Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education Communications Technology Your Rights Online

Professors Say Massive Open Online Courses Threaten Academic Freedom 284

Posted by timothy
from the work-for-hirelings dept.
McGruber writes "The Chronicle of Higher Education has the news that American Association of University Professors (AAUP) believes that faculty members' copyrights and academic freedom are being threatened by colleges claiming ownership of the massive open online courses their instructors have developed. The AAUP plans this year to undertake a campaign to urge professors to get protections of their intellectual-property rights included in their contracts and faculty handbooks. According to former AAUP President Cory Nelson, 'If we lose the battle over intellectual property, it's over. Being a professor will no longer be a professional career or a professional identity,' and faculty members will instead essentially find themselves working in 'a service industry.' [Just like their graduate students?]"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Professors Say Massive Open Online Courses Threaten Academic Freedom

Comments Filter:
  • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:26AM (#43994649)
    They'll get over it when enough people ignore them :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:26AM (#43994651)
    Where I went to school the students always owned their own research. That's not always the case. Go to a University known for good research.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:31AM (#43994701)

    I love how professors can claim copyrights on research done with my tax dollars.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:58AM (#43995041)

      Just because they work for a government funded school, does not give you the right to demand access to things that the teacher does to prepare for class. The school just pays for the contact hours and the assessment, not the creation of the materials. Typically if the school wants to own that, they have to pay for the materials to be developed.

      The research OTOH, is a different matter, and it really depends where the funding comes from.

    • You can't copyright research (papers and publishing on the other hand are a different story). And the university gets the patents off research, if applicable. When you apply for a job at a university, you usually have to sign paperwork that says something to this degree.
    • by dwpro (520418)

      I like how you like to claim ownership of the creative output of other people. People pay to go to college if you hadn't noticed, and the govt. only subsidizes a portion, so you might not have to love it as much.

  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:31AM (#43994703)

    They're not claiming the existence of MOOCs threatens academic freedom, but that the universities' IP grab, claiming ownership of course materials in order to license them to for-profit firms like Coursera, does so. The traditional IP agreement is that universities own a share of patentable inventions developed using university facilities, but do not own copyrights on materials, such as books, articles, course slides, tutorials, presentations, etc. produced by professors, which are supposed to be free of any university legal interference.

    • A question from ignorance: Does a professor make material and get paid by the university, or does it come from grant money?
      • This question can't be given a flat yes or no answer. Faculty in the sciences are paid much more by grants, and faculty in some sciences and the humanities a lot less. And generally the "pay" from a grant is given back to the university to pay your way out of teaching. So I get a half-year's salary grant, and then I give it back to my school to pay them to "replace" me for a half-year. Then I go work on my painting, my medical research, or what-have-you. (Scare quotes on "replace" because the school will so
    • They're not claiming the existence of MOOCs threatens academic freedom, but that the universities' IP grab, claiming ownership of course materials in order to license them to for-profit firms like Coursera, does so. The traditional IP agreement is that universities own a share of patentable inventions developed using university facilities, but do not own copyrights on materials, such as books, articles, course slides, tutorials, presentations, etc. produced by professors, which are supposed to be free of any university legal interference.

      Luckily, as the noble history of K-12 textbooks demonstrates, course materials produced by committee under a stifling haze of IP never suck!

    • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:04AM (#43995139) Journal
      Yes, but speaking as a professor, this is not a case of academic freedom and I get _really_ fed up with academic unions claiming "academic freedom" for everything regardless of whether or not it is. Violation of academic freedom would the a university telling me that I had to use material X for teaching or that I could not do research on Y.

      This is a simple question about owning the intellectual property rights on material produced. Frankly the way I think this should be is that I own the copyright but the university has a permanent license to use any material I generate for education of its own students. Since academic careers are built on reputation it's my moral rights - to be associated as the author of the material - that I care more about. I put all my material under a CC NC-BY-SA license. If 100k people found it useful enough to study from it and learn some particle physics I'd consider myself to be doing really well at the education part of my job!
      • That's great, but how would you feel if the university made $1M/yr off your work by licensing it. And you got nothing. Or got fired.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        I understand your point, and it's fair to say this is not an attack on intellectual property in the same way that most civil societies don't absolutely forbid certain speech.

