Meera Nair

Posts Tagged ‘students’

students, food insecurity, OER

In Posts on August 31, 2015 at 7:25 pm

My last post focused on a very one-sided report bemoaning the fortunes (or lack thereof) of the educational publishing industry. That industry apparently needs our support in the form of continued high-priced payments. This, without regard for either developments in law or legitimate and innovative efforts on the part of the educational community to lighten the financial burden imposed on students, parents and taxpayers.

According to the report, without such an industry, our authors would no longer be able to support themselves. The trope of the starving author is a familiar one in the realm of copyright lobbying. Every expansion of copyright (beginning with its establishment in the 18th century) has included references to writers who needed copyright protection to survive. (Yet even in those days, not every writer agreed with publishers’ pronouncements on this matter.) If authors are still struggling after 300 years of relentless expansion of copyright’s ambit, perhaps copyright is neither the problem nor the solution.

Moreover, there is another segment of society where money is tight, or tighter still, and food insecurity is real. (Dietitians of Canada indicate that the main cause of food insecurity is poverty.) Year after year, the difficulties facing post-secondary students are covered in the press. Here is just a small sample of recent discussion:

Many factors play into student poverty, but the rising cost of education cannot be ignored as the principal driver. With tuition and housing as necessities, food is seen as optional. Citing Michael Waglay (coordinator for Beyond Campus Foodbanks) Rachel Grant writes: “the first campus food banks appeared in 1991 at the University of Alberta. Now, … there is a food bank on almost every campus.”

Also appearing on every campus are shelves upon shelves of very expensive textbooks. The educational publishing industry would have us believe that only they can produce such works. Open Education Resources (OER) demonstrates otherwise. Looking for an illustrative example that would have widespread use, I examined materials for pre-calculus. OpenStax’s contribution stands out, based as it is upon a thorough development and review process. A comprehensive book (1400+ pages), it is lucid in delivery and robust in its treatment of the subject. (To ensure a knowledgeable opinion, I placed it in front of my first guide in mathematics; a woman of 35 years’ post-secondary mathematics teaching experience, spanning two countries. Full disclosure – she is also my mother.)

OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University, with the support of many philanthropic organizations. Its goal is to offer high-quality textbooks which are free online or low-cost in print form. The array of institutions who have adopted OpenStax books is impressive, ranging from high schools and community colleges to exclusive preparatory schools and Ivy League universities.

Returning to my pursuit for pre-calculus learning materials, an informal survey of conventional offerings showed sticker prices beginning at the $150 mark and escalating quickly. With the option to reduce that cost to zero, or near zero, that saving alone could make a meaningful difference to a hungry student.

But there are barriers to the adoption of OER materials. It is not a trivial undertaking to rework an existing course to rely upon a different textbook. Students can only hope that sympathetic professors will consider such exertion worthwhile. Traditional teaching/research institutions could support both parties by recognizing such work as “service” (that component of duties essential to advancement of tenured and tenure-track alike). Yet another barrier is awareness; too many of the professoriate remain unaware that such works even exist. Finally, advanced courses or highly specialized areas are less likely to be served by OER at this time.

But barriers to some are opportunities for others. Institutions which support OER usage, or, better still, invest in OER development, can enjoy a competitive advantage among the student market. A success story that made the rounds of Creative Commons’ enthusiasts is that of Tidewater Community College (Virginia) which shifted an entire program of study to OER materials. Mike Palmedo recounted the early details in March 2014:

 Tidewater identified 21 courses and signed up faculty members to design the curriculum. They started with the desired outcomes for each of the courses, and then built the curriculum with OER materials that would meet those outcomes. Developing the curriculum took about 12 months. One year into the program, the early results are highly positive.

The initiative was not only about eliminating the prior price tag of $3679 for materials, it was also about improving teaching impact. Continuing the story, via an Inside Higher Education webinar this year, Cable Green (Director of Global Learning, Creative Commons) gave additional good news: better grades, higher rates of completion and increased student enrollment.

Closer to home, the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) is showing great leadership in the development of OER materials for their students, and is enjoying the attendant institutional benefits. Details were first presented at Open Education 2014 in Washington DC by Tannis Morgan, Associate Dean for the Centre of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at JIBC. Morgan emphasizes that not only is this effort “the right thing to do” but also that “being open has actually increased the bottom line.”

teachers and students, copyright and liability

In Posts on September 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Congress 2014 was held at Brock University this past spring; included among the customary panel discussions was a series of debates concerning copyright, fair dealing, licensing and open access. Titled Copyright and the Modern Academic, the series sought to widen discussion about the means by which information flow is facilitated in learning, teaching and research. Videos of the series are available at the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (see here) and at the Brock Video Centre (see here).

I was particularly interested in the third debate, Access Copyright—Friend or Foe, with speakers Howard Knopf and Roanie Levy. Knopf is a lawyer with Macera & Jarzyna, author of Excess Copyright, and a long-standing advocate for a more nuanced understanding of copyright and fair dealing. Levy is the Executive Director for Access Copyright, formerly General Counsel and Director of Policy & External Affairs for Access Copyright, and equally passionate about the roles of protection and licensing towards development of content. (Fuller biographies of both speakers are given approximately 5:30 minutes in.)

The arguments of Knopf and Levy were lively and thought-provoking, but what remains uppermost for me is the first issue raised from the audience at the beginning of the Q/A (at approximately 58 minutes in). It focused upon Access Copyright’s licensing terms that protect teachers and students in the context of teaching and learning, but not the subsequent behaviour of the student:

Most of us use Blackboard or Moodle; we upload links to articles, we upload articles, we create wikis, we want students to comment, we are creating a discourse community among our students asking them to critically analyze concepts or issue … It is not surprising that many times students download those articles and then those articles could now be posted on a student’s blog or on a student’s Facebook page … we all know how things move across the Internet. … I would personally find [the licensing terms] quite limiting, if I had to worry about that (emphasis mine).

