I am a master’s student in a public university in the state of New York. I do not consider myself to be disabled in any form but I do find it difficult to concentrate in class. I lose focus too often and have difficulty recalling concepts taught during class. So I find resources such as recorded lectures to be very quite beneficial as whenever I lose focus while watching them, I can simply rewind back.

I am currently enrolled in a course where lectures are not recorded. I like this subject and I want to do well. So I want to ask the Professor permission to audio-record his lecture (by just keeping my phone on my desk and not using any distracting piece of equipment). I don't know the professor well but he definitely isn't one of those overtly friendly ones who (you'd think) will surely give you permission.

What I want to know is if he were to deny me, what could be his reasons?

I think I have just one shot at this. So I want to go there prepared.

A vaguely similar (but not the same) question has been asked before.

Update: I asked the Professor if I could record and he simply smiled and said yes.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Feb 6 '17 at 4:14

12 Answers 12


This is a subjective question, but common reasons I have heard (and reasons I would have) include:

  • Fear of students editing records to manipulate what you said
  • Fear of having a mistake you made taken out of context and spread widely
  • Concern that it encourages students to not pay as close of attention
  • Concern that students will not feel they need to attend class if they have acceess to the lecture outside of class.
  • Concern that students in the class will not feel as comfortable asking questions or contributing to discussion, since they are also being recorded
  • Institutional concern about a course's lectures being widely distributed online, when in fact these lectures are for (paying) enrolled students--a type of "intellectual property" concern

Edit: Also, you might want to be aware when bringing up problems getting easily distracted in the class, a professor could take that somewhat personally. Many committed teachers go out of their way to try to make their class as interesting and engaging as possible. If a student asked to record lectures because they are getting distracted or zoning out during class, one may not hear: "I am trying to do this to improve my learning;" but rather: "I am trying to compensate for your short-comings as a teacher". Not all instructors will feel this way, but that's just something to keep in mind as you broach that conversation.

Edit2: There's a lot of discussion in comments that my last comment about socially navigating the question: it is very true that many teachers may not care. However, trying to frame the request more explicitly as "this is a thing I am doing to improve my learning" could be beneficial in making your instructor agree.

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    Nice listing; and good points. But also, the video, with answering questions may show the prof not in the best light if it takes some time to clarify what the question is or what the answer should be (as opposed to, say, a pre-prepared lecture script). – Captain Emacs Feb 2 '17 at 22:09
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    And one can use copyright material in lecture slides. But if they get recorded and distributed, then this is not allowed and you might get fined (Happened twice at our university last year). – BDL Feb 2 '17 at 23:07
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    I don't think the last portion should be a major concern. Not that some teachers (including, possibly, you) might take it personally, I don't doubt that, but I think it's the exception rather than the rule. In my experience, most teachers will acknowledge when students have difficulty staying focused and paying attention due to personal reasons (an ADHD diagnostics or use of certain medications are some examples), and will do their best to accommodate for that. It helps when the student sticks to a policy of only using the recorded content for his personal aid, and not sharing it in any way. – Marc.2377 Feb 3 '17 at 2:35
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    I recently discussed the threat of atomic attack by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and early 1960s and described the "duck and cover" drill that elementary school kids learned. Mindful of the microphone clipped to my necktie, I did not describe the third step, after 1. You bend over, and, 2. You put your head between your knees, but I might have. Imagine Yours Truly on YouTube, wholly out of context, telling a class of students, "kiss your [posterior] good-bye!" Holy smoke! ksuweb.kennesaw.edu/faculty/rbrow211/papers/podcasting/… – Bob Brown Feb 3 '17 at 2:51
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    I would also add that there are a few lecturers who might talk about things they're comfortable sharing with a small class but would be worried about getting onto the internet. I had a lecturer who would give anecdotes about his times in various industries, some of them portraying others in not all too flattering ways ;) – Muzer Feb 3 '17 at 10:07

One more to NMJD's list: privacy of other students. Enrollment and participation in a class is FERPA-protected in the United States.

Students may share comments or information that they do not want shared outside the classroom.

