Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sharing of educational materials

Change11 is over...but the discussion is still going ;-)

I was reading this post here by Jaap today and I started thinking (some more) about the subject.  Here are some questions (incomplete as they may be) to Jaap's questions:

Do schools have a property right on educational materials that is made by teachers? (law)
I am of mixed opinion on this.  In the beginning I thought YES! Of course they do! Schools are hiring instructors/professors to teach certain topics, and when certain topics don't have materials, the instructor needs to create them (otherwise they are not an effective instructor).  Now, a a couple of years after I think that NO, the institution does not have property rights on the materials created by the teachers. The teachers, in most cases, are hired to teach, and not to develop materials.  If teachers are required to develop materials due to the inadequacy of the materials that they are provided with, they have no legal or moral obligation to submit those materials to the institution because they weren't compensated for those materials.  What it boils down to, for me, is contractual obligations - what are you hired and paid to do?  If you are paid to teach; then the materials are your own.

And if so is that right? (ethics)
IF institutions had the right to the intellectual outcomes of their employees, the work should be made freely available to everyone. A university's mission isn't profit, but the dissemination of knowledge. I can think of no better way than making materials available under creative commons.

Who pays the bill?  (economics)
It depends on what type of institution it is.  In private schools the individual student pays the bill, but a state school has subsidies from the tax payers. For this reason, state schools need to provide some sort of service back to the tax-payers for free. Therefore the fruits of a professor's labor (like research for example) should be made available for free under Creative Commons and Open Publishing, rather than through paid journal subscriptions.

Why do teachers not share? (psychology and sociology, law)
I can't speak for individual teachers, but from what I have seen (among some teachers) is the "what's mine is mine, and what's your's is mine" mentality. They are happy to violate someone else's copyright, but they are irritable when someone violates their copyrights.  It comes back to this expectation to be compensated (very poorly) for intellectual output.  If we just gave our intellectual output away for free (as materials, research, etc.) we would not have to worry about the economic bottom line (that is pretty small anyway) and might just be team players.

My country wants to be a knowledge economy, how does sharing knowledge fit into a knowledge economy?
I've heard both sides of the argument.
One side says that knowledge is money and we shouldn't be giving it away. We should be copyrighting our syllabi, keeping our materials DRM'd, locking down our VLE/LMS and so on. I personally think this is the wrong approach.  Fundamentally, anything that exists on paper, or as 0s and 1s in a computer can be copied and mimicked, and someone else will come up with the idea independently and leave it open.  Innovation doesn't happen in a vacuum and it doesn't happen without sharing. You can be as closed as you want, but people will remember you NOT for your brilliant idea, but for the fact that you were closed off.  If you provide your materials and research for free, you gain credibility, and you are catapulted to the limelight (if you like that sort of thing).  Along with fame comes money. Open is good for business.
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