        However, by an academic institution claiming ownership on an associate's speech, I would argue that a chilling effect is in play. Financial disincentive is a dangerous tool in the toolbox of the supressors of speech. Even if the intent in this case isn't explicitly censorship.

        What's the difference between "you can't speak" and "you can

  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:32AM (#43994715)

    I've participated in a few 'MOOC's in the past, and have thought about a few more. The ones up until now all seem to be adaptations of courses offered by universities, and using the university's name recognition and NOT the professor's to attract students. It would be interesting to see how many people would be attracted to a class by "Dr. Joe Schmoe" and not "XXX 200 from Harvard University as taught by Dr. Joe Schmoe".

    Will schools allow instructors to advertize their affiliation in the descriptions of their courses? Will sites like Coursera be allowed to group by university courses which aren't actually taught at those institutions, just taught by people who work there?

    Also, this really seems more about the schools threatening academic freedom, not the 'MOOCs'.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      In my corner of the world (CS), I think the professors' name recognition plays a fairly big role, though I could be wrong w.r.t. what the average person notices. When I see e.g. a robotics course by Sebastian Thrun, or an AI course by Peter Norvig, or a data-analysis course by Michael Littman, their names catch my eye more than the fact that they happen to be at Stanford, Google, and Brown, respectively.

      • If somebody considers the university rather than the person important, then they're just buying a brand. Likely they have no real knowledge of the field. Alas, such people are often the decision makers.
    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:44AM (#43994817)

      I've participated in a few 'MOOC's in the past, and have thought about a few more. The ones up until now all seem to be adaptations of courses offered by universities, and using the university's name recognition and NOT the professor's to attract students. It would be interesting to see how many people would be attracted to a class by "Dr. Joe Schmoe" and not "XXX 200 from Harvard University as taught by Dr. Joe Schmoe".

      It's not a question of "advertising" a course (though with some famous professors it might occasionally be).

      The point is that the professor is preparing his/her own version of a course, making all the materials, and now the university will claim ownership over all of it. In years past, when a professor taught "History of Western Philosophy" or whatever at university X, he/she designed a syllabus, made up his/her course materials, etc. Then, if the professor had to move to another university for whatever reason, he/she would take those materials and offer "History of Western Philosophy" at university Y, essentially with the same stuff (perhaps modified a bit to curriculum standards at university Y).

      Now, with MOOCs, universities are claiming ownership over much of the course materials created. So, if a professor leaves university X, university X could still keep using all that stuff for the course. Professor X might not even be able to use the stuff he/she created at university Y, since it may be under copyright, etc.

      Obviously this is not a clear issue, since the work done for university X was done while the professor was an employee there, so I get how the university can claim some ownership.

      On the other hand, for lots of early-adopter profs with online materials, they have invested a lot of their own time and energy doing something that hasn't been immediately adopted everywhere at minor universities. If they do all the work to make their own distinctive courses but then can't take that work with them if they have to move to university Y, it really can hurt their teaching ability at a new job.

      • Actually, I forsee a change in courses over the next few years, where the teaching material is a collaboration of those instructors creating the classes. This will mean that course design will become more favorable than being "Dr Joe Schmoe". And open source courses will invariably be more complete than closed courses offered from a singular professor.

        Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, should be.

        • Actually, I forsee a change in courses over the next few years, where the teaching material is a collaboration of those instructors creating the classes. [...] And open source courses will invariably be more complete than closed courses offered from a singular professor.

          You're probably right in terms of what will happen.

          Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, should be.

          However, when we get to the point that most university curricula are exactly the same and using the same exact materials, we've lost a huge point of academic inquiry -- which is in part about individuality and creativity.

          When I was an undergraduate, the department of my major was ranked as one of the best departments in the world for my major. I was explicitly told that if I wanted to go to graduate school in my field, I shouldn't apply there, despite th

          • we've lost a huge point of academic inquiry -- which is in part about individuality and creativity.

            If you want that as an outcome, then the University is not going to help most people. The degree program offered by most universities is one that says that a person has progressed through a series of steps and followed a prescription (recipe) and is good for being a cog in a bigger machine. Outside of the hard sciences (research universities).

            At my personal experience at University was that anyone with "different" ideas was sent to the sidelines and marginalized.

