BY MATT MCGREGOR

This article was originally published in the September 2014 New Zealand Principals’ Federation magazine.

Max Riley is a maths teacher at Nayland College in Nelson whose website, Nayland Mathematics, provides a range of high-quality resources that are reused by teachers all over the country. As of July 2014, the website has received over 1.5 million hits — a truly extraordinary number for a school’s department homepage.

It’s worth pausing to consider the amount of time and energy that Max’s website has saved maths teachers across New Zealand. The teachers using the resources on Nayland Mathematics — unlike many of their colleagues in other subjects — no longer need to reinvent the wheel; they can, instead, spend their time adapting and improving Max’s resources to meet the needs of their own specific classrooms. Even if Max’s website saved only a few hundred teachers a few hours a month, this adds up to thousands of teacher hours every year.

There is, of course, only one Max Riley. But there are many thousands of New Zealand teachers who have spent their careers developing a range of high-quality resources. And there are many more thousands of teachers who would benefit from being able to easily find, use and adapt these resources, without having to worry about legal or technical restrictions. With over 50,000 teachers in the compulsory education sector, the potential savings in time and energy are enormous.

Here’s the good news: there’s no longer any technical reason why every school in New Zealand can’t replicate the success of Nayland Mathematics. With the increasing availability of digital technologies and the rise of centralised resource sharing portals like the Network for Learning portal, Pond, it is now trivially easy to share resources for reuse by every other teacher in the country.

But here’s the rub: under New Zealand copyright law, employers have first ownership to copyright works produced in the course of a teacher’s employment. This means that teachers who share copyright resources outside of the school are legally infringing their school’s intellectual property. As more sharing takes place online, copyright will become harder and harder to ignore, and may is likely to cause teachers considerable uncertainty. No teacher, after all, wishes to break the law.

To head off this uncertainty, I believe that schools need to clearly state their position on intellectual property and resource sharing. At the moment, schools tend to only think about copyright when problems arise, such as when teachers change schools and take their resources with them (leaving the school with an empty cupboard) or when teachers wish to monetise their resources (by, for example, writing and selling textbooks).

If schools address the issue of copyright in advance — rather than after the fact — they can ensure that everyone knows their rights and responsibilities. This has the twin benefits of preventing potential disputes and encouraging greater resource sharing and collaboration, with all the attendant professional benefits this provides.

Here’s the solution: over the last two years, over fifty New Zealand schools have adopted a Creative Commons policy, enabling their teachers to legally share their resources for adaptation and reuse. These schools, including Taupaki School, Albany Senior High School and Hutt Valley High School, passed their policy to address some of the thorny legal and moral issues of sharing copyright works.

These schools are well placed under current Government policy. Boards of Trustees are encouraged to consider using Creative Commons licences for their teaching resources, using the New Zealand Government’s Open Access and Licensing framework, approved by Cabinet in 2010. The recent Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities report, put out by Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye’s 21st Century Learning Reference Group, supported this by encouraging schools to enable teachers to use Creative Commons licensing to share their resources.

A Creative Commons policy provides a clear statement of a school’s position on copyright resources produced by teachers employed at the school. Simply put, the policy allows teachers to use Creative Commons licensing to share their work for reuse. The policy ensures that when teachers leave, both the teacher and the school retain access to all teaching resources. It also ensures that teachers will be free to make the most of the Network for Learning sharing portal, Pond.

But what is Creative Commons licensing? It is a free and easy way for copyright holders to give permission to others to share and reuse their work. Each licence comes in both human- and lawyer-readable versions, meaning that everyone will be understand exactly what permissions have been granted.

Creative Commons licensing has been used by organisations all over the world — including the White House, the New Zealand Government and MIT — to enable resources to be shared and reused, for the benefit of everyone. In New Zealand, the licences are supported by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand, which supports licences users and provides a range of free supplementary resources.

As more New Zealand schools start using Pond, Creative Commons licences will ensure that every teacher is able to share and collaborate, confidently and legally. Simply put, digital technologies and Pond make sharing resources easy; CC licences make sharing resources legal.

With CC licensing and great online sharing portals, New Zealand has the opportunity to ensure that all teachers, no matter the subject or year level, have access to the best resources produced by their colleagues in other schools around the country — without having to worry about any technical or legal restrictions. As Max Riley puts it, “The more we share, the more resources there will be for all.”

Schools looking to adopt Creative Commons licensing can visit creativecommons.org.nz/ccinschools for a range of resources, including a link to an off-the-shelf policy produced by Albany Senior High School. Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand is also willing to provide free workshops to schools and principals’ organisations. These can be arranged at creativecommons.org.nz/workshops or by emailing matt@creativecommons.org.nz.

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