Tag Archives: policy 81

UBC’s Policy 81: draft of a revision


Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 4.40.45 PM

Screen shot of top of revised Policy 81, available here.

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 the 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.



So, this is kind of exciting for me. I’ve been mentioned in some articles and blog posts, and even interviewed!

First, as a result of my presentation at the Open Education Conference 2014 in Washington, DC, I was interviewed by Jenni Hayman of the Open Policy Network about UBC’s Policy 81. You can see a video recording of this interview, which was done via Skype, on the OPN blog.

Most recently, there was a writeup of my research on peer feedback on writing, on the BCcampus website.

And then there was an article about the three Faculty Fellows (including me) with the BCcampus Open Textbook program for 2014-2015.

So it’s not the New York Times or even the CBC, but hey, it’s a start.

Presentation at Open Ed conference 2014 (on UBC’s Policy 81)

I have been waiting to make this post, because like last year, all the sessions this year were videorecorded, and I was going to wait until the recordings were posted on Youtube so I could embed mine here. But the conference was in November of 2014, and it’s now February of 2015, and the Open Education Conference Youtube channel still just has the keynotes from the 2014 conference up. So I’m going to at least post my slides here.

This presentation is from the Open Education Conference 2014 in Washington, DC. It was about UBC’s Policy 81, and my fears that it may have lead to enough bad feelings among some people at UBC that they are no longer willing to share teaching materials with an open license. I did a small survey (28 people responded) of faculty members at UBC who had opted out of Policy 81 by signing up on a registry to do so, and found that that was indeed the case for some.

Now, just this week a revised Policy 81 has come out, and the university is asking for comments. I have a blog post about that too.

Here are the slides from my presentation:


I also have a lengthy set of notes for the presentation (surprisingly lengthy, given that I spoke for about 20-25 minutes, if I remember correctly (so obviously I skimmed over much of this!). In case you’re wanting more background on any of this, you can check out the notes:


Finally, as a result of this presentation, I was interviewed by Jenni Hayman of the Open Policy Network about UBC’s Policy 81. You can see a video recording of this interview, which was done via Skype, on the OPN blog.


Governance at UBC

At the presentation at the conference, some people asked about whether or not there was shared governance at UBC–how could it be that the administration and the faculty union were so at odds on this issue? A good question. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how governance works at UBC, but here’s what I do know.

The policy was passed by the Board of Governors, which consists of (according to the University Act of BC)

  • the UBC Chancellor
  • the UBC President
  • 11 people appointed by the lieutenant governor, two of whom should be from a list of nominees from the alumni association
  • 3 students (undergrad or grad)
  • 3 faculty members
  • 2 UBC employees who are not faculty members

So there are just three faculty members out of 21 people on the board, and 11 out of those 21 are not currently at UBC (though two of those 11 are probably alumni, from what I can tell). The faculty voice, then, is pretty small.

There is also the Senate of UBC, which is part of the overall governance. The membership of the Senate is pretty complicated, so I’ll just copy here from the University Act, part 7:

(a) the chancellor;

(b) the president, who is the senate’s chair;

(c) the academic vice president who must work through a part not specified under section 3.1 or equivalent;

(d) the deans of faculties who must work through a part not specified under section 3.1;

(e) the chief librarian or a person designated for the purpose by the chief librarian;

(f) the director of continuing education or a person designated for the purpose by the director;

(g) a number of faculty members equal to twice the number of senate members provided in paragraphs (a) to (f), to consist of 2 members of each faculty elected by the members of that faculty, and the remainder elected by the faculty members in the manner that they, in joint meeting, determine, but only faculty members employed through parts not specified under section 3.1 can vote or be elected;

(h) a number of students, equal to the number of senate members provided in paragraphs (a) to (f), elected from the students who are members of an undergraduate student society or a graduate student society, in a manner that ensures that at least one student from each faculty is elected, but only students studying through parts not specified under section 3.1 can vote or be elected;

(i) 4 persons who are not faculty members, elected by and from the convocation;

(j) one member to be elected by the governing body of each affiliated college of the university;

(k) additional members, determined by the senate, without altering the ratio set out in paragraphs (g) and (h).

