Thursday, 23 February 2017

Law and Ethics in Professional Practice: Copyright, CC and OER

Do you use information ethically when creating resources for teaching?  Do you know when it is OK to take that perfect resource (image, video, quiz etc) from the internet?  Do you know if you are breaking copyright laws?  Have you ever created a resource for your students and then shared it online?  The above are just a handful of examples that reflect common discussions of educators throughout New Zealand, illustrating just how little teachers know about their legal, ethical and moral responsibilities in this area.

In schools we are surrounded in copyrighted materials including books, searching the internet, working with interactive whiteboards, watching videos and listening to music.  We are copyright consumers (NEN, 2012).  Copyright is a complex subject and here is a guide to what you can and can't do within a school setting.  Just because it is OK to use resources for educational purposes, it is an individual's right not a shared right of the school, and it is time for teachers to develop a more comprehensive understanding of our legal, ethical and moral responsibilities in relation to copyright.

As teachers we have the responsibility to honour the privilege of the high expectations the public rightly have of us when we are entrusted with the education and care of their children and young people.  It is vital that we make conscious ethical decisions, exemplify moral integrity and recognise that our conduct profoundly impacts on our professional image.  We have the responsibility to lift the status of our profession and build on its reputation as we maintain the highest standards of behaviour and professionalism.  A lapse in judgement can adversely impact students, damage teachers' credibility and erode public trust in schools and the profession (Connecticut's Teacher Education and Mentoring Program, 2012).  Advances in technology and greater access to digital resources over recent years mean the challenges educators are likely to encounter have also increased.

Generally, students own the copyright of any original work they create at school regardless of who owns the device it was created on (Netsafe, 2015), however Hutchinson (2017) cautions that primary school students do not create original work as writing it in their own words is not original.  "Many teachers talk to their students about the importance of giving credit for where they find the information but never expect a reference list" showing a real lack of understanding about information and where it comes from.  She argues that no primary school student is going to write something original when researching because this is what you are asking them to do.  This issue is then compounded if that students work is shared in school newsletters, on school websites, class blogs or social media as if nothing is referenced we are breaking copyright laws (Hutchinson, 2017).  I would argue that likewise, it is not alright for students to take pictures and information and not say where they got it form, simply because their work is only going to be displayed on the wall of a classroom.

Another common misunderstanding is that many teachers do not realise they don't own copyright to the resources they produce in the course of their employment.  This is becoming more pressing as teachers look to share resources they have created online, or take them with them when moving to another school.  Any resource you make while in the employment of a school is owned by the BOT and if you leave the school, the BOT of that school retains the ownership.  Some teachers feel this is unfair considering that they make many of these resources at home our of school hours.  This highlights the need for all schools to have clear Intellectual Property policies on the sharing and reuse of resources.  In my experience, educators rarely have the opportunity to openly discuss these issues and it is important that we create the time and space for this to happen.  Creative Commons (CC) and Open Education Resources (OER) have shifted from sitting on the edge of education to now being a mainstream way of sharing and building on our collective knowledge.  But, still many of us just don't have the time to get our head around what's involved and how to bring CC to life in our schools.  Teachers need to work with their BOTs to create a Creative Commons Policy to enable their teachers to legally share their creations with other teachers (a real strength in the New Zealand education system) and avoid unnecessary conflict.

In the interim, the following infographic, created by Shirley Booth (2015) is a helpful guide when deciding what to share online:


  1. Sorry Janet - I accidentally deleted your comment:

    Janet Jones-Poole 23 February 2017 at 18:37

    Thank you for sharing. This is very interesting and informative.. I know for me as a teacher I have never fully understood my obligations especially when working online. I was interested to hear about the making and sharing of resources. Great flow chart as well :)

    1. There was a lot of new information for me to think about in your blog. I had no idea that the resources I create, use and share with colleagues are actually not mine. It had also never occurred to me to think about copyright when publishing primary aged children's work in the class or in the school newsletter. I can see your point many of their ideas have been taken from a shared book and reused in their own writing with no acknowledgment of the original source.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Ellie, thank you for sharing. It is arguable that in our digital world with all of the digital devices at the finger tips, we tend to utilise online resources to enrich our teaching and never fully consider whether it is legal or not. Certainly sharing created resources within our teaching community is a great way to address copy right.