For example, a religious student may share doubts about their faith or LGBT status. A student may not want others to know that they are taking a class but their voices or faces may appear on the tape or video. An engineering student may ask a really stupid question or give a totally wrong response that they do not wish transmitted to the outside world and future employers. etc. etc.

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    Two perfectly good legal reasons. Y's right to do X stops when doing X can get Z into a lawsuit. "Or worse, expelled." needless to say, +1'd – Mindwin Feb 3 '17 at 13:05
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    A fair concern, but isn't that only relevant when the OP tries to make the recording public, rather than only to use it for her/his own memory and lessons? – Hennes Feb 3 '17 at 17:28
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    The concern is that once a recording is made, it's impossible to know what will happen with it - especially if the student is doing it against or without the professor's permission. – RoboKaren Feb 3 '17 at 17:36
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    Participation in a course is FERPA protected. If a parent calls and asks about a their child, I cannot tell them if that student is in any particular class. Ergo, I cannot share a class list with student names without violating FERPA -- as well as anything that indicates participation. Furthermore, I cannot permit or authorize a student to do this without violating FERPA because I cannot control what happens with the data. – RoboKaren Feb 3 '17 at 19:24
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    I disagree. The lecture itself can and is a creative work and is automatically copyright under the Bern convention - just as any spoken language performance is. And the student can raise fair use as a defense, but it is not automatic -- there is no fair use exemption, only a defense. – RoboKaren Feb 3 '17 at 21:38

I understand that you want us to play devil's advocate to help you think ahead and prepare for the conversation. Good thinking -- it's good to do your research ahead of time.

I would like to play devil's advocate at a more fundamental level, though.

I do not consider myself to be disabled in any form but I do find it difficult to concentrate in class. I lose focus too often and have difficulty recalling concepts taught during class.

Perhaps you have already had a good evaluation to find out why you lose focus often and have difficulty recalling concepts taught in class. But if you haven't yet, then I would encourage you to do so. Your question did raise a red flag for me, and made me wonder what might be behind your difficulties with focus.

If the evaluation were to find some clear reason, that could be documented to the satisfaction of your university's office for students with disabilities, you wouldn't have to struggle all on your own to get accommodations you need.

And now back to your immediate concern. I would guess that common underlying reasons for refusing would be self-consciousness and fear of the unknown, if the instructor had never had the experience of being taped while teaching.

If this is the case, it might be helpful to try it out in office hours, with permission. Another benefit of visiting office hours would be that the instructor would get to know you better, would see that you're working hard and doing your part, and would find you more trustworthy.


About a year and a half ago, I was in a class where the professor is generally amenable to recording, but during which he asked us to not record a specific class. The reason behind this was that this specific session was an open discussion of a controversial topic (currently a "hot-button" topic in American politics). His reasons were two-fold:

  • For his professional reputation; he wouldn't have time to fully research any questions and vet the answers through his normal evaluation process. As a result, he couldn't be certain that any answers he might give to esoteric questions would be fully accurate.

  • To allow his students to freely speak their minds without fear of public embarrassment and repercussions.


Other answers bring up various practical concerns that may lead a professor to refuse to allow their lectures to be recorded, but one purely psychological reason why they might refuse is that they may simply be a shy or reserved person. Standing in front of a large audience and speaking, which is an unavoidable part of the job, is already intimidating to some professors (even very good and successful ones who end up doing an excellent job with their teaching). I can totally imagine shyness or introverted tendencies playing a role in making a professor not want to have audio recordings of their lectures taken, independently of any practical concerns about the recording being made public and so on, and therefore refusing to allow it unless coerced due to university policy related to, for example, accommodation of students with disabilities.

I should add that while such behavior on the part of a professor might be perceived as annoying or inconsiderate by students such as OP, there is an argument to be made (and I'm not taking a side one way or the other, simply presenting this as what I think is a valid argument) that professors also have a right to some ordinary human frailties and weaknesses and to be allowed to do their jobs under conditions they view as acceptable given those frailties and weaknesses. We are not all superheroes, and it is not self-evident to me that in a clash between the interests of a student who finds it difficult to concentrate in class and those of a professor who finds it difficult to lecture when they know they are being recorded, the interests of the student should morally trump those of the professor.