So clearly, the Senate has a much greater representation of the faculty than the Board of Governors. But which body does what?

The Board of Governors website lays out the different responsibilities of the two. Briefly, according to that site:

The Board of Governors is responsible for the business of the University – its administration, finances, operations, assets and place in the community – and the integrity of such.

The Senates have a more focused responsibility for the academic integrity of the University, subject to the Board’s involvement where academic matters interface with matters of business and the larger community.

According to the longer list on the site, the Board of Governors has a say in most of the activities and policies of the university. The things that the Senate determines on its own are mostly to do with academic matters, such as academic discipline, final exams, admit students, grant degrees, and manage the library.

The procedure for adopting policies by the Board of Governors, such as Policy 81, seems to be that the policy is proposed, then there is a comment period, and then a vote is held among the Board. The UBC Faculty Association (our faculty union) expressed serious concerns about Policy 81 in February 2014, but the policy was passed anyway.


A revised policy

In February 2015, a revised policy 81 was put forward for comment. Please see a later blog post for information on that.

UBC’s Policy 81 and Open Education

In my previous post I discussed UBC’s Policy 81 on the use of teaching materials for for-credit courses. The following will make more sense if you’ve read that post!

Here I would like to talk a bit about my own views of the policy and my fears about how it may set back efforts to promote open education at UBC.

Some general thoughts on Policy 81


I may be an anomaly in this regard, but when I first read the policy I wasn’t really concerned about it. That’s probably because I already share my teaching materials using a Creative Commons CC-BY license (see here for an explanation of CC licenses). The idea of sharing my teaching materials widely amongst the UBC community wasn’t a problem for me because I had already made the decision to share them with anyone who wants to revise and reuse them, asking only for attribution.

But as I read various arguments against the policy (many of which are collated on the Faculty Association’s website, on a page devoted to Policy 81, and I’ve discussed them in some detail in my previous post), I definitely came to see the problems with the way the university has approached this issue, particularly by requiring an “opt out” procedure rather than an “opt in” one.

I can see some of the rationale behind the policy, and why it’s an “opt out” process, for things like the following examples:

1. An instructor is involved in creating teaching materials for a course for which the curriculum remains the same, or teaching materials are revised and reused several times over the years: the people who come in to teach the course later may not be able to legally use the previously-created materials without express permission were this policy not in place. Which is fine, if the original author can be contacted and give that permission, though they may not want to have to go through the hassle of doing this over and over (the author could, alternatively, give a kind of blanket permission to use the materials in any future iteration of the course, though not everyone may be comfortable with that, so a one-by-one permission-granting process may be required). Now, an opt-in type of teaching materials repository is an option, but  the author of the materials may not keep the particular materials (specific assignments, etc.) up to date in such a repository. S/he may put one version in, change it for another year, forget to put that one in, and then the later instructors need to track him/her down for express permission each time they want to use the updated materials. This can be fixed with later updating of the materials in the repository, of course, but it’s an extra hassle.

2. An example I used in my previous post: instructors in a team-taught course collaboratively come up with essay topics, and if one of those instructors is part of a later team of instructors for that course and the later group wants to use one or more of those essay topics again they should, officially, ask permission. But it may be that the original author(s) are unavailable, having retired and not being easily accessible. Or, to make things more complicated (and something I didn’t address in the previous post), if the essay topics were jointly created, does one need to get permission from all of the instructors in the previous group? Probably so, but that’s a bit of an administrative headache. Now, I don’t know if the policy would cover this situation exactly, because I’m not sure what “sharing” constitutes in the policy (one has to share one’s teaching materials before they fall under the policy). But perhaps sharing with one’s team members means one is “sharing,” and thus anyone else at UBC could use the materials without asking for express permission under the policy.

