Online Open Courses Raises Eleven Issues for Higher Education

by Daniel Hickey
            I introduce eleven issues that I am going to have to address with my university in order to teach a free open online course on educational assessment.  I then explore the first issue, Intellectual Property, and how that issue intersects with instructional innovation in open courses.
            Thanks to a grant from Google, I am going to offer a free open online course called Assessment Practices, Principles, and Policies starting in September 2013. This course will help educators improve the way student learning is assessed in classrooms. It will also help them understand the complex issues associated with classroom and school accountability.  I am fortunate to have some assistance from my colleague Cassandra Guarino in Indiana University’s Education Policy Program.  Professor Guarino is going to help out with the aspects of the course that address the controversial “value-added” teacher evaluation policies that most states are introducing this year. 

A Fertile Ground for Exploring New Models of Teaching
            I am really excited about exploring new models of online learning in massively open online courses (or “MOOCs”).  Google invited proposals to scale up existing courses using Coursebuilder, Google’s new course management platform.What was particularly intriguing was that Google would “welcome creative approaches that go beyond the standard MOOC implementation, experimenting with new formats and innovative uses of social experiences.” 
The grant will let me scale up the interactive “wikifolios” that I have been exploring in my graduate-level online Assessment in Schools course. Rather than a massive course enrolling thousands, I am calling this course a “big open online course” (BOOC), and enrollment will be capped at 500.  Such a size will allow me to gradually scale up from the current 25-person for-credit course that I teach most summers. Before I can find out of this will work, there are a few other interesting details that need to be worked out.

Legal Issues for the University
The move to open courses raises all kinds of issues for universities.  As soon as the press release for the BOOC was posted, I was informed that there were a “number of important issues” that would have to be worked out between IU, Google, and the instructors. These issues include

intellectual property, conflicts of interest and commitment, state authorizations, FERPA, terms of use, verification of student identity, ADA compliance, language for any certifications or guarantees, use of the IU name and seal, trademarking and branding, and any revenue generation resulting from the BOOC.

This looked like it might be a lotof work.  Other IU faculty like Instructional Systems Technology Professor Curt Bonk who have delivered MOOCs have sidestepped these issues by doing everything outside of the university.  So I looked elsewhere for legal advice. Fortunately, the IU attorneys had already worked through key issues with Katy Borner, another IU faculty member who had previously opened up her Information Visualization course and who had also been awarded a Google CourseBuilder grant.
Now that I have completed my first meeting with a university lawyer (who happens to specialize in copyright law), I find myself quite fascinated by these issues. I am particularly interested in how these issues intersect with efforts to support networked learning and massively interactive online learning. As I go forward, I am going to explore each of these eleven open course issues, focusing on how they relate to my efforts to support more interactive online learning.

Issue #1: Intellectual Property
The first of these eleven issues concerns ownership of the intellectual property represented by courses (some background here).  If the universities own the course materials, they can hire adjuncts or graduate student to teach a course that faculty members develop, and faculty members can’t take their courses with them when they leave. After simmering for decades, this issue heated up with the advent of online instruction.  Intellectual property was one of the key barriers to online teaching that Zane Berge identified in an influential survey first carried out in 1998.
Course ownership has become a much discussed issue with the recent emergence of for-profit MOOCs like Coursera.  In order to protect the investment of tens of millions of dollars from venture capitalists, these companies naturally have licensing terms that favor the company over the faculty and universities who provide the content.  An EDUCAUSE blog on this topic concluded:

Higher education should pause and reflect on these restrictive licensing terms and the implications for the academic enterprise that has been traditionally built on creating and sharing knowledge as a core value of the teaching and learning mission.  In today’s remix learning culture, what does it mean when users have to give up their IP rights to participate in a MOOC?  When sharing is restricted?   The licenses show that these companies are quite proprietary about the rights for use of their content, but are broadly sweeping in claiming rights for user-generated content

Course ownership, in part or in whole, is a particular issue in content-intensive courses. Naturally, ownership is even more of an issue for courses that use elaborate tutorials based on decades of research. Consider that Carnegie Learning, a leader in developing artificially intelligent tutors, licensed their math tutor to the state of Georgia for $5M in 2008.
            Based on my first meeting with our legal agents and my attempts to personally decipher the relevant Indiana University policies, a critical factor about ownership is whether I use any “exceptional university support” that goes beyond the normal course development process.  Specifically, the intellectual property of my course will belong to the university if I use

…designated technical assistance, such as audio-visual departmental personnel or a qualified graduate assistant, to assist development of an online course, or provision of specialized software purchased for a particular online project, which exceeds normal University support for traditional courses…

Since I have every intention of continuing to take advantage of the specialized knowledge of the staff at IUs Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, it is highly unlikely that I will have any claim to the course content.
            Similarly the IP appears to belong to the University if I am

…commissioned by the University by the provision of release time or other compensation to a faculty member as an adjustment to normal assigned duties for the purpose of creating an online course, which exceeds normal University support for traditional courses.

Given that I developed the original online Assessment in Schools course as part of a grant to develop our online certificate program in the Learning Sciences, this would also mean that the university owns the BOOC. Do you agree?
But what if I had not used either of these forms of support?  Since I did not use either of them for my online Learning & Cognition in Schools course, do I own the intellectual property in that course?  And which version of the course are we talking about?  I have been obsessively refining my courses both with and without these forms of support, and will continue doing so.  This gets very complicated very quickly.
            So far, I have little reason to be concerned about IP.  This is because I have developed very little actual “content” in my online classes.  Unlike many online courses, most of the content in my course is contained in a current textbook.  I assume this will be the case with my BOOC. Some students and MOOC proponents will surely take issue with using a textbook an open class and it will likely cut enrollment.  On the one hand, I agree with proponents of the “connectivist” model promoted by George Siemens and Steven Downes that focus on learning to find information.  Plus the current edition of the text lists for $102.  Even the digital version at costs $41 and is only good for 180 days.
            On the other hand, I like good textbooks.  I have been using Jim Popham’s assessment textfor a decade.  He updates it every three years or so and does a great job covering the new developments in assessment and accountability.  Because new and changing policies are a focus of my course, I like learners to have a handy source of current disciplinary knowledge.  I want participants to learn to engage with their professional colleagues using current disciplinary knowledge. A good textbook is helpful for doing so. I would love to hear comments and opinions about this from readers.
One possibility is encouraging participants to buy the 2014 edition but allowing them to also use the 2010 edition that Amazon currently sells used for $18 (or even the 2007 edition that goes for $5).  Because of the highly interactive nature of the course, students with the current edition will be able to contribute those insights to the class.  And I can certainly reference the new text. But a quick scan of Indiana Univerity’s  fair use policy, left me unclear as to what my rights are. But the university attorney has made it clear that will be expected to follow them.  What is interesting is that the university is going to be much stricter about fair use in open courses than they are about regular courses. I have already met with the publisher’s representative and asked him to clarify whether they will grant me permission to do what professors now do routinely (like let students download the first chapter of the text in case they run into delays buying the book).  I will update this post as I learn more.


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