What are we protecting behind our course walls?

Peter Sefton has posted an impassioned plea to Stop saying ‘Protect our IP’ in educational contexts? In essence I think I agree with all, certainly most, of what he wrote but I might press a few points further and saw a few things that provoked comment.

After a brief discussion of the idea of IP, he hones in on copyright as the core IP issue:

There are two main areas where I think copyright might be relevant:

  1. Copyright in our courseware.
  2. Copyright in any materials which we use to support delivery of educational services.

Though given that we not only teach, but teach teachers I guess the lines between those are somewhat blurry.

[Update: As soon as I posted this I realized there is a huge third category – copyright in learner-contributed material. If we wanted to be like FaceBook we could assert copyright over that but I don’t think we would, would we?]

I have argued this week that one way to get benefit from our copyright is to license our materials under a creative commons license and let people use and adapt them, extending our commitment to Open Courseware.

There is no argument from me on the value of opening up access to our materials especially if we apply a CC licence (perhaps BY-NC-SA would be appropriate). That would be consistent with the USQ commitment to OpenCourseWare which was launched a couple of years ago with the required minimum of 10 courses but has not been extended or (in at least some cases) updated since then. It would also be consistent with a long time tendency of at least some USQ courses, open or not, to benefit from links to course materials produced by others. It would also recognise what has been evident since the OpenCourseWare movement began, that content is now widely available on the Internet and the real value offered by educational institutions is no longer in the content, if it ever really was, and is more in the interactions built around the content and the certification that may be offered.

I’ve argued recently against a model for production of course material that devalues the intellectual work entailed and may misrepresent authorship and dates of production. Treating content produced for courses as work of real value with proper attribution seems to be a preferable approach.