168 views 6 mins 0 comments

Educators and Copyright

In Article
December 22, 2020

By Jerold Chagas Pereira, Executive Director and CEO, mPowerO

The Covid-19 pandemic has expedited digital adoption in almost every business vertical and also across every socio-economic segment of India’s huge consuming classes. E-learning has been a ‘beneficiary’ of this Black Swan event. It is fair to say that the pandemic has accomplished in 3-4 months what might have otherwise taken 3-4 years to accomplish in digital adoption in education.

More importantly, e-learning is here to stay. A majority of parents, recently polled about sending children back to school, favoured continued e-learning from home, at least until completion of the ongoing academic year. In fact, some K12 principals mentioned that their children and teachers had grown so accustomed to online learning that even post-reopening, e-learning would play a value- adding role.

With this paradigm shift arises the necessity of new ‘dos and don’ts, essential to govern e-learning as it becomes more mainstream and widespread. These would be rules applicable to academic, extra- curricular and general behavioural issues during and after online class hours. Matter related to digital etiquette, attendance, ethics and more.

One issue that is bound to gain in importance relates to digital content or e-learning resources. On account of the pandemic, the amount of e-content being created has grown exponentially, as schools, colleges and other learning institutions develop and share more and more learning material online – be it recorded lectures, presentations, case studies, etc. There are huge amounts of money being spent on e-content, as quality and originality of learning resources become differentiators. Similarly, students are also actively contributing to this mushrooming cyberworld of e-learning resources.

This calls into question the issue of “intellectual property rights”. The early days of the lockdown saw most learning institutions scrambling to adopt various digital tools and then load them with content – some existing, some created overnight, but mostly a lot ‘borrowed’ from ‘public domain. Rules and regulations governing digital content access and sharing were not always adhered do – in most cases because they were not really known to the many new ‘users’ – be it institutions, faculty or students – due to the overnight adoption.

Similarly, most e-learning platforms rushed into were considered as stop-gap, and hence were unsecure and ‘open’. Which led to breaches in data security of student credentials, downloading and sharing of ‘proprietary’ content outside institution ecosystems, etc. Again, most of these intellectual property violations, again, were due to lack of awareness rules and regulations that govern digital IPs.

Now that it fairly certain that: a) it could be a while before in-class learning returns to pre-Covid normal, and b) as and when it does, blended learning, i.e. digital tools to supplement classroom learning, is going to stay. Hence the time is now right to bring Intellectual Property, safety and security issues to the fore.

Digital content, once created, is created for posterity and remains of use so long as the subject matter stays relevant. This ‘lifetime’ e-library only needs periodic reviewing and updating. This bring out the necessity of educational institutions to migrate to more ‘evolved’ e-learning platforms or Learning Management Systems (LMS) – ones which can address most of the issues raised above. A good e-learning platform will ensure security of user data and user Intellectual Properties, with user and administration rights that restrict infringement.

Quality LMS’ ensure that content of such digital libraries remain within the educational ecosystem through: 1) restricted access – only registered users can log in and access, 2) restricted circulation – even if downloadable for off-line viewing content remains secure within the registered user’s device, 3) not copyable – screenshot cannot be taken and forwarded, and 4) IP-compatible – for example YouTube videos can be ‘streamed’ through the platform without infringing any IP rights.

Bio-metrics are also gaining popularity, with e-learning solutions incorporating bio-metric technologies such as face recognition, voice recognition, etc to ensure compliance and good governance. Some of the newer e-learning platforms, using bio-metric authentication, can ensure that it is only that user who is mapped to a particular device, can log in from her/his device. Similarly, when it comes to remote examinations, such technologies using technology-enabled proctoring, ensure that only the ‘real’ candidate can take the exam, and during the exam is not ‘externally’ aided by way of access to additional resources, voice prompts, etc. Lastly, and in conclusion, all of the above will still not yield the desired outcome if mass awareness is not created amongst all stakeholders of e-learning solutions. In addition to hosting courses on IP rights and responsibilities, learning institutions MUST enforce stricter compliance to intellectual property, with infringements and violations being punishable. Unless there is adherence to IPR, originality and investment in research and development will start to be questioned.