Hi I’m Norman Bier, from Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative. Open educational resources have demonstrated exceptional potential in the classroom for supporting learners and educators alike. I’m here to talk with you about something slightly different a secret, OER superpower at the institutional level: sidestepping the Gordian’s Knot of a University IP policy.

Universities’ Intellectual Property policies are rarely things drafted in a timely, cohesive way; often they grow organically, the work of faculty, administration and OGC committees as they interpret existing standards and attempt to address changes a landscape, with each group attempting to protect their own interests this means IP policies are well known for being byzantine, convoluted legal documents, often behind-the-times for addressing current approaches and challenges. This was really brought home to me recently as colleagues and I attempted to award some internal seed grants for educational innovation we literally ended up needing to create a flowchart that we could trace out for each grant were federal funds involved? If so, which agency? If NSF funding, was the funding before or after the Baye/Dole act? Were university resources used? Was such use substantial? If substantial CMU resources were used, did the university make a claim on the IP at the time of award…and so on. And CMU isn’t known for having a particularly nasty IP policy quite the opposite, its considered to be a pretty fair policy for faculty.

Most IP policies were designed to cover new inventions and technologies that were developed at the institution, with a goal of ensuring that both faculty and the institution had a fair stake in any research outputs. And they are often overlaid with an equally complex set of traditions, processes and informal understandings. One of these relates to any educational materials that an educator made on her own time were covered by traditional rights the notes, slides, assessments and assignments that educators made remained their own, and up until recently this was a fairly straightforward state of affairs.

New educational innovations have made this process a little more complicated at the Open Learning Initiative, faculty are working to develop comprehensive and fairly complex learning environments and courseware developing this courseware requires substantial commitments not just from faculty, but from a development team that includes instructional designers, technologists, visual designers, learning engineers, project managers, psychometricians and learning scientists. Supporting this effort is a larger infrastructure tools and technology for delivering the courseware, supporting learnings and instructors and iteratively improving on the materials as time goes by. While faculty are clearly bringing expertise and creating materials of the type associated with traditional rights, the end courseware is truly a collaborative product and one made with a substantial investment on the part of CMU in the form of the OLI team and infrastructure. Who owns this work?

At many institutions, the challenge of “online courseware” was solved by specifically paying faculty (often adjuncts) to develop online materials, with a contract that explicitly assigned all IP ownership to the institution this ensures that the university can continue to use the materials, but dramatically limits what faculty can do with the materials, especially if they teach at a different institution. But full IP ownership on the part of faculty is also problematic institutions making investments into developing these kinds of educational resources want to guarantee that their students will have ongoing access the work. And OLI’s approach often means multiple faculty are involved in initial and ongoing development, which further complicates the question of ownership. But ideally these materials can be used and improved upon over multiple course offerings, with use, contributions and improvements by many parties over iterative cycles who owns the work? Who is allowed to change it? Who can give permission for others to use or change it? To complicate things even further, OLI, like some other open education efforts, has also begun to incorporate student-generated content into some of our courses student IP rights add another dimension to an already complex landscape.

This isn’t a hypothetical question over the past 4 months we’ve seen 3 new course development efforts at CMU that combine faculty effort ; materials with substantial investment on the part of the University; occasional contributions from students; and a host of open questions:

Who owns this final work?

How can we ensure that faculty authors can continue to use the courseware, no matter their position or institution?

How can we ensure that the university can continue to benefit from these materials and guarantee access to future students and faculty?

How can we ensure that future grant teams can extend, modify and improve upon this work?

How can we leverage the work in future research and grant submissions?

One option is to create some types of special, non-exclusive use licenses that ensure all parties have continued access. But such licenses are frequently one-offs, requiring special considerations, and opening the door to extensive, sometimes adversarial negotiations. Drafting these agreements often takes longer than developing the courseware itself, and frequently creates a set of legal complexities that make subsequent use and modification challenging.

But in the end, most of these parties are less concerned with who OWNS the IP than what they can do with the course materials


Educators concerns:

Appropriate credit for their work

Ability to use materials that they’ve authored

Portability of resources to use at multiple institutions

Potential for easy, ongoing collaborations

Institutional concerns:

Full benefit of investment into courseware

Ensure student access to materials over the long term

Position materials for future development and improvement

OGC/OSP concerns:

Clarity in rights for future grants and other uses

Simplicity in access and use across faculty and institutions

Enter the creative commons license –when the primary driver of concerns is less about ownership and more about ongoing use and access, open licensing offers an exceptionally straightforward to address the immediate needs of all parties, and to accommodate future concerns. The educators that I’ve worked with have quickly seen the immediate benefit of licensing these materials as OER, even when they are less concerned with the larger agenda and benefits of open education. And I’m fortunate that after a decade and a half of working with the Open Learning Initiative, our OGC and OSP teams have gained some experience with, and trust in, creative commons licensing.

We frequently positon the 5R’s as being of central benefit to learners or to classroom instructors. But the ability to Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute

are of equal concern to institutions to administrators, to legal teams, to our course development teams and to the faculty that engage with them. OER can simplify otherwise-complicated questions of use and ownership in ways that get at the concerns of all parties. And cutting through red tape , simplifying the lives of you and your colleagues, all while supporting the greater good via contributions to the commons? That really is a super power.

A quick note for those of you watching this as part of the EdX Open Education MOOC there’s been some fabulous research that suggests that watching videos like this one are one of the worst ways for you to learn it’s much more effective for you to engage in richer, learn-by-doing activities. Hopefully the Siemens/Wiley team have some great have some great activities lined up, but in case they don’t: I have some home work for you:

Look up your institutions’ IP policies and thing about some of the questions I’ve raised:

Are traditional rights still being protected? How do online materials factor in? Is your institution making investments in building better course materials? How are faculty being assured the right to continued use of the resources they author? How is your institution ensuring learners and educators can make continued use of these resources? What might happen if multiple educators and development teams want to expand and improve upon materials, especially over an extended period of time?

And perhaps most importantly: how can an open approach simplify these concerns at your institution while making a contribution to the larger commons?

Hope you’ve found this interesting questions? Comments? Howls of disbelief & derision? let me know on twitter: @normanbier