Bill C-61 locks us into a closed education model

Nifty post from Laura J. Murray (via Michael Geist) on the implications of Bill C-61 for Canadian online educators:

It says kindly that an electronically transmitted lesson will indeed count as a lesson in the eyes of the law. But it wants this lesson to behave just like a classroom lesson: when it’s over, it’s gone. The educational institution has to destroy it 30 days after marks go out (30.01(5)(a)), and must “take measures that can reasonably be expected to limit the communication by telecommunication of the lesson” to enrolled students. It must also do what it can “to prevent the students from fixing or reproducing the lesson.” Read that last one again: the Bill wants to make it impossible for distance-education students to keep course materials. Yes, that’s what it says.

I just can’t wait for the user-friendly DRM encoding some helpful vendor will provide to help us ensure that students can’t fix (?) or reproduce a lesson.

It gets better:

Now I suppose if you used no copyright material in your class you could ignore this clause, and go ahead, podcast, post notes online to the world, etc. But if like me you teach literature, and have a nasty habit of actually quoting it along the way, this provision of the Bill says you have to lock up your lectures. People will have to go to MIT to learn about American Literature — and they can even take that course in Chinese.

I was in a meeting just last week with a dynamic professor who had videotaped recordings of his lectures. They had been a hit with his students, he was interested in widening the scope and was amenable to public sharing with an open license. The video was playing as a room of various stakeholders talked through the logistics of publishing, when the screen flashed some momentary glimpses of third-party media that the prof had shown during his lecture. This media may well be copyrighted, we didn’t know… “Well, if we keep exposure to the video within the CMS we should be OK.” Locking down and closing access was the defense strategy. So much for open education. (Actually, I think this particular story will have a happier ending than that, but you get the point…)

And of course that exchange illustrates a dirty secret of the learning happening behind password-protected walls. Educators are taking materials (for instance, diagrams off of Google Image Search) from the public web all the time – and if it helps their students learn, then good for them. In any reasonable legal system, this would be considered fair dealing. But in the back of their minds, the practice leads them to fear exposure of their own work. Beneficial educational materials languish because authors don’t want to risk being branded as plagiarists or copyright thieves — simply because teachers do not have the time, resources or expertise to navigate the already arduous copyright regime. I would suggest that protection of copyright violation is a primary motivation for closed content models. A rationale that dare not speak its name.

If we are really interested in the sustainability of education in the coming decades, we need to get the word out on the vast quantity of freely licensed open educational materials that are already available. And of course, we need to add to the pool. David Wiley recently likened open reuse to an EduCarbon Footprint – and really, perpetuating this insane, unsustainable approach as it stands is a bit like driving a Hummer.

I’ve already quoted lots from Murray’s post, but can’t top how she closes:

…it traps us in a very limited vision of education, at just the time that technologies permit vast new possibilities.

I was raised on the ideas of the Antigonish Movement of adult education and group action, and I can’t help asking: Why not harness digital technologies to enable educators to reach out across distances within Canada and beyond? Why not demand a copyright law that will support this more open approach? A combination of fair dealing and collective licensing could work, if there were goodwill, imagination, and a level playing field for negotiations. I don’t want tiny frosted windows of exceptions: I want clean picture windows of clear principles for conduct.

By all means, let’s pressure our leaders for such clear principles. But to whatever extent we can act without depending on politicians… well, let’s get on with it.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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