3. A faculty member shares an assignment or a syllabus or some other teaching document with me, and I ask permission to revise and reuse it: is oral permission enough? Shouldn’t I get it in writing just in case any challenge comes up later by that person or someone else? Sure, this is probably a VERY unlikely scenario, but in terms of intellectual property rights and following the rules, it’s probably best to get it in writing. And if I want to reuse the materials over and over, should I get written permission over and over for each course I teach for each time I teach it, or a blanket written statement saying I can use the materials in any future course I might teach? Policy 81 would simplify all that.

Now, none of this is to say that I think Policy 81 was a good idea; it’s rather that I’m trying to think through some reasonable reasons why something like this might make sense, though ultimately I think an opt-out policy does NOT make sense, partly due to intellectual property and copyright concerns (as discussed under “copyright law” in my previous post), but also because, as I noted in the previous post, what happens when people opt out of this policy is that the idea of sharing teaching materials openly takes a step backwards.

Policy 81 and open education, open sharing of teaching materials


Open Call for Women in Photography, Flickr photo shared by Jon Feinstein, licensed CC-BY

As noted in my previous post, a number of people have already signed up on the site where faculty members can register the courses for which they don’t want their teaching materials shared. There’s no way to tell how many others have started putting notices on their materials that they may not be revised and reused without express permission. Now, doing these things takes us back to the status quo, where the owners of the copyright on those materials must be asked permission before revising/reusing the materials. That’s not what I’m most concerned about because it’s not a change from before the Policy was passed.

What does concern me is that I fear those people may now be less willing to share their teaching materials outside of UBC, with something like Creative Commons licenses. Who knows…maybe they wouldn’t have done so anyway, but I worry that the negative hype around all of this, the fears about UBC wanting the teaching materials to make money on online courses (as noted in my previous post), the fears about that happening times ten in the wilds of the world, will lead people to just say no thank you to the idea of sharing with a CC license. And that saddens me.

A good thing about Policy 81, as pointed out by Will Engle in a conversation recently, is that it states explicitly that the university encourages open sharing of teaching materials beyond the university. In the preamble, the policy says:

UBC encourages the free and open distribution of teaching materials beyond the UBC community. To create and preserve knowledge in a way that opens and facilitates the dissemination of knowledge to the world, UBC Instructors are encouraged to utilize Creative Commons licenses, digital repositories and other open access channels to distribute their teaching materials broadly.

Of course, this isn’t required, just encouraged. But it’s a nice thing to see this encouragement enshrined in a policy–albeit, now, one which the faculty union has opted all of its members out of, as stated in my previous post.

But by making Policy 81 an opt-out policy, and with the (justifiable) reaction from the faculty union and others encouraging faculty members to opt out, to put notices on their teaching materials saying they may not be revised and reused without express permission, with the fears that others are out to make money off their materials, I wonder if some people who might have been willing to consider open licensing of their materials might now refuse to do so. This is just a wonder at this point, though I plan to do a survey soon to find out more on this (see below).

I also worry that some people may be less likely to put their teaching materials on public websites, in case that might be considered “sharing” under the policy, and thus effectively make those materials open to revision and reuse by other faculty members at UBC. Now, since the faculty union has opted all of its members out of the policy for now (and who knows what will happen in the coming months, as the grievance they filed goes through the process of being dealt with), maybe fewer people will have this concern. But I’d hate to see more of our teaching materials get siloed behind closed LMS walls for some who might have considered public websites instead.

Why do I care about possibly having less openly shared teaching materials?


