Who owns your final exam?

I was chatting with a colleague and our conversation drifted into some local history of students sharing past final exams electronically with each other. Then we stumbled onto an interesting question: who owns your final exam?

The teacher or the school board owns it

On the face of things, either you (the teacher, I’m talking to) or your school board own the intellectual property rights. As I understand it (I’m not a legal expert, folks!), if you create your exam on your own time, with your own resources (say, not using a board computer), then you own 100% of the rights to your exam. If you use board equipment and/or time, the board owns it. Exams are often reviewed/edited by multiple people, which could make things a little murky.

This question also comes up when teachers/school boards want to monetize their work (e.g. sell a lesson plan online, publish a book of assessment tasks, etc.).

If you use board equipment on your own time, I dunno. That’s complicated. Probably there would have to be an agreement between parties (ha ha ha).

The student owns it

But what if the student answers a question you ask on your exam? You certainly don’t have the rights to that student’s response, do you? Doesn’t the student retain ownership of their intellectual property (even if it’s something like their thoughts on symbolism in Divergent, or a solution to a physics problem)?

Okay, so it’s both?

The questions are yours or your board’s. The answers are the students. I think that makes sense, and seems fair (at least to me).

The document itself

But if the student wrote answers on a piece of paper that has your prompting questions on it — then what? Who owns that document? Is it a collaboration at that point? Do you and the student together have to make decisions regarding further publication and distribution? Does fair use allow students to publish their response with your question without seeking your permission?

Retaining all copies

Many schools have a policy of not returning final exams to students. This isn’t about intellectual property; it’s about preventing academic dishonesty (“cheating”) and reducing planning workload. I’m not in favour of this practice, in general. You’re welcome to try to change my mind, of course. I teach math, though, so maybe my stuff is more safely reusable anyway.

What to do

If you want the most control over your work, create your stuff on your own equipment and on your own time. Of course, that might make it difficult to collaborate with other colleagues, which is probably more important.

I’d advocate for returning students’ work to them as well; they invested time and effort, and you shouldn’t take it from them. If their work is too dangerous for other students to see later, you might want to revisit your final summative assessment practices.

Intentional vs. Incidental Professional Learning

Two women drinking coffee and talking.

“coffee talk” by Anna Levinzon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here’s an interesting, if corporate-centric read:

Have some coffee & stop worrying about finding a “mentor.”

And it got me thinking (I bet I use that phrase in half of my posts… I’d better watch for that): how intentional will I be in my professional conversations with other teachers next year?

I have a central role in my board for a few more weeks, and so I’m often engineering intentional conversations about certain topics (like assessment or social media) in the context of a group session. For example, I’ll meet with a group of teachers I’m working with on a project and I’ll prompt the group to spark a dialogue.

In the hallway outside my office I have lots of incidental conversations with my fellow program warriors. We ask each other for help with problems (“what code do you use when a student completes Credit Recovery for a Coop credit?”) which lead to interesting (often philosophical) questions.

The Staff Room

But I’ll be at a school next year, and there will be a staff room or department office or something. When I think back to my last teaching experience, I talked shop with other teachers all the time, but rarely with the intention of learning something specific. Instead we just talked (complained) about whatever was on our minds (was irritating us). Looking back I’m sure I missed out on great learning opportunities in favour of lunchtime gripe sessions.

A possibility

What if we were to plan to have conversations? What if, instead of just “going to lunch” with some colleagues, we go to lunch with a topic in mind? There is a great teacher in my board who has suggested meeting me for breakfast to talk about some ideas he has; I need to make that happen, because it’ll likely be really useful for both of us. Also, I like him, and I like breakfast.


I’m not suggesting we should do one thing all the time. Personal and organic conversations are awesome and essential. But if we’re going to talk shop anyway, perhaps we should periodically craft those conversations for a little more focused gain.

When are different devices most useful in K-12 education? (Survey to complete!)

An image of a young person cuddling with a pile of electronic devices.

Photo by Jeremy Keith, CC-BY-2.0 via flickr

I’m having lots of conversations right now with teachers across Ontario about what kinds of devices should be in schools. More and more we’re agreeing that there should be a mixture of devices, for a variety of reasons. We’re working on a document to articulate some of those thoughts.

