Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: September 2012 (page 1 of 1)

Copyright in Canada


My colleague and I presented last night to the rest of our colleagues about copyright. We spoke about the state of copyright in Canada, and what implications this has on our classroom teaching & learning. This is the presentation we used. Unfortunately, an article by Larry Kuehn suggested to us that some of what we shared was in fact no longer true. Not wanting to present an incomplete or inaccurate picture to our colleagues, we did some further research.

The first thing we discovered is that Larry Kuehn’s article refers mostly to the impact of Bill C-11, which is not currently in effect (it has yet to be formally passed as a law), which means that although we will have to give another presentation on copyright when the bill comes into effect, our presentation yesterday was still substantially true.

What follows is my interpretation of current and future copyright law, and should not be considered an expert opinion on this matter.


Current Copyright

During the process of our research, we discovered that there are a number of Supreme Court of Canada rulings that do impact education in Canada in the current environment. The Supreme Court of Canada rulings, according to Contact North, operate under three principles:

  1. An Unequivocal Endorsement of Users’ Rights
  2. Technological Neutrality as a Foundational Principle of Copyright Law
  3. Expansion of Fair Dealing

The first principle means that the Supreme Court assumes that users’ rights in terms of copyright use are important and foundational to determining, when there is an apparent conflict between user and copyright holder rights, what right the user has to copy and access copyrighted material. 

The second principle re-enforces the idea in current copyright law that copyright should be technology neutral. For example, it is currently not permitted to scan a textbook, and then share that material in an online environment, even when such sharing is of a limited portion of the entire textbook, but it is considered permissible to share the same exact work by photocopying and handing it out. This ruling suggests that if sharing a portion of work is acceptable in one format, it must be acceptable in all formats.

During my MET degree at UBC, we were required to purchase paper copies of the research and articles our professors wanted to share with us, even though the entire program was online. I thought this was kind of ridiculous, but it turned out that UBC was, at the time, required to purchase a separate license for sharing work in a different medium than a photocopy. Now, if my interpretation of this principle is accurate (the recent Access Copyright ruling will also assist in this respect), UBC should feel free to share their educational research in whatever format is most appropriate for them.

The third principle expands the possible uses of fair dealing. For example, the rulings from the Supreme Court indicate that "private study" could include study with a teacher. In particular, "[t]he word “private” in “private study” should not be understood as requiring users to view copyrighted works in isolation." (Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency , Supreme Court of Canada, July 12th, 2012). Teachers can now make copies of work under fair dealing for the purpose of assisting their students with their private study, provided they are only providing short excerpts of that work, and they are not required to pay any fee to Access Copyright for this right.


Future copyright law

Bill C-11 appears to significantly expand user rights for copyrighted material, in many of the same ways such access has been improved for users of copyrighted material in the United States.

The non-commercial user generated content section of the law, for example, makes it explicitly clear that users have a right to use copyrighted material in their own creations provided such creations are: not for commercial purposes, they cite their source of material clearly, the work they are copying is itself not in violation of copyright, and the work created does not substantially harm the commercial rights of a copyrighted work. This will mean that students will be free to use copyrighted material in their projects (provided they cite their work appropriately), since it should be clear that no student work is likely to harm the commercial interests of a copyright holder’s work.

A further benefit of the law is that it distinguishes between damages for violations of copyright for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Basically, the penalties for copyright violation are greatly reduced for violates that result in non-commercial uses of copyrighted material.

It also adds some limitations for copyrighted material that may be quite difficult for educational instutions to manage. For example, if a student has received copyrighted course material in a course delivered via telecommunications technology (ie, any online course), educational instutions are expected to delete such work within 30 days of the end of the course, as defined by the date students received their end of course evaluations. This could end up be quite cumbersome for teachers, especially teachers who teach the same, or essentially the same, course many years in a row.


What is not addressed

Lawrence Lessig makes an excellent argument for an even greater expansion of user rights for copyrighted material, and Bill C-11 does not go as far as his vision of reformed copyright law. The digital rights management clause of Bill C-11 is problematic, as it almost certainly guarantees that we will continue to see the rise of digital rights management (DRM) materials, as the law allows for modification of work which has no DRM, and no modification of work with DRM included.

