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.