Key Takeaways

Understanding Student IP in Context: Implications for Teaching and Research

Successfully integrating educational technology platforms into writing curricula requires navigating the practical, ethical, and legal dimensions of those decisions. Students, educators, and administrators must weigh different costs and benefits when considering which platforms they might formally and informally integrate within learning environments. In a report on the use of social media and learning management systems in educational contexts, Niall Scalter (2008) observed that perpetually learning new tools places a complex strain on students, educators, and informational technology staff alike. Similarly, Angela Crow (Beck et al., 2016) discussed the challenges associated with negotiating decisions about which platforms are appropriate for use in educational settings. Whereas Scalter focused on the practical barriers associated with integrating different types of platforms in educational settings, Crow's discussion of which tools a writing program administrator might adopt considered the complexity of evaluating the ethical and legal implications of such decisions. From the vantage point of writing and rhetoric educators who critically evaluate the integration of tools within courses and assignments, we agree that this work is remarkably important and taxing. Maintaining functional proficiency in educational technology software is decidedly difficult. This work is complicated by the sense of responsibility we feel we have as educators to ensure that the tools we employ are not using student data or intellectual property in undesirable ways.

As Crow noted, leaders of our professional writing studies organizations, such as the Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and the Conference on College Composition and Communication, possess the types of expertise and apparatus necessary for vetting and critiquing tools and their use within the profession. Indeed, this was exactly the type of work that TyAnna Herrington and Tim Amidon have previously carried out alongside other members of the CCCC-IP Caucus who contributed to development of the 2013 position statement on the use of plagiarism detection services (PDSs). This type of collaborative work within organizations can certainly engender important change. Yet, as Clancy Ratliff (2018) aptly observed, these efforts have material limitations: Despite a CCCCs resolution and notable body of scholarship about the problematic dimensions of these platforms, PDSs are nevertheless prevalently used within and beyond the field: "plagiarism is considered to be such a shocking transgression [that] many teachers have embraced PDS in the service of justice" (p. 151).

We can relate to the desire to maintain academic integrity, but, as IP scholars, we recognize plagiarism as a transgression that can have complex roots, cannot be easily categorized and characterized, and can be difficult to assess, avoid, and respond to. Further, we are convinced that abrogating a student's authorial rights is not consistent with the goals of appropriately using and respecting others' intellectual property. Two wrongs (they say) don't make a right. Here we point directly toward the PDS not because we are interested in rehearsing that conversation, again—although we think it is a particularly consequential conversation. Rather, we see the ubiquity of PDSs as an exemplar of a stance toward learning and students that is common to educational technologies, social media, and participatory and social platforms writ large. Our field, as Jeff Grabill explained during his 2016 Computers and Writing keynote address, needs to understand how some forms of educational technologies used in schools "deprofessionalize teacher work." Consequently, the question we want to take seriously here is whether our efforts have gone far enough, given that institutional administrators, educators, and students continue to cede control and ownership of the content, data, and metadata created in academic settings to platform and service providers.

IP Cast 10. Implications for Pedagogy. Jessica, Les, and Tim reflect on the implications that educational technology platforms have for teaching students about the IP dimensions of student authorship. A transcript of the conversation has also been provided.

Mobilizing members of professional organizations to collectively vet and critique tools and their use could go a long way toward improving which platforms end up adopted in classrooms (Crow, 2016), but our experience with the CCCC-IP Caucus suggests that this work takes time and that garnering organizational consensus about even the most ethically or pedagogically unsound tools can be difficult to achieve. Additionally, we recognize that decisions regarding technological adoption, practice, and maintenance are best made in local contexts (DeVoss, Cushman, & Grabill, 2005; Porter et al., 2000; Selber, 2009). Therefore, it is our hope that equipping educators and students themselves with heuristics for analyzing and vetting tools will be a useful tactic. In this webtext, we have presented a six-part heuristic to help students, educators, administrators, and/or researchers identify how IP might be generated, circulated, and recomposed within platforms used in educational settings. We propose this heuristic as a means for writing and rhetoric educators and students to make informed decisions about educational technology platforms. Educators are responsible for selecting tools to use and tools to forego. They can also decide how to employ tools they have selected. We encourage writing studies instructors and program administrators to make choices that allow students to retain control of their contributions, with access to managing how their contributions will be collected, stored, and used. We also encourage student use of the heuristic when considering implications of using various educational technology platforms, and their participation in decisions regarding tool selection and application.

We also see opportunities for new paths of inquiry for the study of authorship and IP in the context of educational technology platforms. We encourage those working in this area to build on our work here and further consider three key issues in digitally networked composing: 1) the composition of visible and invisible contributions, including content, data, and metadata; 2) the imbalance of control and agency over users' contributions; and 3) the circulation of texts and data, activities inherent to the use of digital platforms, as acts of composing and, subsequently, appropriation. Our heuristic can be used as a tool to understand student authorship through this lens, taking into account educational technology platforms as rhetorical forces.

We urge instructors, scholars, and administrators to recognize that the adoption and uses of educational technology platforms have implications for student authorship and intellectual property. Some questions that we propose for considering such implications include:

  • How do Terms of Use and Privacy Policies impact student authorship?
  • In what ways do legal structures such as the DMCA, work-for-hire, fair use, and the TEACH Act matter for the kinds of authorship students are enacting?
  • How can we, as teachers, better support students' rights as authors?
  • What happens to student authorship when their compositions are collaborative, shared, remixed, and recirculated?
  • What content streams and data trails are students creating when they use these systems?
  • Are there ways in which use of these platforms devalues our own students' intellectual property?

We believe members of our field ought to be thinking more deeply about these questions. Specifically, we are concerned that the forms of collaborative composing enacted within and through educational technology platforms may too often devalue student intellectual property and deny them ownership and control over their contributions. Where the law defines students' legal status as authors in the same way that it does for any other author, their authorial rights are often unacknowledged in multiple asymmetrical uses of educational technologies—exposing their intellectual products to manipulation or misappropriation within and beyond academic contexts. Ultimately, if there is a single lesson that we might take from TyAnna Herrington's scholarship, acknowledging her legacy within our field, it is to work firmly from a position of certainty that the constitutional goal of U.S. copyright law, as a legal mechanism that enshrouds authorial rights, is to sustain a robust, intellectual commons. While much intellectual property scholarship within writing studies focuses on increasing access—a laudable goal within a history of copyright law that has served to protect copyright giants more than creative individuals—at this moment we find ourselves considering stronger copyright protections as a method for supporting students' rights to their own intellectual property. We continue to work toward achieving the balance, between access to IP and protection for creators, that drives creative and intellectual production.

IP Cast 11: Outsourcing Practices

IP Cast 11. Outsourcing Practices. Jessica, Les, and Tim consider how the alarming practice of outsourcing teaching and learning might exacerbate existing tensions in student authored IP in coming years. A transcript of the conversation has also been provided.



The information and ideas contained in this webtext are not intended to be understood as legal advice, but rather as an exploration of the potential tensions that may exist between how authorship functions as a legal concept and how authorship is practiced and theorized in educational contexts.

Webtext design adapted from © Escape Velocity by HTML5 UP under a Creative Commons CC BY 3.0 license.