The law does not recognize that ideas themselves are often not generated in isolation, and that allowing for copyright on one portion of a work means that whomever gets to the copyright office first with a trademark, patent, or copyright request will hold copyright on ideas that may in fact be the culimation of many people’s work. Stephen Johnson describes how ideas are usually formed in networks, and that it can be difficult to attribute an idea to a specific individual. Copyright law still assumes this is not the case – that ideas are somehow formed in this magical ether separate from the rest of humanity. As Sir Isaac Newton observed, "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants [sic]."

Copyright law is generally biased toward people with the resources to fight for their copyright, and to promote their work over others. The new copyright law does not significantly address this inequality. We have situations around the world where companies are bought and sold because of the patents they hold, since the potential intellectual property rights of those patents is huge, regardless of whether those patents actually ever get used. We have potentially thousands of devices which could improve human existence which will never be created because they aren’t cost effective for the companies that hold the patent, and for which the patents are too expensive for small developers to afford.



Alberta (Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), 2012 SCC 37

Re:Sound v. Motion Picture Theatre Associations of Canada, 2012 SCC 38

Rogers Communications Inc. v. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, 2012 SCC 35

Entertainment Software Association v. Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, 2012 SCC 34

Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Bell Canada, 2012 SCC 36

Bill C-11, "An Act to Amend the Copyright Act", retrieved September 27th, 2012

Contact North, "The Perfect Storm: Canadian Copyright Law 2012", retrieved September 27th, 2012

Michael Geist, "Beyond Users’ Rights: Supreme Court Entrenches Technological Neutrality as a New Copyright Principle", retrieved September 27th, 2012

Larry Kueh, "Education is the big winner in copyright changes", retrieved September 27th, 2012

Talks that inspire change in schools

I was recently asked to share some talks which might inspire parents who have come from a traditional schooling system to think differently about how schools should be operated. Here is my list (please feel free to add your own in the comments below as I am sure I have missed some gems out there).

KT Pirquet on Homework in Math

The following was shared to me and I felt it deserved a wider audience, so with permission of the author, I am sharing it here. The author has asked me to point out that this writing is copyrighted by her, and that permission is required from her if you wish to copy it or publish it in another format. You can contact me through the contact link above if you want to get in touch with the author.



Ah, yes, homework.

To mark it? To leverage the pressure by counting the marks in the final average? Perchance not to assign it at all?  Why can’t we seem to settle this, or at least find a way to get students to do their homework without all this agony?  I believe we have met the enemy, and he looks familiar.

It is partly the system and partly ourselves creating this culture that teaches students in a perverse and relentless way to view the whole school experience as oppositional and adversarial, from mildly so to unbearable.  However, when most of the work of learning is handed over to students, when performance happens only as they feel ready and at low risk, when acts of learning are full of interesting, varied experiences and fun, when learning happens within a really functional community of interacting,supportive peers, when every stage is completed so that students are fully competent to move on to the next, and when many or most things to learn are self-chosen, students become almost driven to work hard, and for their own reasons.  Result:  they learn like clappers.  We all know it when we see it.  It’s what teachers live for.  

There are several sticking points on the way to achieving this, and then homework becomes almost a non-issue.  One is the absolute refusal of the system to give up some control, especially over timing.  The system overall has never paid anything but mealy-mouthed lip service to the part of our official Mission Statement that says people learn in different ways and at different rates.  We seem to say "Sure…yeah…but you still have to complete FOM10 in one semester, or X number of classes, or you FAIL, get no credit for learning anything, and have to start all over again."  "You have to move on to grade 6 now, and never mind all that grade 5 work you didn’t complete.  Good luck to you."

This leads to "squeaker passes" and the awful pattern of moving on to the next thing when not ready for it, and probably another fail.  It tells students in a loud voice that they don’t have to be really competent to "get out" of a year-grade or a course of study, and avoidance or disengagement has rewards (relief from stress, getting out of work they don’t want to do, elimination of risk, "sticking it to the man," declaring a pseudo-independence, status among peers, and more).  Remove these pernicious rewards, and their origins, and avoidance vanishes (perhaps after a short period of trying frantically to make it work again!).  Create an environment in which intrinsic rewards abound from genuine engagement, and they will come to the table.  If they engage learning it feels fabulous; if not….well…nothing.  And definitely not fabulous.  And no way out but another chance tomorrow to get ‘er done.  This is key:  we have to learn patience, and WAIT.

