Around this time last year, the University of British Columbia implemented a policy called Policy 81, which mandated that any time a faculty member shared teaching materials with others, any other faculty member at UBC could use them for for-credit courses. The text of the current policy, not the revised one, can be found here. However, this link may change to the new policy once a revised version is passed; description of the old policy and my thoughts about it can be found in the blog posts below:
A blog post explaining the basics of the policy
A post discussing my fears of how it might affect faculty attitudes towards sharing their teaching materials openly
Slides and notes from my presentation at the Open Education 2015 conference on this policy
Revised draft policy
In February 2015, about a year after the initial policy was passed by the UBC Board of Governors, a revised version was put forward for comment. You can see the text of that revised version here (note, this is just a draft policy for comment–it has not been passed!). Here are the most important aspects, to my mind.
- section 2.3: “UBC Scholars own all the intellectual property in the Teaching Materials that they create but, in order to facilitate ongoing use and collaboration where they have contributed those Teaching Materials to a resource for the collective use of their Department, School, or other academic unit or where UBC has made a material investment in the development of the Teaching Materials, UBC has the irrevocable right to use and revise those Teaching Materials in UBC credit courses and to share those rights within the community of UBC Scholars.”
- Section 2.4: “For clarity, resources for collective use are repositories that exist independent from course delivery platforms such as Connect or individual course webpages.”
Section 2.5: “… a material investment in the development of Teaching Materials involves the provision of compensation, facilities, equipment or other resources beyond those ordinarily provided to all UBC instructors in the course of their normal duties, such as, for example, a direct discretionary investment in the development of Teaching Materials.”
Examples of “material investment” listed on the revised policy include receiving a course release to develop new teaching materials, receiving specific payments from the university to develop teaching materials, receiving TA or RA support specifically to develop teaching materials. It does not include having TA support in regular teaching of courses, receiving salary during study leave (even if one develops teaching materials during that time), “incidental use” of UBC computer equipment, or getting one’s usual salary and benefits.
So what would count under this policy, besides getting a course release or having TA or RA help to develop course materias? I’m guessing, maybe, getting a grant to develop certain teaching materials? Maybe if one gets a grant under UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund, perhaps, if that involves (as it often does) developing teaching materials?
At any rate, this is a much restricted version of the current policy, which says that whenever one shares teaching materials with someone else–it is notoriously unclear in what “sharing” consists–then UBC can use those materials in for-credit courses. Now, it’s only if one deposits them in a collective resource within their department, school, etc., or of UBC has made a “material investment” in them beyond one’s usual salary and benefits. It’s helpful that they’ve now clarified, in section 2.4, that posting one’s teaching materials to a Learning Management System or a course website doesn’t count–that was one question numerous people had about the current policy, namely whether “sharing” includes posting in such places.
Reaction from others
I haven’t heard much of anything around campus about this proposed revision. There doesn’t seem to be much of an uproar about it, which is not surprising because it is so much more restricted.
Still, the faculty union has expressed some questions and concerns. I mention just some of those, below, for the sake of this not being too terribly long. Many of their questions and concerns sound quite reasonable to me.
- The Faculty Association letter (linked to above) states that they understood, through discussions with the university, that this would be an “opt-in” policy, and they would like that clarified: “we recommend that the words ‘and have expressly agreed to share their intellectual property rights’ be added following the words ‘…or other academic unit’ in clause 2.3.” The idea here is to introduce “transaction points” where faculty members would be made clearly aware that their work will fall under the policy.
- This is an interesting point because reading the revised policy as worded does not suggest any “opt-in” aspect. I would have had no idea that that was part of the discussion. I’m curious to see what the wording is when the policy is passed, because I get the impression from the current revised wording that it is not an opt-in policy, but happens automatically when one or more of the conditions are met.
- I’m not sure what would happen at this sort of “transaction point.” Would the faculty member just be made aware that this would be a situation that would fall under the policy, and then they could decide to go ahead with receiving the “material investment” or not, and if they do, then that would constitute agreement to share intellectual property rights? I think maybe not, because of the next point (see below).
- Is “shar[ing] intellectual property rights” the right language? I think it’s clearer, because fairly commonly spoken of, to say that the faculty member retains IP but provides UBC with a “license” to use the materials in such and such a way.
- Similarly, the Faculty Association notes in the letter linked above that t
he current policy allows faculty members to opt out, and not have their teaching materials be allowed to be used and revised by others at UBC, but this one does not. Will there be an opt-out possibility?[April 17, 2015:] I re-read the Faculty Association letter and realized I had made a mistake in interpreting it earlier. It actually says that in the earlier version, there was the possibility to specify limits on how one’s teaching materials could be used. I had forgotten that that was the case in the earlier policy. So the following bullet points actually don’t apply anymore. I leave them here just because the earlier version of this post had them, in case anyone returns later.
Also interesting. I wonder if the opt-out possibility in the earlier version is because it had such a wider scope than this one, but maybe they aren’t going to allow opting out for this restricted version? Since the earlier version gave the opt-out option only if UBC did not provide a “material investment” beyond one’s usual salary and duties to develop the teaching materials, and only if one did not deposit those in a collection in one’s department, school, etc., then I bet they are not thinking of an opt-out option for this one. Plus, if this one will be opt-in, as under number 1, then an option for opting out would not be needed, right? Or is it that #1 just asks that faculty be made aware when their work will fall under the policy, not that it will only do so if they agree to allow the university to use their teaching materials under the policy? Perhaps the Faculty Association would like to see a “transaction point” before any work falls under the policy, in which the faculty member would be made aware that their work would fall under the policy, and then they have to decide specifically yes or no, whether they would like to share their work in this way (even while still receiving the “material investment”). That way, they could either opt in or opt out. But that doesn’t seem to need a policy…couldn’t we just have an opt-in system where people could share their teaching materials if they want to and not if they don’t? Does that need a policy, if it’s completely voluntary? I’m not sure, but I would guess not. And I’m guessing that such a voluntary opt-in system is not what the Board of Governors is looking for.