Good question. The first thing that comes to mind is that I have learned so much by reading materials posted by others on public websites, all around the world. When I’m teaching a new class, I search for syllabi that might help me think about good readings. I use others’ lecture notes to help me understand complicated texts and how others approach teaching them to undergraduates. I never actually copy or distribute their materials unless they are licensed in such a way as to allow it, but just being able to see them is valuable. The more our stuff is locked away behind closed LMS’s, the less this is possible. I don’t know if anyone will ever find my teaching materials useful, but that’s just the point–I can’t know ahead of time how they might be useful to others. And I want to give back, having gotten so much value from reading what others are doing.

There’s also the argument about public funding of what we do and how this might be a reason to make our work more accessible to the public. There are already numerous governmental grant requirements to make research open access if it’s publicly funded, and one could make a case that the same should go for teaching materials. Now, the thing with teaching is that it is sometimes only partially publicly funded. I’m not sure how much of the UBC budget comes from public funds, but I do know that it’s not 100%. There are numerous other sources of funds, certainly including tuition, which would suggest that closing off teaching materials only to those students who have paid could also make sense. I suppose one could figure out the percentages and make only a certain part of one’s teaching materials publicly viewable, but this seems pedantic to me. I have chosen to go more or less 100% to open access of teaching materials (and beyond them being just viewable…more on that below), though I can see someone choosing to go 100% to just allowing students who have registered to see them. There are numerous justifiable reasons why one might not want all (or any) of one’s teaching materials publicly viewable, and I respect that. But my own choice rests partly on the idea that the public is partly paying for what I do, so it makes sense to me to let them see what I’m doing.

But I have gone beyond just posting on public websites; I also use CC licenses on my materials. So far I’ve used CC-BY on all of them–anyone is free to revise, reuse, redistribute them for any purpose, so long as I am attributed. This means that I even allow commercial use of the materials, that someone could reuse them to make a profit. Why I chose to do this has some complicated reasons behind it; I’ve tried to collate my thoughts on this blog post and the discussion in comments underneath it. Again, I do see good and justifiable reasons why one might not want to allow commercial use of their teaching materials, and I very much respect the decision of others to use CC-BY-NC or CC-BY-SA (share-alike) on theirs (again, see here for a description of the licenses).

What I would not like to see is people using a CC license that does not allow derivatives (CC-BY-ND), because there isn’t really much value in allowing others to reuse your teaching materials if they can’t be revised in any way. How often is it the case that what works in one course, at one time, in one place, is going to work exactly as is in another course, in another time and place? Yet the way our faculty union has spoken about CC licenses here, they have made it sound like “no derivatives” is the way to go:

Are there other ways to mark my work to indicate whether or how others may use my work?

Creative commons provides guidance on this, and has prepared symbols to express your preference, as follows:

reative Commons LicenseIf you want to retain control: attribution-non commercial-no derivative (CC by-nc-nd)

reative Commons License If you are willing to relinquish control: attribution-share alike-non commercial (CC by-nc-sa)


The wording here suggest that with ND you somehow retain control, which sounds like a good thing to do, right? The only thing ND does that the other licenses don’t do, though, is to make sure no one can alter your teaching materials in any way (including by translating them into a different language), thereby effectively making most of them unable to be reused effectively. You don’t control exactly who uses them or how (though if you add the “non commercial” to the “no derivatives,” as suggested above, then you can make a stink if someone uses your materials for a commercial purpose). Reading the faculty union’s page on this issue, one would not even know there are other options besides these two licenses. The only links to licenses they give is to explanations of CC-BY-ND.

A survey I’m planning


Mostly my fears at this point are just fears–I don’t know what people are doing or thinking beyond the few I’ve talked to. I don’t know if people are less willing to use CC licenses, or to post their teaching materials publicly, than they were before or not. I’m also very much interested in the reasons why people might choose to do these things or not. And now that all Policy 81 has brought a lot of these issues to the forefront, I think this could be a good time to survey faculty members about their views. I’ve also put in a conference proposal to talk about this policy and what faculty attitudes towards it and towards open sharing of teaching materials are generally, and so if it gets accepted I’ll report the results there. Which means I’ll need to get ethics board approval for the survey first!