However, when a board/school is trying to purchase technology it often is trying to meet the bulk of student needs, not necessarily provide a device for every possible use case. So, if a school can have iPads or laptops, which should they choose? The answers aren’t simple or clear, and always involve the phrase “it depends on…”.

So I’ve made a short survey that I’d love for you to complete if you’re a teacher in K-12. It doesn’t take long. Just let me know what your thoughts and experiences are with different types of devices. If you need to take the survey multiple times, that’s fine (let’s say because you have experience in elementary and secondary, or your math and music classes are very different).

Here’s the link. Please share widely. And thanks!


What I’m Reading

I saw this post by @PernilleRipp via @OSSEMOOC today:

First, go and read the article. Great advice.

Now, I’ll share what I’m reading right now. See how I was inspired?

  • Gabriel’s Journey (Book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption) by Steve Umstead (Kindle; just listened to #0 in audiobook)
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (audiobook; second time through)
  • Play by Stuart Brown (borrowed hardcover; haven’t actually started yet)
  • Star Trek: Ongoing (graphic novel/comic series; just finished issue #32)

What are you reading?

Changing the rules about electronic devices on planes is overdue, but the conversation is silly

Transport Canada announced that it’s probably going to allow passengers to use electronic devices during all parts of flights (including takeoff and landing), as long as the devices are in “airplane mode” (not transmitting or receiving).

Ha ha ha.

Passengers are [suddenly] concerned about enforcement of the airplane mode, as though it is a new issue.

The reality is that passengers have not been putting their devices in airplane mode during flights for years, let alone powering them down during takeoff and landing, meaning that the Canadian airlines have been unwilling participants in hundreds of thousands of tests of an even more liberal use of technology.

Seriously, we already know that these devices aren’t going to bring planes down. If they could, we wouldn’t be allowed to have them anywhere near the vehicles. Start selling WiFi to passengers and you’ll make a lot more money.

Teaching teachers about technology

A note to the reader

The following post generalized a problem/solution that I see in my board. It’s not a problem everywhere. It is not universal, but it is common. I’m not pointing fingers; there is no subtext here. I don’t want anyone to be upset, so I’m just letting you know that I’m not talking about you specifically. If you feel like I am, then please consider what I’m saying carefully, because I’m hoping this is valuable reading for you.

New tech in our board

We’re rolling out Office 365 to all staff and students in September. I’m not part of the planning team, so I don’t know what that rollout will look like. I’m thinking back to past “initiatives” (I kind of hate that word), some of which I’ve bumbled up myself, and I feel we need several approaches to learning about this (and any!) new technology.

Learning culture

We’ve done it to ourselves. We’ve developed a culture among our teachers (and students, to a lesser degree) of expecting learning to be “delivered”. It’s happened over many, many years of generic, one-size-fits-all, drive-by-PD in all areas of our profession. We have been passive recipients of knowledge and skills, and there is an expectation that “learning” continues this way. After all, we’re adults, right? The presenter said stuff, and the participants now have the skills!

Except that it doesn’t work like that, and everyone knows it. Two problems here:

  1. Learners have dramatically different entry points; presentations don’t allow for that
  2. Learners need to do work to learn; presentations don’t encourage that

Okay, maybe your presentations deal with problems 1 and/or 2 above, and you’re doing something better than “delivering” to your participants. I’m not talking about your presentations specifically. No need to get huffy. :)

Technology learning culture

In learning about technology, most teachers I know expect “training” in how to use a device/app/web service. They want someone to show them how it works, what it can do. In my experience, that’s the easy part to show, and the least useful part to show. The developers probably included a document (help file or tutorial) that explains all of that. No one reads these things, of course, but they’re perfectly legitimate and often just as effective.

No, the hard part is learning how to use a technology well and for a purpose. Instead of expecting to be trained in the technical details of a tool, I want teachers to expect to learn to use that tool in the context of pedagogy. Better still, I want teachers to consider what their students need for learning, then work together to figure out how to use different tools to help meet those needs.

