show.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 8, 2004 11:39 AM

#32 -- Why stop with camera work, editing, and good grooming? Why even have a real class in attendance? Why not stock the "class" with academic "ringers," who will be more engaged, ask better questions, and can be prompted to say flattering things about the "prof"? You could even make it look like a multi-culti Benneton ad

Hey ... I'm startign to like this idea. I see a start-up business here!

Posted by: Chris at March 8, 2004 02:12 PM

chris, #33--I doubt you'd make a go of the business. Once a department received several tapes all with the same "students", your customers would be after you.

Posted by: jam at March 8, 2004 05:21 PM

Good point, Jam. I think I could mix it up, though. Or, alternatively, I could just troll through grad. departments and hire a few to play the parts of the undergrads.

Thanks for the advice. As you know, every start-up needs all the help it can get.

Posted by: Chris at March 8, 2004 06:21 PM

The legal discussion her is peripheral, but I did want to respond quickly to Professor Frumkin's comments. It seems that there are two potential legal problems, the first is with the university making the offer and the second is with the applicant trying to accept it. I was referring to the first problem. I suppose that in states that have laws against taping, the offer might be construed as soliciting a crime, but I find this very unlikely. Even states with laws against taping have procedures whereby one may legally tape. The offer does not require the applicant to engage in any illegal behavior. One could construe it as something like, "Provide me with a version of Professor Frumkin's recent Harvard Law Review article that you have published in your own legal journal, and I will hire you." It is possible to publish the article in a way that would violate the Harvard Law Review's copyright. It is also possible (in theory) to publish the article in a way that does not violate the copyright. There is thus nothing about the offer that is per se illegal.

I think that Professor Frumkin is correct about the problems that arise on the applicant's side.

Posted by: Nate Oman at March 9, 2004 10:48 AM


Many colleges have theater departments with many talented young thespians. I think you are on to something. Just make sure to rotate your casts and backrounds.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 9, 2004 02:17 PM

Requesting a videotape is not uncommon in the business world of training but that doesn't mean it is an effective recruitment tool.

What matters about learning is what happens with the learner -- not the teacher/trainer, so whether or not the "professor" appears to be entertaining is far less important than what the learners are doing. How do you then tape their internal learning?

Also, we are so effected by the high gloss production values of professional films that most "audition" tapes pale in comparison. Your camera operator is your best secret weapon. Your "post production" becomes critical.

Here's an alternative: offer to facilitate a live half-hour session. It's costly but more realistic.

Posted by: Doug Smith at March 14, 2004 05:42 PM