We have never just accepted that learning mathematics, for instance, is a  continuous process of acquiring knowledge and skills.  As a student, it just doesn’t matter to you what age-appropriate or development-appropriate peer group of fellow learners you are with this year, or where any of those kids are on the continuum, as long as you are somewhere on the continuum, moving steadily forward, and riding on a solid history of competence in all of the previous work.  We have to learn to trust kids to get there in their good time – with our help, of course. We have to let go of our insistence that every learner in a group must be nearly at the same place academically at any given time, and they all have to be doing the same thing at the same time, all day long.  

Step back a bit, and it looks as crazy as it really is.  Kids aren’t widgets and education is not mass manufacturing.  "Scientific management" was NEVER appropriate for schools, and never will be.  I am staggered by the human cost of this over the last two centuries, by the effects on millions of lives that we will never be able to guage fully, nor redeem.  Despite widespread, largely unfounded belief, it’s not even efficient.  In 2012, we know better, and yet we permit this one, tragically misguided set of notions about learning to dominate education worldwide to this day.

As competent, trained, experienced, caring adults, teachers do have the upper hand, but in many cases, we don’t use it as deftly as we could.  Observing where the real intrinsic rewards and natural consequences fall can be disturbing, but very helpful.  Interrupting the patterns of urging and resistance, of coercion and punishment, of risk and reward, means becoming very astute observers of what the school landscape feels like for students.  How can we change their view of school from jail-like institution to a resource-rich playground where the goodies are?

Piaget so rightly did advise us that play is, above all things, "the Great Work of children".  Play is hard work and results in rich, deep learning.  Children do not have to be forced to do it.  They are inwardly driven to play, and very inventive withal. Play is efficient, because it is child-selected, directed and timed; the energy and effort are focussed where they need to be, and exactly when. Maria Montessori proved how powerful this can be when we provide children with a truly rich environment, model civilized behaviour and true mentorship, and collaborate with children on their learning.  How can we transform ourselves from authoritarian keepers, lecturers and judges, to become preparers and guardians of rich learning environments, protectors, mentors, record-keepers, directors of traffic, facilitators and fellow-learners?  But that would mean reinventing our own identities somehow, and even adjusting our point of view, before we can transform learning in schools!

Another issue is our very difficult and uncomfortable relationship with the concept of evaluation.  Although we have all kinds of ways to determine whether a person can perform a skill or demonstrate knowledge at any number of levels of mastery (recognition, recall, application, synthesis, etc.), we are still collecting marks from early performance, or even formative stages, and averaging them with information from summative performance, sticking in some "credit" for what amounts to compliance or engagement attitudes, and claiming that this represents some kind of accurate picture of competence in a scope of challenges.  I have struggled with many iterations of this, none of them even in the ball park of real validity.  And none address the likelihood that skills may improve with time after instruction.

Many teachers do have a good grasp of the use of rubrics, checklists, and testing theory, and use them every day.  More and more are finding ways for students to demonstrate levels of mastery for summative evaluations that really do represent what students can do reliably and independently after learning and practice.  Too many of us are still wallowing in a miasma of mixed messages, imprecise language, unsupported beliefs, crossed wires, lack of guidance, administrative confusion and just plain muddleheadedness about what we’re really trying to do here.  And you can’t write comprehensive anecdotals on 150 kids every couple of months.  Get real.

The first thing is to admit that this is a much bigger, wholly systematic problem, and cannot be fixed with a few hints about marking or not marking homework.  We have work to do.  (Don’t we always?)  Psychologists speak of the "dances" of dysfunctionality, and admonish us that if we don’t like the dance we’re in, there’s only one way to move toward something better.  Each of us can only act individually; we can’t change others.  But if we change our own steps, we change the dance, and that can make all the difference.

When we do it together, we can change the world.

Oh, and in the short term, make a Big Deal of homework.  VALUE it.  Assign adjustable amounts of work (according to self-assessed need for gaining competence).  Assign tasks that are very high quality and meaningful.  Be sensitive to students’ need to have a life outside of school.  Teach students explicitly how to know when they can perform a task confidently and independently.  Set and insist on very high standards of work and presentation.  Talk about it, go over some of it in class.  Require completed, fully-documented corrections before checking off.  If it isn’t done right, it isn’t done.  Keep records.  Don’t count them, but show them to parents.  And there’s always after school.  On Friday. 😉

KT Pirquet

KT Pirquet is a professional writer/editor and retired high school mathematics and science teacher. Katie lives near Victoria, B.C., where she is currently a writing instructor at the Western Academy of Photography.