Sharing, Collaboration and Copyright

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Over the last week, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand has been running free ‘CC in Schools’ workshops across the country. Later in the week, we’ll post slides, audio and summaries of each of the speakers, as well as the issues raised in the lively Q&As that followed.

With support from InternetNZ, these workshops talked about how a growing number of New Zealand schools are using CC licensing to share their teaching resources. Resource sharing, of course, isn’t new: everyday, teachers share countless resources across a range of vibrant professional networks, from the VLN to subject-area email lists. For the most part, though, resource sharing among teachers is necessarily informal. It often takes place in the form of email attachments, without licensing or metadata attached.

This means that other teachers, who may be new to the profession — or who may simply not be part of that specific conversation or network – tend to miss out. They may, as a result, end up having to reinvent that resource later on, which gives them less time for the many, many other things teachers have do.

It would be nice, then, if New Zealand had a central, searchable repository of properly labelled and openly licensed teacher-made resources. (If you’re not sure we need such a repository, check out the site visits at Nayland College’s excellent Maths portal (soon to be CC-licensed!) – it’s had over 1.28 million).

The good news is that the Network for Learning portal looks set to help meet this demand. While the portal is still in beta, it has the capacity to allow teachers to find and reuse free and open resources from the entire New Zealand teaching community. This would mean that teachers, including those new to teaching, could spend less time reinventing the wheel, and more time adapting quality resources for their individual classrooms.

So far, so good. But the barriers to sharing resources are not only technical – they’re legal. Under section 21 of the New Zealand Copyright Act 1994, where an employee makes copyright works “in the course of his or her employment […] that person’s employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work.”

What to do? The soSRR Legallylution for many New Zealand schools is a Creative Commons IP policy, approved by a school’s BoT. This policy gives teachers permission in advance to share resources under an open Creative Commons licence. This means that teachers can legally make the most of online resource sharing portals, such as the Network for Learning (or Wikieducator).

Such policies are also supported by the New Zealand Government’s Open Access and Licensing framework, approved by Cabinet in 2010. This framework instructs core agencies – like the Ministry of Education – to consider using Creative Commons licences when releasing copyright works. Happily, NZGOAL also encourages Boards of Trustees to do the same.

But why use a CC licence? Simply put, an open licence gives others teachers clarity about what they can do with your work and how you wish to be credited. As Andrew Matangi – who had a big hand in writing the CC licences — pointed out in the workshops, the licences are also legally robust, which means that you don’t need to worry about issues like liability. (Andrew’s example was a malfunctioning science experiment).

Importantly, the more open CC licenses also allow the creation of ‘derivative’ works – that is to say, these licences let you adapt and improve the works. As every teacher knows, this is crucial, as even the best resources need to be tweaked or remixed for the unique challenges of individual classrooms. Simply put, digital technologies make remix easy; CC licences make remix legal.

This sounds quite legalistic, but the primary effects of a CC policy – as Stephen Lethbridge and Mark Osborne both pointed out – are cultural. Stephen and Mark’s CC policies were passed to support their schools’ desire to be collaborative, open and networked places, where teachers and students share, make and innovate.

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