TL;DR: Use books to learn.

Is that a course about some obscure topic? Is a book (or books) available with information about that course?

If a written material (book or lecture notes) for learning is not available

Ask your professor how could you study the subject on your own if you don't understand dully some of the topics. Tell that you have troubles taking notes of everything and that you are afraid of missing something or making mistakes in notes while you misendurstand the topic.

If the professor tells you that the are no valid books on this subject and the lectures is the only source, ask if you may record the lectures on your phone. Explain that you would use it only for your own learning and audio recordings of lectures help you in other courses because you can pause, rewind and go in your own tempo. It would be quite strange if this gets denied.

If there is a book or other written materials available

Don't record the lectures.

I am teaching myself. If a student would come up to me and ask to record the lectures, I would allow it but I would think to myself that the student is an idiot. To put a more objective term that I could use with students and colleagues, I would say that the student does not know how to learn.

I would allow it because I think your approach to learning is your own business, but I can judge you on that and I think that the approach is wrong.

If you learn on your own, you should always use a book. It's up to your tempo. You can rewind it or skip over whenever you want. It is more thorough, it includes illustrations and formulas from the blackboard and a lot more information than what was told in lecture (but you can choose if you take it all or maybe even less than in the lecture).

A book is usually read more times by more people than a lecture is listened to and thus it is better checked for errors. Professors can and will make mistakes in lectures. And it will be your fault and problem if you misunderstand something because the professor mistakenly mixed up a couple of words and didn't notice it.

I wouldn't care if you recorded my mistake and showed it to someone - mistakes can happen to anyone. But if you genuinly misunderstand a crucial topic and try to put the blame on my mistakes, I will still grade you according to your knowledge and not forgive you because you recorded a mistake. A professor is there to guide you through course, the learning is up to you yourself.

The lectures is an introduction to the topic and gives you the overall picture. It is completely natural if you get distracted or miss something in lectures. No one can remain totally attentive for 45 or 90 minutes. I've missed something in every lecture I've attended yet I've never had problems to actually learn the topics by myself using resources.

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    -1. Your attitude towards non-reader-based learning is appalling and, more importantly on SE, does nothing to help people in the situation faced by the original asker. Thinking your student to be an idiot because they learn vest through non-reader-visual, or verbal-aural, or kinaesthetic methods? Congratulations, you've disregarded the majority of your classes' abilities to learn because it's different from your own personal preference. – Nij Feb 5 '17 at 9:54
  • @Nij I am not talking about learning styles. I am talking about the content - no lecturer will guarantee the content of information and accuracy comparable to a well-accepted standard book in the field. Even if it is true that you learn better by listening (afaik there is no real evidence for that learning-style efficency stuff, only subjective preferences), the information in a good text-book is incomparably better and more thorough to what could be told in lecture. And can you really say that a guy who loses focus all the time when listening the lecture, could actually be aural learner? – Džuris Feb 5 '17 at 18:22

All of the reasons given above for a professor refusing to allow his lectures to be recorded are real and valid. Concern with them being shared in inappropriate ways is the biggest issue. A recording will miss aspects of body language and other things that can cause problems. And it's not a question of trust: there are cases of student's using a recording of an instructor's class against him out of context to create a disciplinary action. (Sometimes there are classes with a number of students who want to fight instructors, rather than learn from them.)

That said, professors recognize that a student who wants to learn is someone to be encouraged. A LiveScribe pen can help you connect written notes to specific parts of the lecture, and allow you to playback a day's classes. But keep the emphasis on 'for my personal use.' In the same way that you shouldn't bundle all your class notes together and distribute them (they are either the professor's or the college's intellectual property), you shouldn't pass around your recordings of the class. It's your personal copy, for your personal use only. If you emphasize that, that it is for your enhanced learning, few professors would disagree.


Not in any way involved in education, just stumbled on this thread and read out of curiosity.

