The AFT and Academic Control


Posted to WWWDEV
9 August, 2000

Rory McGreal wrote:

The American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution that opposes undergraduate degrees that are earned entirely online. It is available at http://www.aft.org/convention/onlinepr.html

[ Much clipping of a whole bunch of Rory's comments I agree with ]

The AFT document states, in part:

Academic faculty must maintain control of shaping, approving and evaluating distance education courses. Faculty who teach distance courses need to be adequately compensated and provided with the necessary time, training and technical support to develop and conduct classes. Faculty should retain creative control and intellectual property rights over the use and re-use of distance education materials.

Now I know that the AFT's purpose is to represent teachers, but many more people need to be considered when it comes to the production of online learning. Experience has shown - I would think - that the academic staff in question form only a part of a team that creates an online learning resource. Why then should academic staff retain all the "control" and "intellectual property rights" over such material?

The creation and design of online course materials requires specialized training and skills - that's why institutions ask for credentials when they hire programmers, graphic designers or distance education course designers. In many cases, their expertise in such areas as visual appeal, usability, navigation and programming is superior to the academic staff member in question.

Moreover, as the technology becomes more complex, institutions wishing to offer online courses must make a substantial investment in staff and materials. This is why (in my opinion) a lot of this development work will be done by professional publishers, who can afford the initial investment for quality work. On what grounds, then, do the academic staff maintain that only they should own the intellectual property thus produced?

Do the institutions, companies and governments which actually make the investment not have a right to some share in the returns?

This is an issue I've belaboured before in these pages - the advent of new technology means in large measure that academics must surrender some control over the nature and shape of education. They must surrender control to the ultimate consumers of that product - students (and I'm sorry about the terminology, but curiously, academics have no corresponding phraseology). They must surrender some control to those who pay for an educational system. And they must surrender some control to the other professionals who are essential to the development of quality materials.
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