As Brad mentions in his blogpost, I must admit I’m one of the many teachers that constantly struggles with copyright laws. Now that we as teachers are entering a new adventure that encompasses the world of remote teaching, the lack of preparation and the lack of expertise will without a doubt lead to liberties being taken when it comes to respecting copyright laws. As much as I want to be lawful and follow all the guidelines such as those presented in the Fair Dealing Decision Tool, I find the world of copyright law to be a minefield of gray zones and difficult to interpret laws.
As we have seen with the lawsuits filed in Manitoba and many other parts of the world on behalf of publishers and authors, things can get very serious very quickly. One would think that with the breadth of the internet, avoiding copyright infringement would be easy. Unfortunately, this cannot be further from the truth. In my situation, as a French language science teacher, I have at my disposal a very restricted set of resources to teach my courses. Although there are many resources available on the internet, most are not very well developed for the context in which I teach. Consequently, as a minority language teacher, you’re in a constant mode of resource creation, modification and translation. The biggest issue is time, energy and expertise. Creating resource requires moderate amounts of time, moderate amounts of energy and large amounts of expertise. Modifying resources requires moderate amounts of time, moderate amounts of energy and moderate amounts of expertise. Translating resources takes, large amounts of time, large amounts of energy and large amounts of expertise. As one can attest, when having a full teaching load, students with special needs and having a panoply of external demands placed on me as regular classroom teacher, these three big issues of time, energy and expertise become a big factor. As a result, sticking to a textbook is a way for a teacher to survive.
With the cost of textbooks and the difficult financial situation of the world of education in the past few years, teachers are often dissuaded in acquiring class sets of books. What do we do when we have a few books and a classroom with 30+ students and no time for preparation and resource creation? Photocopies to the rescue! Many teachers know better, unfortunately, in many cases, there just doesn’t seem to be other options. It’s a risk that many seem willing to take for their own health and mental wellbeing.
In an ideal world all educational resources would be open-source, digital and free for all. There are many Open Educational Resources (OER) available out there that are making this dream a reality. One excellent example is the BC Opentext initiative that has amassed an impressive portfolio of open resources for use in many educational subject areas. Unfortunately, this movement is in its infancy and only meets the needs of specific slices of the educational world. After numerous hours of searching, I have yet to find anything of the same type in French, specifically for help teach science. The large book publishers seem to have cornered this very small segment of the market. Although I would love to start an open textbook initiative to French language science teachers, there are so few of us (less than dozen) and our needs are so different (each science curriculum is different in each province and in each French speaking country in the world) that there is almost no hope this type of project will ever come to fruition given my time, my energy and my expertise.
I’m once again confronted by the copyright wall out of pure necessity. Today, as I elaborate this post in my corner of the house where I’m tasked to develop and teach Health Science 20, Physics 30 and Biology 30, I’m struggling to find ways to get the content I need to transmit to my students without scanning and sending them pages from the textbooks I have. I guess the struggle will forever continue, but it would be so easy to take a few pictures of those resources and send them to my students.
UPDATE: I have found that one of the big French resource publishers, Chenelière, has provided temporary free online access to many of their textbooks in a wide variety of subjects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will help in the short term, but long term, I hope things change for the better.