Who “owns” the content in online courses after they are over?
As I write this, my daughter is in the next room busy on another day of virtual kindergarten. The teacher is admirably teaching the group in a mix of Google Meet sessions throughout the day. Most of the content management and completion/collection of assignments are taking place in Seesaw. Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio of my daughter’s work.
There are a multitude of content management systems (CMS) that are used in digital spaces to connect instructors and learners. As my daughter moves further through K-12 she’ll interact with Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, and many other environments that are yet to be invented.
This brings me back to my question about who owns all of this content.
What happens to the lessons and work the teacher is preparing? What happens to the work my daughter creates and shares to the CMS? What happens to the feedback received from the instructor?
Your first reaction to these questions may be who cares? As we proceed through a global pandemic, many educators are trying to make it through each day.
The challenge is that the teaching materials created present a great opportunity to reuse and repurpose content and strategies in future lessons. The work and feedback received by my daughter is a gold mine for identifying areas of future growth. This also presents a need to think more deeply about how to protect students in a digital age.
As individuals move through a digital environment we leave a trail of breadcrumbs. This includes metadata about the who, what, where, and perhaps why of our interactions. We interact and move on. When we leave, there is a residue that is left behind. Digital apps and platforms are developing very sophisticated ways to collect, aggregate, and commodify this content.
As a society, we’re starting to think a bit more about the residue we leave behind. This may include thinking a bit more about the banking information we leave behind. This may include tending to our browser history. This may include knowing a bit more about what your social networks know about you.
Residue of Learning
What happens to the residue left behind after my daughter interacts with her classroom teacher and peers?
What happens to her multiple attempts to log in to Google Meet every day? What happens to the video as she and her peers learn how to read, write, and interact with each other? What happens when the teacher redirects or reprimands a student?
What happens to the work submitted and feedback in Seesaw? Who owns and maintains that content? Who is in charge of shepherding that content as she leaves kindergarten and progresses through her career?
Once a land-based class is “over” the discussions are relatively private as they were not recorded. If the teacher reprimands a student, it may be recounted later that day as the child tells a parent or guardian. If my daughter doesn’t complete her best work, or perhaps even writes something inflammatory or insensitive, it may or may not be archived.
If a student fails and flames out, those interactions would be lost in the ether. In a digital space, these interactions leave a mark.
It is my assumption that the institution believes they own this content. As an example, I believe the local school district (if pressed) would indicate that they own the materials and content in the online spaces. The teacher cannot take the materials and go teach elsewhere. A student or parent/guardian that removes this content and sends it elsewhere would get a phone call from the school.
I think the school believes they own the content from the teacher. Do they own the work from my daughter and her peers? I’m sure there is (or will be) some desire to save some of these data points for accreditation, or data collection/reporting.
For the most part, I think the schools haven’t thought much about the data and privacy of students in these spaces. I’m assuming they haven’t thought about what these apps and platforms are doing with this content. They’re not asking questions about who oversees the data after the course has completed and teachers and students have moved on.
In an online class, I’ve assumed the institution (thinks they) own everything in the space. This means all of the teaching side of the content. So….they could just “run it back” with the same, or another instructor.
With student work, I think it’s one of those situations where they have the data, but keep quiet.
The challenge is that systems will be hacked and data leaked. Companies will be bought out and this data will be added to other datasets. Decades from now, this metadata may have seemed insignificant, but my daughter may pay a bit more attention when some of the papers, grades, and comments from K-12 show up when she runs for elected office.
We also cannot trust the companies and developers that provide these spaces to think about the best interests of the user.
Think about the recent stories about Google acquiring FitBit. A little known secret is that these companies are always looking for new ways to learn about you and collect data. They’ll either build solutions to collect this data, release a new feature, or purchase another company that has your data. Think about what could (will) be learned as Google connects your location, steps, and health information to all of the other data they have about you.
All of this is being used to teach the algorithms that determine the search results you see, the credit applications you receive, and the jobs or promotions you are offered.
Slowly we’re starting to see it rear its ugly head in our systems.
We need to ask questions as learning institutions create plans that hinge on new data collection or adopt new technologies. What data will be collected? How will this data be used? How will this be protected? How will it be shared?
The Fair Information Practice Principles, which were codified in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and guide most federal and state agencies provides a basic framework for data governance:
- You should be transparent about what information is collected;
- You should make sure that information collected for one purpose will not be used for another purpose;
- There should be adequate security and that only the people who need access to the information will get it; and
- Only the information that you need will be collected in the first place.
In the case of my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, this process continues in earnest. The school may not care, but Google Meet is tracking how often learners connect and a lot of other data about her and our home. Seesaw is collecting and aggregating information about her work, interactions, and feedback.
All of this information is an important part of her digital identity. Data privacy is a very real concern as we continue to learn and connect online. We need to protect student privacy in a digital age.