Learning approaches

Learners will need different levels and types of support depending on a variety of factors (preference, experience, available time, opportunities to implement on the job). Maybe someone will benefit from a tutorial to follow. Another person might appreciate some videos explaining procedures. Lots of people want (and expect) an expert at the elbow, but that’s really expensive and kind of impractical; it can only happen sometimes.

I’m a fan of learning through a project. For example, if I think it’ll be valuable to learn to use a blogging platform, maybe I should try a 7-day blogging challenge. Or perhaps I can learn to use my new tablet by deciding to record and edit video clips for my students. If I have a clear purpose, I’ve given myself a route to follow, and I’m likely to learn things I didn’t know in advance that I would learn.

One other helpful approach is developing or joining a support group. Find other people who are interested in learning the same things, and talk about it. Help each other. Invest in other peoples’ learning and they will reciprocate as well.

Valuing different approaches

There is still the issue of “accountability” and “qualification” and so on. How do we ensure that teachers are learning what they need to? How do we “know” that someone has developed skill with a technology?

We currently don’t value all of the approaches equally. In fact, many people won’t value or even recognize learning that isn’t a structured “course” or “workshop”. Who takes a course in learning to use YouTube? Isn’t it easier/faster/more efficient/more effective to just ask for help or try it out independently?

School boards usually don’t properly value learning that isn’t schooling, and they overvalue accountability. Both contribute to a lack of trust in teachers’ professionalism, which neither encourages nor empowers us. They poo-poo learner choice, favouring homogeneity of delivery over actual learning.

Freedom with support and expectation

I think it’s best to encourage learning (not training!), provide supports for those who want them, and the freedom to choose our own paths.

Take a step back and look objectively: tightly controlled “professional development” clearly hasn’t been working, and it’s been tried for decades. Time to try something else, and to give it a fair shake. It takes long-term commitment to change a culture, so we’d better get started.

First look at Liberio beta, a slick, free eBook publishing service

My friend and colleague Jennifer Keenan (@keenanjenn) asked me recently on Twitter:

I had not, but we both requested invites for early (beta) access. When I had a few minutes I started to play around with it, and I’m really impressed.

A screenshot of the Liberio login screen on a computer


It’s still in beta, so not everything worked perfectly (but nearly so!). Overall it’s pretty awesome.

I wrote a short story (originally published here) and so I tried making an ePub file using Liberio.

You have a library of your own stuff. When you click/tap on the “plus” item, you can either select a Document from your Google Drive or upload a file from your computer. I grabbed a Google Document, and it was ready in seconds.

Libary view.


You have some control over the settings in your published book. Here are the basics:

Edit Book screenshot.

Expanding “More Options” gives you these choices:

Edit book advanced options screenshot.

I especially liked the License and Rights section, which gives you “All Rights Reserved” and then a half dozen Creative Commons choices.

Pro features aren’t available yet. Also, I’m not a pro :)

I didn’t try uploading a cover image (because I have neither mining photos nor pictures of silver), but the option is there.

When you’re ready to publish, you save your changes and then choose a sharing method. Just saving will upload an ePub file to your Google Drive. You can download to preview the file in your reader of choice (the site doesn’t display for you, but that’s hardly a problem these days), and you can share via email or social media.

Sharing options in Liberio.

For comparison, here are the versions produced by Calibre and by Liberio as viewed on my iPad Mini. Note that publishing in Calibre provided more control but was rather finicky. I think I like the Liberio default better, and being thoughtful as I create my Google Doc would give more control, I imagine.

Calibre-generated eBook viewed in iBooks on an iPad Mini.

Produced by Calibre.

Liberio-generated eBook viewed in iBooks on an iPad Mini.

Produced by Liberio.

The site looks great on my iPad and iPhone both, although there were a few intermittent browser issues. Some problems may have to do with the wifi here, I’ll admit. Being mobile-friendly makes it much more useful in then K-12 context, I think.

The view on an iPhone

Liberio also gave me an email address to send feedback to, and they’re very responsive so far (both by email and on Twitter at @LiberioApp). I’m looking forward to a few tweaks and updates, and I’m hoping this could be an easy way for students to publish online. This is one to watch, for sure.

