Friday, June 24, 2016

Week Three: So Who Owns it?

As I went through my annotations for this week, I thought it was interesting to see my questions about copyright and ownership.  When I first was involved in online learning, these were questions that had not even been considered.  I had to go back and check my files to see when an ownership clause appeared for the first time in my employment agreements.

It was 2005.

A small rural school district here in Colorado was advised by its attorney to make a claim on any and all teacher created materials whether or not they were used directly with that school's students through any medium.

I rebelled.

This seemed like such an over-reach to me.  Over my years in teaching, I have created enough of my own materials to write several books and to suddenly have those materials belong to the school district I happened to be working for seemed like a huge over-reach.  I refused to sign the employment agreement until that section was redacted.

Then it appeared again when I was writing curriculum for a large international online curriculum provider in 2007.  This made more sense as I actually was developing curriculum for them and it only seemed fair that if that was my role, they would in fact own what I was producing.  I was not happy about it--but when you work for the borg, they will eventually take what they believe is theirs.

I did not rebel--but I did not assimilate easily either.
(My apologies to Star Trek.  Once assimilated--it's hard to break free!)

Things have changed though which leave me questioning the role of corporate big business in education.  One only needs to look to Texas to see the coercive power shared by the Texas State School Board and large textbook publishers.  There are billions of dollars at stake and additional stakeholders every year.  Corporations have shareholders and they must answer to those shareholders. Schools are more than buildings where learning takes place--they are consumers of products and producers of products all of which are measured by other corporate entities.  It is a vicious cycle driven by supply, demand, profit, loss and ownership.

My question is, "Does this make sense anymore?" followed closely by, "Did it ever make sense/"  Who owns the education process and the products and tools developed within it?  My belief is that information belongs in the hands of the many and the products thereof serve a greater good in open environments.  I no longer wonder if we should be sharing what we know with others.  It is imperative that we do and in fact doing so can change how we interact with other individuals around the globe.  To not be a part of collecting, sharing and disbursing knowledge and understanding seems parochial.

That being said, the Western World approaches information from a parochial point of view--Information is power and they who have the most of it are the most powerful.  It is this mindset that creates regulations which restrict the free-flow of information across cultures and political boundaries.  It is this mindset which continues to silo information in narrow ways which makes new creation and remixing difficult and which stifles or even snuffs out valuable connections which can provide new solutions to problem solving.

This week, it is all about ownership and creating for me.  We have to change how we think about education and the products created outside and inside the systems.  As a student, I am uncomfortable with the idea that someone else would own the work I am creating primarily because much of what I write is simply today's iteration of my own thinking.  I want to own what I create today and have the freedom to extend that thinking into a new space tomorrow without being bound at some point later in time and defined then by what I am writing today.  For my students who are actively remixing, are they co-owners in the next conceptualization of the materials they used or interacted with?  Or are they editors for the previous materials?  How does this fit into the larger picture of creativity which our students actively engage with every day?

Ownership--Information--Power--Profit.  These things fit together in strangely important ways which require re-definition and re-framing in terms of a world with fewer fixed boundaries and many more flexible learning, knowing, understanding and collaborating spaces.  These are significant questions for all of us and yet there are few answers.  It seems that even as the parameters for creative work push outward, the legalities of doing some drawn inward to limit creative expression in digital environments.

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