- The Faculty Association says in their letter that they would like to see more clarity on what “material investment” means, and specifically, to call it “extraordinary material investment” instead, to point to the difference between investment in one’s normal work and investment beyond that.
- I think the change to “extraordinary material investment” makes sense.
- The FA also points out that it’s fairly common in departments to give faculty members course releases to create teaching materials (which is news to me, actually). They are claiming that this is part of a faculty member’s “regular duties” because it is a common practice (I think that’s the point). I think what they’re getting to here is that they don’t want this to be part of the policy automatically, but it would be discussed at some “transaction point” and both the university and the faculty member would then agree that it falls under the policy. But see my above questions about what would actually happen at those transaction points–would one be able to receive the “material investment” while also opting out of giving UBC permission to reuse and revise the materials?
- The Faculty Association letter notes that the policy is silent on attribution: will those whose materials are revised or reused need to be attributed? The previous version of the policy did include provisions for that (unless one says one doesn’t want to be attributed).
- [New as of April 17, 2015:] The Faculty Association wonders in their letter about the definition of “UBC Scholars” in the policy, because it allows all UBC Scholars to reuse and revise teaching materials that fall under the policy. Section 2.1 states, for example: “UBC wishes to enable the members of its community who teach or participate in courses of study at UBC (“UBC Scholars”) to collaborate in the development of materials used in association with those courses.” As the Faculty Association notes, this seems to imply that “the entire student body of the university” would be able to reuse and revise teaching materials that the policy applies to. The FA letter states that this is too wide an audience: “We do not believe that the University intends to be so expansive, but the current wording could produce such an outcome.”
- I have no idea what the University intends by defining “UBC Scholars” in this expansive fashion. In the previous version of the policy it was explicitly stated that the rights to reuse and revise teaching materials lay only with “UBC Instructors.” This draft quite clearly indicates that anyone who participates in courses of study (e.g., students in for-credit courses, but perhaps also in not-for-credit courses?) would also have such rights.
- On one level, I actually think of this in a kind of positive light: I think that it could be fantastic for instructors to make some of their teaching materials available for students to revise. It could be a great learning experience for them. On the other hand, though, sharing teaching materials with students and allowing them to reuse and revise them should be an individual choice of faculty members, in my view.
- A couple of colleagues have brought to my attention that students are uploading their course materials into websites that sell them to others, or allow the materials to be viewed if a student uploads something else, all without the instructors’ permission. This sort of blanket statement about giving students the irrevocable right to reuse and revise would facilitate this sort of behaviour, because if the materials fell under the policy then the faculty member could not complain if this is what ended up happening to them.
- Personally, of course, I share my teaching materials with a CC license, so students may do this with them. I don’t care so much except that others will think they need to pay for materials I am making freely available, or that they need to violate someone’s copyright to get a hold of them. That part I dislike.
Reaction from me
Well, I’m such an advocate for sharing one’s teaching materials openly–publicly, with an open license–that I don’t mind this policy at all. I think it is much less likely to lead people to not want to share their work openly than the last one did, given how much more restricted it is. As noted in the blog posts listed at the beginning of this one, a number of faculty members at UBC were very upset by the original policy, because it seemed to them as if UBC were trying to get their hands on teaching materials in order to use them to make money from courses without having to pay people to develop teaching materials (e.g., in online courses they offer for a fee).
I could be wrong, though; maybe even this restricted policy will lead to the same concerns. I just haven’t heard them yet.
As previously, my main concern with all this has been that it may have led people to be less likely to consider sharing their teaching materials publicly with an open license (such as a Creative Commons license). If they have become suspicious of UBC’s motives (which a small survey I did last Fall suggests some have–see my slides and notes from a presentation I did on this policy last Fall) and don’t want to share even with just UBC, then they aren’t going to be willing to share more widely (because then UBC could also use the materials).
Previous to all this, I thought it might have been a good idea to try for a policy that requires a Creative Commons license if one receives a grant to develop teaching materials, such as from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund at UBC. The money for that grant comes from student fees, and it made sense to me to say that at least students should have access to those materials. Of course, one could give them access through a more restricted policy, and it’s interesting that the Faculty Association specifies in their response to the revised Policy 81, as noted above, that they would like to see it clarified so that it does not include students. But I’m now wondering if the right thing to do at the current time, at least here, wouldn’t be to just focus on efforts to encourage people to share their teaching materials openly on a purely voluntary basis. Any more attempts to make such things into a policy, right here and right now, are not likely to go over well.
What else might be done to increase open sharing of teaching materials?
It would be great if we could raise awareness and give support to people who would like to share their teaching materials openly and publicly–e.g., best practices on formats, where/how to share them, where/how to find those by others that one might use, etc. There’s a bit about open educational resources on the UBC Copyright website (but mostly it’s about how you can use such things under the auspices of copyright law). UBC also has quite a comprehensive and useful Guide to Creative Commons.
I wonder if we might do more beyond having these resources available. I’m trying to do a bit by holding workshops on open education here and there, but it is common that only those already interested in such issues attend.
What else might work to raise awareness and provide support? Assuming that the university would actually prioritize putting money towards this, what would be some good things to do beyond a policy that requires sharing in some form? I’m curious if anyone has any thoughts.