A Teacher’s Intellectual Property


About a year ago I gave a short presentation on educational technology to my school board.  One of the board members complimented me but then addressed the board, asking how the district could retain these methods and activities.  He talked about intellectual property and how the school would be at a loss if I took these things with me if I ever left the district.  My only real thought at the time was, “I guess you’ll have to keep me”.

It’s a very businessminded approach.  If an employee for a software developer creates a program as part of his or her job and then leaves a few weeks later, does he  or she get to take that information and program with him?  I would think not.  But if a teacher creates something for a class he or she is teaching, is it his or hers to take to the next teaching assignment?

I’ve taught in three different schools now and each time I made the move, a bin of material and an external hard drive has come with me.  I created things while working at Star of the Sea School that I use now at Denver High School.  My thought was, “I created these, I get to keep these”.  (Although I left copies of almost everything behind too).

But that doesn’t seem to fit a business model.  Over and over again I read that the business sector has evolved into the 21st century and the education system has not in this country.  Should schools operate more like businesses in that regard?  My husband (a newbie teacher) says absolutely not: if everything a teacher creates is property of the school, a teacher has no incentive to create anything new.

If you follow my posts, you may know that I estimate that I create almost 85% of my classroom material.  I tweak and reinvent and personalize tests, handouts, assessments and activities.  I do this for a few reasons: my students notice the non-cookie-cutter-ness of it all, I highlight certain material based on class weakness and strengths but mostly because I love being creative and inventive!  And when I look back at my 7 year teaching career, I have amassed an impressive amount of intellectual property.

But is it protected?  I don’t think I have the right to copyright an activity or an assignment, especially if it was inspired by other information “out there”.  Teachers hate when students use the copy and paste trick.  We call it cheating, we call it plagarism, we lecture them about ethics and morals and tell them the internet is a dangerous place and that all information must be properly cited* or they can’t use it at all.

But don’t teacher’s do a fair amount of this?  Teachers have been flooding the internet in a share of ideas and a search for new methods and ways to connect with their students.  If I find a great activity online that was created by another teacher, I wouldn’t usually think twice about grabbing it an using it.  Is it intellectual property theft?  Or is everything fair game for educators – – as long as it is for an educational purpose?

I know I’ve asked a lot more questions today than I’ve attempted to answer but these are just a few thoughts that got brought to my attention in the last few weeks.  And in the meantime I’m thinking about hiring a talented graphic designer to help me with my copyright watermark.

*I’m not suggesting that material doesn’t need to be cited  – – just commenting on the repeated lectures students get about using information that belongs to someone else.

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One thought on “A Teacher’s Intellectual Property

  1. It really depends on where you get the materials. Many teachers put their materials up as a creative commons item where anybody can use it. It’s also fair to add a footnote to the material (*adapted from…) if it doesn’t already include a website url or other identifier. I keep copies of everything I create as well, but I don’t mind sharing if my materials supplement a lesson in a way that the other teacher may not have thought of. I don’t know…I think copyrighting is more for marketed materials. If I were selling my ideas, I would worry more about it, but I don’t have that much of an audience, hahaha!

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