24 September 2008

Copy of the Sent 2

Yep, continuing saga.

Here I make some assertions of what happened and why. I did not pull these out of the air to justify my reasoning. I was there for the arguments before the policy change was implemented (I was away while it was implemented), and those were the points people were making.

And yes, I did have my knickers in a twist while writing these. Whether appropriate or not. No one likes to be told one week before the beginning of a semester: oh, we don't share course content between faculty anymore, you're on your own for course development.

Since when have I not ruffled feathers? Though I have found it is hard to ruffle feathers of people who are secure in the knowledge they have made a wise decision (even, in fact, if that security is entirely delusional ... it is a matter of comfort, not correctness).

What happened is this.

The school, in order to promote people creating online course content make a rather draconian rule on intellectual property. This was done because the school is severely balkanized and many faculty are firmly convinced that were they to put their content online the school would immediately claim it as their own. (Which in fact, the school could not do unless the faculty specifically signed a contract stating they were signing away their rights.)

The reason for this was that this approach, even though it fosters increased paranoia and creates increased friction between faculty, especially full-time faculty and adjuncts, is because it is much easier to do this than it is for a system so entrenched in its own animosity toward itself to work on effective community building. As such, it was meant as a politically expeditious ruling (a bribe as it were) to get people to sign on, rather than taking the time to work with them to address the underlying issues creating such mutual distrust.

The key problem in the approach is that it conflates usage rights with ownership rights to the detriment of communication, serving the student population, and general effective pedagogy by reducing the amount of contact and sharing of knowledge between faculty.

Being an instructor is not about "mine, mine, mine" but about service to the student population. The same is true of being in school administration.

In other words, from the perspective of placating those who function from a stance of distrust of the intent of the administration and of fellow faculty members, it makes perfect sense, but that doesn't make it good policy. Rather it is a necessary evil because people don't seem to want to do what it takes to establish a sense of community and the corresponding effective communications.

In order to institute such a policy sensibly, it is important that a clearly defined and centralized process be in place to deal with the distribution and sharing of information for the purpose of ensuring content equity and consistency between sections of the same class. This must not rely on faculty scrambling at the last second to contact prior instructors for the right to borrow materials from their shells. Especially since it will most likely occur at times in the year when faculty are not regularly checking their e-mail.

To set the policy with no structured way of navigating through it means we are tossing academic integrity out the window in favor of pandering to paranoia, self-interest, and learning to distrust each other because every faculty member is just a criminal waiting to happen. Which is exactly the sort of thing people should get their feathers ruffled about.

For instance, a simple Excel spreadsheet listing by course of who has developed content for what that is only used to indicate when faculty specifically do not want to share their content, and a simple process (like e-mail reminders once a semester for change requests) to keep them up to date. There should also be standard shells from the faculty of record which other instructors are allowed to diverge from but are encouraged to start with.

If you are the only person teaching course X, then yes, you can jealously guard it all you want, but when there are four full time faculty and six adjuncts all teaching sections of the same course, then such an approach becomes more than slightly problematic.

[A snipped section of discussing just how few people I complained about this to, all listed by name.]

So yeah, it is poorly thought out approach beyond serving its tangential goals and as such I will complain about it. Doesn't mean I don't understand it, just don't agree with it.

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