I’m thinking of asking faculty members something like the following questions:

1. Are you familiar with Policy 81? If so, describe briefly what it requires. [I want to see if there is any misunderstanding about the policy out there,]

2. Do you think Policy 81 is a good idea, or do you find it problematic? Explain why in either case. [I want to find out what the main reasons are people have for opposing it. I don’t expect many people will be in agreement with it, but who knows.]

3. Would you be willing to put some or all of your teaching materials on a public website? Why or why not?

4. Are you familiar with Creative Commons or other “open” licenses? If so, explain briefly what one or more of these allows. If not, … [I hope to have a “fork” of the survey going to a page that explains the various CC licenses]…

5. Would you be willing to allow the revision and reuse of your teaching materials by others, outside of UBC, by posting them publicly and using one of the Creative Commons licenses or another open license? Explain why or why not.


These are just my first, preliminary thoughts on what I might ask. Any suggestions welcome, as well as any comments on my concerns above!



How Not to Encourage Open Sharing of Teaching Materials (UBC’s Policy 81)

How To Share, Flickr photo shared by janelleorsi, licensed CC-BY


In February of 2014, the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia passed Policy 81: Use of Teaching Materials in UBC Credit Courses.  Note, April 2015: since it looks like the policy will change (see this blog post), I’m attaching the original version of the policy here because the link might go to the new policy eventually. If the link goes to the policy as passed in 2015, then please see here for the 2014 version: Policy 81, as passed in 2014 (PDF)

I am writing a couple of posts about this because it has had some problematic ramifications for open sharing of teaching materials at UBC, and seems to be a step backwards in terms of promoting open education. In this first post I’ll discuss the policy, what has happened since it was passed, and the problems with the policy. In the next post I’ll talk about my main concerns with it vis-à-vis open education, and a survey I hope to do about faculty attitudes towards open sharing of teaching materials.


The policy


Ostensibly, Policy 81 was designed in order to clarify how teaching materials shared between faculty members can be used, given intellectual property concerns (e.g., if one is teaching a course for which someone else designed some of the materials in the past, can one use and modify those materials to use in one’s own course? Does one have to get express permission to do so?). Section 1.2 of the policy states the following (if this link goes to the policy passed in 2015, please see the PDF given above, just below the image).

In order to facilitate collaboration with colleagues and enable Departments to support outstanding teaching, if a UBC Instructor makes his/her Teaching Materials available for use by others, unless that UBC Instructor places restrictions up on the Teaching Materials that he/she shares in accordance with Section 2, UBC may, through its Faculties, Departments and individual Instructors, use, revise, and allow other UBC Instructors to use and revise the Teaching Materials to facilitate ongoing offerings of Credit Courses. The contribution of all UBC Instructors to the development of such Teaching Materials will be acknowledged in accordance with accepted scholarly standards unless the UBC Instructors advice UBC, at any time, that they do not wish such acknowledgement.

One might think of this as something like a CC-BY license, but only within one institution–if you share your teaching materials, you are understood to be doing so in a way that allows anyone else in the University to use and revise them so long as they give proper attribution.

On the face of it, this seems fairly reasonable. If I share my syllabus, or an essay assignment, or lecture notes with another faculty member, they don’t have to track me down to get written permission to revise and reuse. Sharing means it’s understood that you can do that within the UBC community (but not beyond). Just as an extreme example, I teach in a team-taught program, and some years we will basically re-use (maybe with some revision) essay questions that others have written in years past. No one questions that that is permissible; no one says, hey, shouldn’t we ask so-and-so if we can re-use their essay question (and what if so-and-so retired several years ago and we can’t get a hold of him or her?). Though technically, it may be that permission should be sought and granted before re-using and revision teaching materials in this way, just like we have to get permission to re-use images on websites if they aren’t openly licensed (here at UBC, we faculty own copyright in our teaching materials). I have used a “late essay form” that was shared with me from another faculty member, with attribution, for many years now; but I never asked that faculty member if I could. I probably should have. This policy says we don’t have to ask permission, which streamlines such activities.