      • Now, with MOOCs, universities are claiming ownership over much of the course materials created.

        Boo hoo, you mean they might have to live under the same system as us peasants? That would be especially good for economics departments, where tenured profs preach about the wonders of "labor flexibility".

        • Now, with MOOCs, universities are claiming ownership over much of the course materials created.

          Boo hoo, you mean they might have to live under the same system as us peasants?

          It might seem obvious that employers should get to keep materials created by their employees. On the other hand, teaching is a specific kind of job with requirements a little different from many where this sort of copyrightable material is created.

          One main difference is that teachers/professors are required to essentially do a very similar thing over and over and over again from semester to semester and year to year. It's not like they're creating custom code to solve a particular problem once or writin

          • One main difference is that teachers/professors are required to essentially do a very similar thing over and over and over again from semester to semester and year to year.

            In other words it's repetitive and doesn't require much new work after you've taught the course a couple of times.

            They are instead creating materials that will allow them to do their job better again and again from year to year.

            I do the same thing in my job but I have no special rights to the stuff (acceptable since I get a salary, just like a professor).

            • One main difference is that teachers/professors are required to essentially do a very similar thing over and over and over again from semester to semester and year to year.

              In other words it's repetitive and doesn't require much new work after you've taught the course a couple of times.

              Only if you're an absolutely TERRIBLE teacher. Every group of students is different. Also, as culture changes over the years, students change. You need to adapt. But the more "tools" you have in your teaching "toolbox," the easier it is to reinvent the course from year to year... that's true.

              But if you want to have a debate about salary: Traditionally, professors are paid on the basis of contact hours -- the actual time they spend in the classroom -- and perhaps for assessment. They are often explici

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I'd be more concerned with these classes displacing smaller classes. Apart from a relatively small minority of students, most students really do need much smaller class sizes. IIRC the drop out rate on CourseRA is something like 97% over the course of a class. Which means that for every 3 that successfully finish roughly 27 will fail to complete for one reason or another.

      The largest classes you're likely to see in a normal environment are probably about 500, and those will usually have TAs and quiz sections

  • by RobertLTux (260313) <robert&laurencemartin,org> on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:32AM (#43994717)

    we are looking at a couple things

    1 a School claiming copyrights on a teachers work (possibly preventing said teacher from posting the course on a free site)

    2 folks wanting to get courses for free (maybe so that they know the material before doing the course for credit/paid??)

    what i would do as a teacher is make sure that the vids/materials have several logos through out the course.

  • ftfy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:33AM (#43994739) Homepage Journal

    Professors Say Massive Open Online Courses Threaten Academic Freedom

    threaten their monopoly on information... it's RIAA and MPAA whining of a different flavor.

    • Re:ftfy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:10AM (#43995231) Journal

      Professors Say Massive Open Online Courses Threaten Academic Freedom

      threaten their monopoly on information... it's RIAA and MPAA whining of a different flavor.

      I'm inclined to disagree: If anything, the universities (who are attempting to seize the copyrights on course material, because the new 'MOOC' format now makes course material valuable in absence of the person who developed it) are the ones in the position of the RIAA (a trade group that represents the owners of copyrighted music, not musicians.)

      Professors have never(at least since printing became remotely cheap; maybe back in the early medieval university where technical constraints imposed a nearly oral-history model of knowledge transmission you could make a case) had a 'monopoly on information', you can get courses in established subjects just about anywhere, and new-hotness research will be encumbered by Reed-Elsevier, not Dr. Somebody. What they object to is universities(or online courseware companies) obtaining a monopoly on their specific teaching of a course. This hardly seems shocking, given that they could end up having to license back their own coursework if they change employers...

      Really rather similar to the position of a musician or band whose entire back-catalog is encumbered by that EMI contract they signed when they were small.

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:35AM (#43994751)

    [Just like their graduate students?]

    In the U.S., graduate/research assistants generally aren't even considered employees under the law. Universities use the "they're students, not employees" thing to skirt even the most basic worker protections for grad assistants (similar to the way interns are exploited). They're so low that they can't even file for unemployment or count their work towards their Social Security (since they were never even "employed" in the first place, according to the law).