All of the reasons suggested seem perfectly valid and well put but I'm surprised that no-one has gone back step and said that whatever his reasons, completely valid or totally absurd, or even if he doesn't actually have a reason, isn't it irrelevant? If he states that he doesn't want to be recorded, surely that is his choice and requires no further explanation if he declines to give it. Does not the much vaunted 'Freedom of Speech' in the US extend also to a freedom NOT to speak? Or in this case, a freedom not to have his speaking recorded?

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    No, it doesn't grant that freedom, and in fact it would be firmly against some of the underlying principles of free speech for others to be barred totally from recording it. This is not the case in all areas but the reasoning is faulty all the same. – Nij Feb 5 '17 at 9:48

even if he's not very friendly he could accept recording his lecture . This year I asked for the first time my professor whether I could record his lectures, while it was the first time he teaches me and the first time I speak to him. It's because I heard that he's very good and smart plus it was not an easy course(quantum mechanics) . So my advice to you is that you take his permission, so if he said no then its no , but if he agreed you'll benefit a lot . So in any way you'd lose nothing .. even when I get back home and hear the lectures another time , I notice important things that I have forgotten . But I tell you something that he told me not to give them to anyone unless by taking his permission first. I think he meant by that other professors , and find him right about that , but else I find it normal to record the lectures if the professor was really caring and understanding nevertheless his serious or funny character . And good luck :)


Answering this in a slightly different way: I'd like to point out, that because you are in the state of New York (where wire-tapping requires only 1-party consent), and you are a participant in the lecture, you have no reason to ask the professor for permission to 'wiretap' the lecture.

http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/new-york-recording-law http://blogs.findlaw.com/law_and_life/2015/09/is-it-legal-to-record-your-teachers-or-professors.html

I doubt there is any specific rule (for SUNY schools) forbidding you from recording the lecture you are attending.

As long as you are just using the recording for your own purposes, I would advise against asking for permission for something you already have the right to do.

As the idiom goes, better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission. Let's put it this way: you are ENCOURAGED to take notes in a lecture. A recording is simply automated and efficient note taking.


FERPA exists to protect students from the school or university, not the other way around. For example, it doesn't cover recordings of the professor lecturing, only questions asked by your fellow students.



I see you commented earlier that you feel compelled to get permission. I would suggest that it would be better to talk this through with your academic adviser, than the professor. They should be able to talk through any specific university policy on it.

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    You wrote, "[FERPA] doesn't cover recordings of the professor lecturing, only questions asked by your fellow students." And, how is the OP going to guarantee to the fellow students that any questions and comments they may pose during the lecture won't get recorded too? – Mico Feb 3 '17 at 16:04
  • @Mico There is no guarantee that student questions will not be recorded (by the university/professor) simply that the students will be asked for consent before such a recording would be played back to other groups of students. If the professor wanted to play back that recording for a different class, he would either need to a) get permission of the original group of students b) edit out the questions. I did not mean to imply that FERPA would prevent a student from recording other students questions and using them for their own purposes. – Jamil R Khan Feb 3 '17 at 16:30
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    I don't understand the point you are making. According to the OP, it's the OP who's doing the recording; the OP has stated clearly that the course is not being recorded by the university/professor. Students who participate in the course may well object to another student making recordings, especially as they have no control over the use and potential further (re)distribution of the recordings. – Mico Feb 3 '17 at 16:55
  • In New York, you should have no expectation that something you are saying to a group of people will not be recorded by one of the people to whom you are speaking. It does not matter if the other students object or not - simply making the recordings and using it for study purposes does not violate anyone's rights or reasonable expectations of privacy. – Jamil R Khan Feb 3 '17 at 18:10
  • " you have no reason to ask the professor for permission to 'wiretap' the lecture. " having a legal right to do something doesn't mean there is no reason to ask permission. The golden rule still applies, there is no legal requirement to be polite and considerate, but there are good reasons for doing so anyway. "As the idiom goes, better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission." is not as good a guide as the Golden rule IMHO. – Dikran Marsupial Feb 3 '17 at 19:49

At my university they are recorded, automatically and all students are given access, thus students aren't allowed to record anything.

