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Report Calls For Clarity on Ownership of Teachers' Digital Content

To realize the full potential of digital learning, states and districts need clearer policies regarding the ownership and licensing of teacher-created digital content, according to a prominent education-technology group.

A new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SETDA, based in Glen Burnie, Md., outlines a range of policy options for states and districts to consider. All focus around the central questions of who owns the digital lesson plans, instructional videos, assessments, and other classroom resources that teachers create, and under what terms those materials may be shared, reused, and "remixed."

In the current age of digital self-publishing and open educational resources, or OER, ownership of teacher-created materials is murky, resulting in "a potential hindrance on innovation," SETDA contends.

It is typically unclear whether the copyright, or intellectual property ownership rights, to those materials sits with the teacher who created them or with that teacher's employer (typically construed to be a district, a state, or both.)  As a result, it is also often unclear who has the right to grant a license to other educators to share, reuse, or refine those materials. Historically, the SETDA report says, teachers owned those materials, but uncertainty has been the rule following the Copyright Act of 1976, with court decisions going both ways.

One option, SETDA writes, is for state and district policymakers to "establish standard copyright practices that expressly address the question of educator ownership and the use rights associated with state- and district-owned materials and tools." This could take the form of a policy designed to have teachers be the owners of their work, or a policy stipulating that educator-created materials are "works made for hire" and thus owned by the employer. In the latter case, SETDA writes, the state or district can grant licenses to educators so they can freely "use, share, redistribute, and refine" the materials they have created. 

Creative Commons, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit, is highlighted in the report as one of the leading providers of such services, offering a range of free copyright and licensing options including varying levels of accommodation for reuse.

 Overall, the SETDA report calls for states and districts to:

  • Have up-to-date policies and practices on digital content, especially ownership
  • Ensure that OER can be licensed in ways that encourage sharing and reuse
  • Empower educators to "create, use and modify digital learning materials"
  • Provide educators with access to online repositories of quality digital content
  • Provide guidance on quality control
  • Provide funding and support for research on the use of digital content in the classroom.

The full policy brief, titled Clarifying Ownership of Teacher-Created Digital Content Empowers Educators to Personalize Education, Address Individual Student Needs, is available online. 

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

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