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.


A good reason to NOT embed images in your blog post

Recently Getty Images announced that they were making a bazillion photos available for embedding in your blog posts and other web content. Many people misunderstood this to mean that Getty was opening up their catalogue for any kind of non-commercial use, but that is not the case. There are a lot of great discussions about the limitations of Getty’s free offering, but there is one point that really makes it a deal-killer for me:

You can embed only

Embedding means that the image is still hosted at Getty and your blog post just links to it. Your blog’s site is not storing a copy of the image at all.

Why this is a good idea

Embedding means that your audience can find the source.

It means that you’re not illegally taking a copy of the image and misrepresenting it as your own.

It makes attribution really easy, because it’s like auto-attribution.

Why this is not such a good idea

What if Getty’s site is unavailable?

What if they change the terms down the road?

What if they simply change the structure of the embed code, breaking your links to their images?

It’s fine in the short term, but there is a long-term maintenance problem. That’s okay for content that is “timely” and essentially expires; it’s not okay for content which we want to have persist.

Reliability is a good reason to not embed

If you can download an image, possibly modify it if the license allows, and upload it to your blog’s media library, you have a copy of it to use forever (or thereabouts). I like to search on Flickr by licence type for CC-BY images which give me wonderful freedom. It’s also how I share my own images, so help yourself.

Include attribution and links to the source, and you’ll be okay even if the distributor is later offline or revokes future licenses.

There is a nice-looking plugin called WP Inject if you’re using a self-hosted WordPress solution, or you can do something like this when uploading media to WordPress.com:

A screenshot showing how to attribute a Flickr image to me

Which will then appear like this:

An image showing a series of three laptops in a row. Only the nearest is partly in focus.

“Line of laptops” by Brandon Grasley via Flickr (CC BY)

Notice that the creator is properly attributed, the licence is listed (which is nice if not exactly necessary), and the image itself is a link to the photo on Flickr. That makes it easy to find, and I think that’s better than a gross-looking, unreliable embedded photo which might vanish without warning.