Levy was reassuring that the discourse community, composed as it is of students and teachers (more broadly speaking, the educational body associated to the license) were safe within their actions. Levy was also emphatic that the educational community did not extend to the world at large: “students need to be made aware that content cannot just be shared with the entire world … sharing proprietary content that is not their own should not be encouraged.”

To which Knopf immediately stated that such sharing should be encouraged: “if what the student or professor is doing is fair dealing.”

Levy’s and Knopf’s remarks are not mutually inconsistent – quite the opposite in fact. Each statement reinforces the other. It is entirely plausible, and beneficial, for teachers to simultaneously state that piracy is undesirable and fair dealing is desirable. Discussion will, over time, encourage students to understand the nuance and care that goes into an evaluation of fair dealing. In the more immediate future, such conversation between teachers and students further exemplifies that post-secondary institutions take this matter seriously and are developing systems of good practice that amount to more than merely posting rules to a website.

Regrettably, with time running out and other questions waiting for attention, the crux of the first question was not addressed. More specifically, does a teacher have to worry about the personal conduct of a student outside the activities encouraged within class, with materials licensed at the choice of the teacher? The short answer is No.

A longer answer would suggest that in the scenario where a student’s personal behaviour is alleged as infringing, the copyright holder of the material in question might bring a complaint to the attention of the ISP providing the platform used by the student. Depending on the jurisdiction, the ISP might remove the material (under notice-and-takedown as found in American law) or forward the complaint to the student (under notice-and-notice as set within Canadian law). In neither case is the teacher involved.

An even longer answer would suggest that if anyone should insinuate that the teacher and/or university were liable, a look at CCH Canadian will quickly allay any worries. While that case is known best for its support of fair dealing, the Justices also confronted a claim that libraries were responsible for the conduct of its patrons with regard to self-serve photocopiers. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, writing for a unanimous court, rejected that claim:

[E]ven if there were evidence of the photocopiers having been used to infringe copyright, the Law Society lacks sufficient control over the Great Library’s patrons to permit the conclusion that it sanctioned, approved or countenanced the infringement. The Law Society and Great Library patrons are not in a master-servant or employer-employee relationship such that the Law Society can be said to exercise control over the patrons who might commit infringement. … Nor does the Law Society exercise control over which works the patrons choose to copy, the patron’s purposes for copying or the photocopiers themselves (para 45).

If the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed that a library is not responsible for activity conducted within its premises, with materials provided by the library and via the library’s own equipment, because of an absence of control of people, materials, or equipment, then it is illogical to suggest that a teacher is liable for activity of a student, carried out by the student’s own initiative, on a platform independent of the classroom.

Regardless of the status of the material involved (licensed, purchased, or utilized through exceptions to copyright), teachers are not implicated by personal copyright infractions of their students.

fair dealing for students (and their teachers)

In Resources on September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

Last weekend’s conversation with artists was very enjoyable, but one thread of discussion was disturbing: copyright-angst continues to impede students’ learning experiences.  As I have written elsewhere, art is not well served by fair dealing.  But art created through an educational pursuit has better shelter through fair dealing.

I have yet to fully understand why copyright is an issue in terms of learning. What happens between teacher and student, in any discipline, is entirely their business. If a student handed in an assignment that is largely the work of someone else, the teacher would have a conversation about that. In all likelihood, copyright would not be the central focus of discussion – the teacher would emphasize the importance of doing one’s own work. But in the act of learning how to use other works in a manner befitting new scholarship, students will fall into fair dealing and the copyright concern is anonymously laid to rest.

Unfortunately, anonymity is no longer sufficient.  To that end, I’ve added a new resource page: Fair Dealing, for students.

Please, not now – I’m marking

In Posts on November 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

The misrepresentation of fair dealing continues – an op/ed here and a brief here. I’ll spare my readers the rebuttal that they have read so often from me (here, here, here and here). Instead, I will send everyone to Michael Geist – yesterday he posted a detailed response to the brief, Copyright Fear Mongering Hits a New High.

Right now – I have papers to mark.

The assignment I gave to my 146 students was to write an op/ed on any copyright related issue. There were a few requirements, including the need to provide some explanation of what copyright is. I implored my students to give their work some “life”! Many obliged; I particularly like the work of a student who clearly states his disinterest in documentary films and then gives a nice explanation of the copyright-induced headaches endured by documentary filmmakers.

This assignment is a regular feature of my teaching; students practice the art of prose and become further acquainted with the topic of copyright. Over the past year, some trends are showing in the writings of these twenty-somethings:
– File sharing is not the most popular topic.
– The topic of Creative Commons is rising in popularity.
– Copyright is an ethical issue; so-called solutions grounded on fixed contracts and punishment will not work.
– Digital technology presents challenges and opportunities, just like every past development in media technologies.
– Moral rights infringement is a greater concern than changing a business model for income stream.
– Students recognize that their own futures may lie in the development of intellectual property.

Granted, these students are pursuing the study of communication — the discipline is a staging ground for working in cultural industries. However, many students relate copyright and moral rights to their current life experiences — they reside in the world of the amateur musician, photographer, and writer. In a very insightful paper, a student spoke of her resentment that her generation was targeted not only by the music industry as the problem, but also by copyright-collectives as the cash-cow solution.

Back to the marking…

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