This being said staff can opt out of recordings. I'd be clear with them the purpose of the recording and how it's to be used. If they feel happy then I'm sure they'll consent.

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    How is it "thus", or a given, that students aren't allowed to record anything just because lectures are recorded (ass+u+me(dly) by the school itself)? Is there a written policy stating that students are not to record in class lectures/discussions? I really do not understand having these no recording rules in this day and age. It is almost impossible to bar student recordings, as phones/laptops/digital recorders are ubiquitous items now. How does one enforce these rules? – NZKshatriya Feb 2 '17 at 20:26
  • Further, if you record anything then they lose control. They don't know what will happen with any recording. You'd have to assure them of its usage. – Richard Kavanagh Feb 2 '17 at 20:28
  • There are campus rules regarding recording and seen as there are high quality recordings, with video in some cases already provided it's not needed, for students to record themselves. There is still need for privacy of other students and not all will agree to being recorded, therefore uncontrolled recordings are not always best. – Richard Kavanagh Feb 2 '17 at 20:35
  • I find the material in your answer interesting, but I think it would work better as a comment. (I was not the downvoter.) – aparente001 Feb 3 '17 at 1:30
  • Not I either lol, It also depends where you live if all in the classroom needs to give permission to record......Thankfully Texas(where I am) is not one of those places – NZKshatriya Feb 3 '17 at 2:56

I'm really surprised that nobody has mentioned accessibility yet.

During my time at university, I struggled heavily with 'dyslexia', most notably the inability to write and listen at the same time due to the level of concentration I needed to write coherently. I was given a voice recorder, and access to software so that I could record lectures, and simply make notes on the timings or certain explanations/sub-categories. There's also the point to consider that you have paid (in my mind) probably an extortionate amount of money for these lectures.

TL;DR - you should always be allowed to record a lecture for your own personal use, as otherwise would discriminate against those with learning difficulties. However you have no right to upload it to anywhere or share it with anyone else.

EDIT: I realise this doesn't answer the question at all, but rather I answer a different unasked question. Oops, this is my first posting sorry!

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    Those with learning difficulties should be issued special learning aids, as it seems to have happened to you. But you paid for the privilege of watching the lectures, not recording it. By your reasoning, one could record a theatrical movie anytime. You see, I really get distracted by my girlfriend sitting at my side in a dark room, I need to record the movie so I can watch it later. – Mindwin Feb 3 '17 at 13:08
  • @Mindwin I find that metaphor quite dismissive of the issues a lot of people face, and quite a poor representation of the point I made. I would advise you to attempt to wholly understand the issues you're discussing before making flippant comparisons to events that are intended to sound ridiculous. You are entitled to lecture notes, am I correct? You're also entitled to the presentation slides too. How much of an extension is a recording of the lecture? Also, you don't pay to watch a lecture, you pay to be taught information/skills. This is a quite a salient distinction to make. – Korthalion Feb 3 '17 at 13:21
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    You are allowed to do what the contract between you and the teaching institution allows, given the local law. I cannot record the movie because the contract between me and the theater (that I entered when I bought the ticket) and the local law specifically disallow said behaviour. You cannot pass GO and collect $200 in a RISK game. – Mindwin Feb 3 '17 at 14:01
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    "you should always be allowed to record a lecture for your own personal use, as otherwise would discriminate against those with learning difficulties." No. In most, if not all, higher learning institutions in the US, it's the students' responsibilities to follow the proper procedures for getting assistance with their learning disabilities. Surely you must have done something like this since you were given a voice recorder. The student must make the first move, not the institution and not the instructor. I taught at 5 schools and took classes at 5 other ones and they all had that policy. – user51076 Feb 3 '17 at 16:15
  • I realise this doesn't answer the question at all – Then do not post an Answer. Either make a Comment or say nothing here. Stack Exchange works by having laser-focused Questions and Answers, without tangents and rambling discussion. – Basil Bourque Feb 4 '17 at 7:37

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