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Despite limited effort to record lectures, Penn’s administration will not go forward with the UA’s plan to assist absent students.

For students who have to miss class because of religious holidays, getting access to lecture material is not always a click away on Canvas. While many classrooms are equipped with recording equipment, not all professors record their lectures or post PowerPoint slides or class notes online.

Three years ago, the Undergraduate Assembly Student Committee on Undergraduate Education pushed to get more classes recorded and posted online, but have since given up after administrative inaction.

Last year, Undergraduate Assembly member and College sophomore Michelle Xu picked up the project again and has been looking for a new solution.

Xu explained that every year, the Vice Provost for University Life sends a list of of nationally recognized holidays to professors, who then schedule midterms and big projects with these holidays in mind and try to avoid conflicts. Although a generalized list is on the provost’s website, a specific list of dates on which professors cannot schedule midterms is not made publicly available.

“A lot of schools like Harvard and Duke post their lists, and I feel like Penn would be at the top of accommodating for their students, but there seems to be a slight lack there,” Xu said.

Since school is in session on many of these holidays, Xu reached out to building managers to try to get all lectures recorded on these specific dates.

“I found that there are over 200 classrooms on campus that record and in Huntsman, you can record in every classroom,” Xu said.

Yet despite the availability of technology, the administration has pushed back on the project and denounced it on the grounds that it would “require too much manpower, and many professors would feel annoyed by all the extra work.”

Individual schools within Penn decide which classrooms will receive recording equipment and once it is installed, faculty can request recordings without a lot of work.

“The recording just starts and stops automatically, and faculty don’t need to do anything except to remember to put on the microphone,” IT Technical Director of Classroom Technology Services Jeff Douthett said.

Chief Information Officer of Wharton Computing and Information Technology Dan Alig reiterated Douthett’s claim and said that recording “is not a hassle.” In each Huntsman Hall classroom, there are three cameras, and a central system either allows faculty to request recording schedules for the whole semester or a single session at the touch of a button on the lectern.

Alig also believes that recording a class is not only important because it captures the substantive material but also because of the classroom dynamics themselves. “Some of the classes in a business school are focused on the conversation and what’s going on ... it’s highly necessary to be able to review that,” he said.

Yet, the administrative roadblock has prevented classroom recording from being standard, and Xu has looked instead to work-study students who take notes for Student Disability Services in hopes that they can pilot a program to take notes for students who have to miss class for religious holidays.

Jesselson Director of Student Disability Services Susan Shapiro explained that “the funds [for SDS notetakers] are for students with disabilities who are expected to be in class” and that the service is not a substitute for students who have to miss class.

“It’s really important to partner with faculty,” Shapiro said. “How do you determine who to give [note takers] to? For what religion and for what holiday? Every cultural group has different levels of observance.”

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