So far, so good, one might think. The policy reiterates that UBC faculty own copyright in their Teaching Materials and that nothing in the policy changes that:

1.5 Sharing materials does not imply any transfer in the ownership of copyright by UBC Instructors. Nothing in this policy transfers the ownership of any Teaching Materials to UBC.


The response so far


There was an email from our faculty union telling us the dangers of this policy, and how to put notices on our teaching materials that they may not be revised and reused by anyone without permission. That’s one way to opt out. Another way is to  exempt all materials from particular classes from the policy by registering each class at this website: https://policy81.learning.ubc.ca/ (UBC faculty and staff can log in and see all the courses on the registry, so they can know whether they will need to ask permission for the materials they would like to revise/reuse).

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a number of people who are very upset by this policy and who making sure to exempt their teaching materials from being reused. As of today, there are approximately 81 faculty members who have registered their courses on https://policy81.learning.ubc.ca/, though I had to count by hand and some people registered different courses at different times and showed up at different places on the list therefore, so some may have been counted twice. That’s a fairly small number of the over 5000 faculty members between the two campuses of UBC (Vancouver and Okanagan). But there’s no way to tell how many people are putting notices on their individual teaching materials saying they may not be reused without permission.

On March 17, 2014 the UBC Faculty Association (our faculty union) filed a grievance with UBC’s Vice Provost and Vice President Academic. The letter is currently posted online here: http://www.facultyassociation.ubc.ca/docs/news/policy81_FAgrievance.pdf  Among other things, the grievance states that the policy restrains faculty from fully exercising their rights under copyright law and that it infringes on academic freedom. On April 15, 2014, UBC denied the grievance, and from what I can tell, the issue is now going to arbitration.

On April 23, 2014, the UBC Faculty Association sent an email to its members (currently available on the front page of their website, but it will likely be replaced sometime soon) saying that they had issued a blanket “opt out” of the policy for all its members.

We heard loudly from large numbers of you that you did not agree with having to individually opt out of that policy to protect your teaching materials – and that you also objected to the administrative burden this policy has created. In response to the clear message we have received from our members, including a request for a blanket opt-out direction, we have issued such a blanket opt out on your behalf with this letter.  Consequently, your teaching materials are now protected from being appropriated by the University for its own purposes, unless you indicate clearly that your materials are to be shared.

The Faculty Association’s blanket opt out letter can be read here. It’s currently also posted online here: http://www.facultyassociation.ubc.ca/docs/news/policy81_blanketoptout.pdf

The policy has also been brought to the attention of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which I think is an association of various faculty unions at institutions of higher education in Canada. CAUT sent a letter to the UBC President in February 2014, criticizing the policy and saying they may have to censure the UBC administration if the policy is not suspended. The university president’s response argued that CAUT’s criticisms were unjustified, and CAUT responded in May by saying that censure will be imposed on UBC in November if parts of the policy are not withdrawn by then.


What went wrong


A lot, really. The following are the problems noted by the Faculty Association in various letters and emails about Policy 81. In the next post I’ll add my own concerns, specific to worries about what this policy may have done to efforts to promote open education.

Procedural problem

This is an important concern, but not one I’ll spend a lot of time on because I don’t understand it fully. The faculty union argues that the proper negotiating process was not followed in passing the policy; I THINK the problem is that the policy concerns intellectual property, and the union is arguing that, based on a precedent set in a previous arbitration case, such matters must be handled through the collective bargaining process (I’m getting this from this letter by the Faculty Association, but I could be quite wrong!).


