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.