    • Serfdom might be a good term, except that under traditional serfdom the lord of the manor had some reciprocal obligations to the serf.
      • Serfdom might be a good term, except that under traditional serfdom the lord of the manor had some reciprocal obligations to the serf.

        I don't know, professors have at least some recognized professional obligations for graduate students. For example, they are expected to write reasonable recommendation letters, a task that can be quite time-consuming.

        A few years back, I knew this prof who was denied tenure at a major university. He was on the job market, and essentially ended up applying for the same jobs his graduate students and recent Ph.D.'s were applying for. Word got around that he was actually writing crappy recommendation lett

        • I don't know, professors have at least some recognized professional obligations for graduate students.

          But what do they do for Boxing Day [wikipedia.org]?

    • Mod parent up!

    • Are you suggesting that Wonka released the Wangdoodle? That's dark, man.

  • by blarkon (1712194) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:36AM (#43994757)
    http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/the-mooc-moment-and-the-end-of-reform/ [thenewinquiry.com] - discusses that MOOCs haven't really been tested in terms of how good they are at educating people. The article also suggests that the push for MOOCs is coming because governments can no longer afford to provide college education, so by pushing to an online model, they can shrink the college sector. They still fulfill their responsibility of "educating people" - but they don't have to pay for all those expensive bits like college buildings and academics. The article suggests that a small number of people will get a "traditional premium education" which costs an arm and a leg and where they get to interact with an academic directly. The majority of people though will get their education in a way similar to how IT vendors do certification today. Students self study from MOOCs and then book themselves in for exams taken at authorized testing centers. Anyway the article is a lot more detailed - but the push for this stuff is coming because it's a quick way for governments to cut a lot of spending whilst claiming to be embracing "the revolution in education".
    • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:43AM (#43994815)

      governments can no longer afford to provide college education

      It's more that they no longer want to pay for it, not that they can't afford it. California spends far less money on the UC system today than it did in 1985, for example, and it's not because the overall California budget has shrunk: they've just decided to spend the money on other things.

      • They may not be spending as heavily on the actually-renowned-and-productive UC system; but they've been doing some amazing work in expanding graduate-level institutions [ca.gov] for students enrolled in the school of hard knocks...

        • by gorzek (647352)

          Parent and grandparent post make the right points.

          The US has opted to spend less money building and supporting the middle class, instead spending more money instruments of state control: prisons, police equipment, military hardware (the latter two being less and less distinct as time goes on), surveillance. Educating the public simply isn't a priority. The continued rise of anti-intellectual politicians has certainly nurtured this, but there's also a very utilitarian government interest in having a cowed an

      • It's more that they no longer want to pay for it

        I know that's a good part of why tuition at public universities have shot up (SUNY went from the student paying 25% to 75%), but is it the whole story? It doesn't explain the cost increases at private schools. I'd love to see a decent breakdown of the reasons for the increase in the total cost of running a university (i.e. total cost regardless of who is picking up the tab). All I've ever seen is a few hand-waving "this has become more expensive" without specifying any numbers, let alone giving a complete b

    • The article also suggests that the push for MOOCs is coming because governments can no longer afford to provide college education

      By governments do you mean governments in the US? I don't know if universities elsewhere have seen the same sort of insane inflation in costs that we've seen in the US.

      by pushing to an online model, they can shrink the college sector. They still fulfill their responsibility of "educating people" - but they don't have to pay for all those expensive bits like college buildings and academics

      If MOOC's do prove to be effective, then it's a good thing not to have to pay for all those expensive bits. The structure of universities is quite literally medieval. The main change since the middle ages is that they now only wear their (literally) medieval costumes on graduation day. It would be nice if in the 21st century we could find a m

  • Academic freedom is something most professors are hardly in a position to speak of. In my own college courses, students were afforded very little opportunity to think freely if they wished to get grades that would sustain their scholarships and academics-based assistance. And this was at a right-wing private university, where I caused endless arguments in one of the few "academically free" courses I took for having libertarian views (much to the amusement of the professor, who successfully masked his own