As a friend of mine said on Twitter, no policy that requires opt-out is likely to be popular. This was one of the major complaints against the proposed policy before it was passed, I think. Many faculty members are happy to share teaching materials–indeed, a number of us (including me) make an effort to put CC licenses on most or all of them. But to mandate that once you share your teaching materials in some way (and what it means to “share” is vague…see below) you are sharing with the entire UBC community unless you opt out angered many people.


The policy states that once one “shares” teaching materials, those materials can be revised and reused by anyone in the UBC community. But what does it mean to “share”? Given the policy’s ostensible purpose, I think one thing it means is that if I give a syllabus or a set of essay topics to someone, they can give it to someone else at UBC who can then revise and reuse the materials. That is what has happened with the example of essay topics being revised and reused in a team taught course for example, as I discussed earlier. A set of essay topics was shared within a teaching team, and a member of that teaching team kept the essay topics and later shared it with another teaching team, who revised one or more of them and reused them. So the policy would mean that this sort of practice is acceptable, whereas officially it probably wouldn’t have been if we didn’t get express permission.

But does it also mean that if I make teaching materials available on a public website, where students and others can view them, that is deemed to be “sharing” such that now anyone from the UBC community can revise and reuse them? The policy is not clear on that question, but if it does mean that I fear that it could cause some people to stop posting teaching materials on public sites and go back into the closed LMS environment. But then again, the policy isn’t clear on whether posting teaching materials to the closed LMS system here at the university constitutes “sharing.” I would argue that it shouldn’t, because it’s kind of like handing out paper materials in the classroom, only allowing for the saving of paper if students don’t mind reading things online. And I don’t imagine that giving out syllabi and assignments in the classroom constitutes the type of sharing that the policy is referring to.

Copyright law

The policy states that faculty members retain copyright on their teaching materials. Thus, unless we have expressly put a license on them stating they may be used in certain ways without getting explicit permission, then anyone who wants to revise and reuse them has to get that explicit permission. That’s how copyright works in Canada.

I was trying to think of whether there’s an analogous situation to help think through this particular issue, some situation in which one gives someone else a license to use one’s copyrightable materials without them having to ask permission each time. And of course I came up with social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter; I also thought of MOOC companies like Coursera. For such sites, the terms of use include the provision that by using the site one is granting the company a license to use the things you post (in part, so that they can post them at all, but sometimes also for other purposes, like allowing others to re-post what you post). Twitter’s terms of service say, for example:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Coursera’s terms of service are similar:

With respect to User Content you submit or otherwise make available in connection with your use of the Site, and subject to the Privacy Policy,you grant Coursera and the Participating Institutions a fully transferable, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, sublicense, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such User Content.

Could we think of Policy 81 analogously in any way? By sharing your teaching materials (okay, we need to figure out just what “sharing” means), you grant anyone at UBC a license to modify, use, redistribute them, just like by using Coursera one agrees to allow Coursera (and the participating institutions) to modify, use, redistribute what one posts? I suppose so, but here’s the downside: people can just choose to not use Coursera, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, etc. if they don’t like these terms, and the analogous situation is that people can just opt out of sharing teaching materials at all. Which is not a good outcome (and is what is starting to happen).

Use of teaching materials for flexible learning initiative

UBC has an initiative at the moment to encourage faculty to engage in “flexible learning,” which seems to mean using things like “blended” courses (both face-to-face and online), “flipped classrooms,” and other ways to be more flexible about teaching, learning, and credentialing (e.g., badges). In an email to members, the President of the Faculty Association warned that one of the reasons behind Policy 81 may be for UBC to be able to use teaching materials to generate additional revenue by implementing them in online courses that the university charges money for.

Academic freedom

The grievance filed by the Faculty Association states, as its first point, that Policy 81 violates faculty members’ academic freedom. I am not actually sure what the argument here is; I’d love to hear in the comments if anyone knows!


In the next post, I discuss what impact this policy could have on efforts to increase open education at UBC.