Intellectual property and digital learning

Who owns the content created for the online and blended courses? Faculty? The institution? Both?

Do you know the answer to this question for your school? Would your answer agree with the provost or the attorney general?

Another way to ask this question is to ask if your institution’s intellectual property policies have kept pace with the digital learning revolution. Back in the days when teaching and learning was a digital business, the rules governing intellectual property were pretty straightforward. In most institutions, faculty members owned their intellectual property. If a professor wrote a book or an article, he owned the intellectual property of the book. (Unless she waived the rights to a publisher or a journal, but that’s another story.) The professors also owned the intellectual property of the lectures they gave.

Staff members, on the other hand, have not always owned the intellectual content they generate in the course of their employment. The intellectual property of the staff often remained with the university.

This description of the intellectual property of professors and staff is admittedly a broad and incomplete generalization. Today, only a minority of professors are full / full. IP policies for occasional faculty vary widely from institution to institution, with adjunct and part-time faculty less able to claim or defend IP rights.

The heuristic for faculty members with their own IP and institution with staff IP also does not cover all examples of faculty / staff. Ownership of IP for librarians with professor status may be less clear. The same is true of intellectual property policies for content created by graduate students acting in instructor roles.

Yet, as a general rule, we can probably safely say that among tenured / full professors, ownership of intellectual property related to teaching and research has been (on the whole) retained by faculty members. . How does this rule of thumb of faculty intellectual property over teaching materials change, however, when it comes to digital teaching and learning materials?

Who owns the teaching content once it is uploaded to the university’s learning management system? Where does the intellectual property ownership reside for the blended or online courses created by a team of instructional designers and media producers working with the faculty member? If a teacher records a lesson video in a studio, does he still own that video? Does it matter if the course video was created on a laptop?

If the university provides resources for the creation, storage and dissemination of digital learning materials but these digital files are based on the ideas of a professor, then who owns the intellectual property? Is ownership even the problem? Or is it a question of access rights and who can grant them?

The answers to these questions about digital learning and intellectual property are never straightforward.

There are a variety of templates, especially when it comes to content created with a large set of academic resources. In some cases, universities own all the IP. In others, the faculty retains exclusive ownership. And, in others, the rights of ownership or use are shared.

In our experience, the best approach to faculty intellectual property around digital learning materials is to share access and use rights for everyone involved.

In this model, both the institution and the professor understand that each party has invested time, energy and intellectual content. Digital learning content cannot be created without the ideas and work of the professor or the expertise and investments of the institution.

A policy of co-ownership of digital learning materials recognizes that teaching evolves. This is no longer the case when the school provided the amphitheater, whiteboard and overhead projector but not much else.

Teaching in higher education, and in particular teaching in blended or online programs, is resource intensive.

Colleges and universities invest heavily in people (instructional designers, media educators, librarians, etc.) and in digital platforms and tools to support the teaching and learning enterprise.

At the same time, every college and university would be wise to assert the principles of faculty control and access to intellectual property created for teaching. Quality education relies on the expertise of educators. Professors rely on the protection of their intellectual property to ensure that their work is not unfairly appropriate.

This is a delicate issue that won’t go away anytime soon, but it is an issue that all schools should pay attention to as we continue to evolve digital learning materials and approaches.

What are the intellectual property policies for digital learning materials in your school?

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