    • Dare I ask what kind of course that was at a "liberal-dominated university"? I go to a University in Ontario, and I would not call it leaning any which way, in fact the main politics are simply internal ones.
  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:44AM (#43994825)
    Guy's right. We're all basically being reduced to cogs in a machine. There's a really tiny group of super geniuses that will do the basic research. Maybe a few hundred thousand out of 6 billion. The rest of us will be replaced by robots and software. The fun part is sitting back watching all the rubes convince themselves their part of that tiny fraction of geniuses and that this doesn't apply to them.
  • What it really is affecting their freedom through tenure to do whatever they please rather then trying to serve the public as they should be by teaching. I hope this kills the concept of tenure, having absolute job security is analogous to having absolute power, IMHO.
  • Fredrick Douglass (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:52AM (#43994937) Homepage Journal

    I didn't know I was a slave until I found out I couldn't do the things I wanted. - Frederick Douglass

    How many university professors will now change their mind about imaginary property and how many will still claim, "but if only we can tweak it thusly, for my benefit, it'll be all better?"

  • by edremy (36408) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:55AM (#43994987) Journal
    Read any contracts carefully before you sign

    A number of years ago I worked with a professor who was writing a textbook. I wrote a quiz engine and a question bank to use with it. The professor owned the copyright to the textbook. The university owned the electronic stuff I developed, both text and code, even though it was an adjunct to the text.

  • by pla (258480) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @09:59AM (#43995059) Journal
    Welcome to the 1980s. The world no longer needs people to stand in front of a group of 20 year olds and read a book to them.

    That said, plenty of classes do benefit greatly from a live instructor. But virtually any "core curriculum" class really only requires a professor as the equivalent of a janitor - Count the filled chairs, sweep in the homework every week, polish the doorknobs and desktops, refill the quiz dispenser, and do a quarterly inspection of the knowledge sieves.

    So the real question here needs rephrasing - Instead of figuring out how to pay professors for "producing" the same course material year after year when we have the ability to completely automate that, how about:
    1) Find the "best" professor for each class in the world, buy the rights to his materials and make that "The" foo-101 course,
    2) Refocus the in-person college experience around classes that actually involve thought rather than rote, and
    3) Use the savings to cut tuitions back to a level that doesn't leave people in debt for the first 40 years of their professional careers.

    I know, I know... Crazy talk.

    / Player Piano.
    • 1) Find the "best" professor for each class in the world, buy the rights to his materials and make that "The" foo-101 course,

      2) Refocus the in-person college experience around classes that actually involve thought rather than rote

      How about instead we remove any such courses from all college curricula altogether? Maybe put them in a trade school or something where they belong.

      If you're taking a course at a university that only involves "rote" learning and doesn't "actually involve thought," either the teacher is bad or the course shouldn't be taught at a university.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It IS a service industry. Get over it and start competing.

  • And some things they do are.

    a overload of required classes (some even still have swim tests and PE classes that you have to pay universities prices for)
    makeing interns pay full price for credits for there work.
    ripping pages of out books in classes to stop people from buy a old copy of book for class. Have the page ripped out before hand you get a lower grade.
    upping the number credits to get a degree.

    Forcing people to live in dorm with room mates and even shared bathroom for a full floor at a price that cost

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      "ripping pages of out books in classes to stop people from buy a old copy of book for class. Have the page ripped out before hand you get a lower grade."

      This one is complete bullshit. Why are students not complaining hard to the administration about this?

  • The very earliest beginnings of what is now ( still ) known as "universities" lay in Athens, in the Stoa where Aristotle taught. I can not remember having heard or read any of the "teachers" emitting whatsoever claim to the "rights" or "ownership" of the materials they taught. Another forefather of the universities is the model that Greek physicians had for teaching: the student would pay for the education, and be able to earn a living from his trade by letting those patients pay who could afford it. His cr

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:03AM (#43995135) Homepage

    I will give Professors some slack as soon as they stop being assholes and publishing their own textbooks every semester and sell them for $250 with a requirement that you must have it for their class.

  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday June 13, 2013 @10:07AM (#43995181)

    The only people who think professors are some entitled class are ... professors. You provide a service, for pay, just like a doctor, or lawyer or barista.

    You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake just because you have a PhD. I know that's what all the other PhDs told you when you joined the club, but reality is knocking on your door.

  • I don't own the code I create for my employer. I am not free to post it on the internet, publish it, give it away or sell it.

"Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberrys!" -- Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Working...