Is The Glow Dimming?
A recent conversation about Quality Assurance of materials being produced for Glow ended up becoming a much more open discussion on copyright and ownership of materials. I thought it worthwhile sharing some of what was discussed as I suspect this may be an issue that is a lot more wide-reaching than any of us might think.
A central tenet of Glow , the national schools intranet for Scotland, is the sharing of materials between teachers, yet there appears to be a danger that local authorities are going to put a stop to the sharing before we’ve even had a chance to get started. They are threatening to do this under the guise of ‘Quality Assurance’ though it might be fairer to say that it will be copyright issues that will have the final say in what gets published. No matter what the reasons are, the simple fact is that without open and equitable sharing of resources, Glow will not achieve even a fraction of its potential…
I first became aware of the Glow QA ‘issue’ during a fantastic twitter exchange between Jaye Richards (who has already blogged on this) Robert Hill, Mr MacKenzie and myself with some honourable mentions from a number of other twitteratti over the course of an evening a week or so ago, Bob Hill made us aware of the problem and we all became more aggrieved and annoyed at the implications of it. The net result was that Bob has set up a wiki to start thrashing out some of the details. In essence, there are two main strands to the discussion, namely Quality Assurance and Copyright/Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues. For ease, I’m going to address these as separate points, but hopefully you will appreciate that they are interlinked…
I believe there is a strong argument to be made for not having any formal quality assurance mechanism before materials are loaded up to Glow. To cut a long story short, poor quality materials will simply be ignored, especially if there is the facility for rating resources and leaving comments on them (Think iTunes or Amazon). Also, no teacher is going to use any resource without first looking through it and adapting it to suit. This is a point that Alan Stewart made really well on the wiki:
Any teaching resource, without the originator’s insight will be, by definition, incomplete. As such it will be modified by new users for their, and not the originator’s, purpose.
As he went on to say:
Anyone arrogant enough to believe that something they post will be used in an undistilled way must understand that it’s ideas that they are sharing not actual property.
I love this because he gets to the heart of what sharing is all about. It means taking someone else’s ideas and making them their own… I think it is what we are trying to teach the kids to do as part of Curriculum for Excellence! It’s certainly an integral part of the development of human achievement.
Also, I have to be honest that I feel slightly uneasy about having someone who is probably not a subject specialist making decisions on the value of materials that I produce. Let’s put it this way, I would have no idea whether a Maths worksheet or unit was good bad or indifferent… that’s what the maths teachers are for — and I couldn’t begin to assess the worth of materials produced for the primary sector… but I do trust other English teachers to make informed decisions on whether the materials I produce are worthwhile, after all, they and their pupils are the intended audience, not an arbitrary QA committee! There is no good reason not to let me post them and let those who might use them make the decisions. Of course, there may be one valid reason for checking the materials before they are uploaded to Glow: IPR.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)
Many authorities will no doubt be worried about teachers breaking copyright laws when they produce materials and upload them to Glow, and after all, they’ve probably got good reason because they claim to hold the copyright in all the materials a teacher produces.
Yes, you read that right. It is one of the quirks of a Scottish teacher’s contract that all worksheets produced by a teacher are the property of the employer/local authority. This is no longer sustainable and has to change because if it doesn’t then Glow may as well be dead in the water.
I don’t know where the idea came from in the first place, but I would guess that the thinking behind this was to make it possible for a Local Authority to take a teacher’s worksheets and supply them to all the other schools in their control without having to worry about paying the teacher who produced them. I would genuinely be interested to know how this state of affairs came to pass so please comment if you can shed some light on it.
Here’s why this is a problem. A long time ago, I worked for the long-since demised Central Regional Council. While there, I started to produce a unit on World War One Poetry… so technically, Central Region hold the copyright on it. I moved schools, and when Central was disbanded, I found myself working for Falkirk Council… and using the unit I’d created as a Central teacher. I revised and updated the unit… so I wonder if the copyright passed to Falkirk, or if they’d have to ask the non-existent Central Region for permission for me to use the unit I created? Of course, it’s a moot point because I now work for Perth & Kinross. If I am going to use the unit then I suppose, technically, they need to ask Falkirk and/or Central for permission for me to use my unit…
This is farcical and unworkable and it will be the death of sharing on Glow unless we make some really profound changes. Here’s what I think we need to do to get out of this potential impasse…
The Way Forward?
When a teacher creates a new resource for school, he or she will own the copyright on the materials produced. Full stop. No argument. No fudging. However… their employer will be automatically granted the rights to use those resources in their schools as they see fit. In addition, this right will be granted for the life of the units (rather than a ‘copyright-style’ 50 years… after all, how many 50 year old resources are you using?).
Resources uploaded to Glow must be done under a Creative Commons License, most likely Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK: Scotland. This will allow sharing in an open and appropriate manner and allow people to take and adapt the work (as mentioned above) without having to make a big deal about it.
This also gets rid of the potentially embarrassing situation where a teacher, working on an educational resource during their own time, cannot then sell it to a publisher because technically the employer owns the copyright. By allowing the teacher to retain the copyright, but allowing the authority a non-exclusive license to use the materials, everyone benefits.
I am not a legal expert, and my knowledge of IPR and the like is basic to say the least, so I’d really appreciate any thoughts you might have. Is my solution too simplistic, or could it work? What would you suggest as a way forward? And is this just a Scottish problem? Somehow I doubt it… please let on how things are in your neck of the woods.
And finally, start kicking up a fuss about the issue of Quality Assurance and IPR because if you don’t you’re going to be sadly disappointed at the lack of resources to share on Glow. This is one that the teachers and not the bureaucrats need to win…
Please get involved here, or on the wiki!