LaTeX in WordPress

I assumed I would have to pay fees, get a plugin, or use WordPress.org in order to have math rendered in my blog posts. Not so.

Details are at http://en.support.wordpress.com/latex/, but here’s a sample:


Nice, eh? It renders an image and puts the \LaTeX in the ALT tag. I love it.

Reflections on #EdCampSault

edCampSault logo

Sault Ste. Marie’s first EdCamp was this past Saturday. As promised, here are some reflections on the event and on the learning.

Event Logistics

There were some challenges, and some lessons learned.

When I made the poster for the event I included the web address (http://edcampsault.wordpress.com) but neglected on the poster to actually tell people to register. We started to worry that perhaps people were coming, but hadn’t told us they were coming. That makes ordering food kind of difficult. We ordered for an extra 1o people, so we had waaaay too much. I had my share of coffee (4 cups) but there was still a lot left.

A lot of food.

We used a Google Form for registration, which worked very well. One for the “do it that way again next time” list.

Saturdays are tough at the best of times. This Saturday we were up against the OSSTF Annual General Meeting, basketball and volleyball camps, OAME 2014 (bus returned at 3am on Saturday), the PQP2 course in the Sault, and Mother’s Day (Sunday). There were a LOT of people who told me they wanted to be there but couldn’t because of prior commitments.

About half of the registered people actually attended (we had 12), so that meant we didn’t really need five breakout rooms. We dropped it down to two rooms, so participants had two topics to choose from at a time. If there were more people (I was hoping for 40), we could have had more options in each time slot.

Promotion was exceptionally difficult. It’s hard to get word out by email when people don’t really understand what EdCamp is about and how it works. I made a video, sent out flyers by email, and created a Facebook event. I’ll be interested in the feedback from participants about how they heard about EdCampSault.

EdCampIsland was at the same time on Manitoulin Island, so we set up a TodaysMeet chat area to connect the two. We dipped in from time to time.

The Board

“Building The Board” took a little while. We had planned for 30 minutes, so we gave everyone lots of time to write out their ideas and mark on the existing ideas that interested them. We built the morning first (2 sets of 2 sessions), then built the afternoon during the lunch break (3 sets of 2 sessions). We stuck to the schedule fairly well, except that people didn’t really use the transition time we planned for (they just kept talking and learning).

Here are the topics we settled on (links to Google Docs for notes):

Room 1 Room 2
9:50-10:35 Strategies for helping students with anxiety Digital assessment/portfolios
10:45-11:30 Assistive technology/students with ASD Social media and teaching (Twitter, etc.)
11:30-12:20 Lunch
12:20-12:50 Multiple Intelligences Writing!
1:00-1:30 Video Problem-Based Learning
1:40-2:10 Learning Goals and Success Criteria Technology for keeping your teaching life organized
2:15-2:30 Closing Remarks

The Sessions

The sessions themselves stuck fairly well to the topics. The Social Media session drifted a lot from what I was expecting, but that’s not a bad thing – it was a great conversation, and it brought in people from outside the room via Twitter.

Sometimes I have attended/hosted professional development sessions in which the overwhelming feeling was one of frustration: “I don’t have X so I can’t do Y in my classroom”; “that wouldn’t work in my classroom”; “you don’t understand how Z affects my school/classroom”. EdCampSault suffered from NONE of those sentiments. It was overwhelmingly positive, open, hopeful and thoughtful. The entire day felt awesome – we were working together to help one another as a community of teachers and learners, exactly it was supposed to be.

The learners were from a variety of roles (elementary, secondary, SERT, VP, program staff, composite school, alternative school, and outside agencies), so that helped to make the session topics diverse and the conversations rich.

The Learning

I think I’ll save that for another post. I haven’t sorted through all of my learning here yet.

Next Time

Yes, I think there should be a next time. I think we can hold it in the late fall or early winter (weather doesn’t matter much for a local event), and try to have more boards involved in promoting the event. Other than promotion, it’s not too difficult to organize (for me; Jenn Keenan did the heavy lifting). EdCampSault was a great opportunity, produced some great connections, and it will have a direct, positive impact on classrooms.