Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Instructions in ethics for instructors

Every now and then I read laments about student plagarism and the problems with increasing amounts of information floating about on the web. I suspect that some of the problems might result from college students modeling the behavior that they see from their instructors. Even things that are done with the best of intentions, like copying parts of books for students to save them some money, might be misconstrued by the students as examples of acceptable behavior. If their teachers do it, it must be okay.

So, I've compiled a set of ethical guidelines for college instructors. Feel free to comment.

Ethical guidelines for college instructors

  1. If you use lecture notes that you found on the Internet, ask the author for permission before removing someone's name and posting them on the net yourself.

  2. (After all, you never know when the original person who wrote them will discover them posted on the Internet under your name or get the spam mail about the new course from your organization. It happens.)

  3. If you use materials that someone else developed, credit the source. If you make modifications, you can always say, "based on an activity by so and so."
    (Many people have done this with materials that I wrote. Thanks!!!! I always appreciate this.)

  4. Do not retype instructions from a book that you purchased so that you can avoid trouble from the school copy center.

    (One instructor, that I worked with, used to give students a 30-page handout that I thought was a pretty impressive piece of work. As least I was impressed until I looked at the lab manual we were using and realized that her hand-out was identical, down to the word.)

  5. Materials can be copyrighted even if someone forgot to put a statement to that effect at the bottom of a web page.
    (Believe it or not, this rule comes from an audience question at a conference where I was invited to speak. One of the attendees had compiled an interesting curriculum from materials they found on the Internet. They were surprised and miffed because a program officer told them they couldn't just put other people's materials on a CD and sell them overseas, without permission from the authors.)

  6. Assume that everything you didn't develop is protected by copyright. Images are copyrighted too, unless it's explicitly stated that they are not.

  7. Materials that are developed at a college are governed by the faculty agreement at that college. If you are paid by the college as a contractor, the college may own the materials that you develop.

  8. Even material produced by companies should be considered copyrighted.
    (I have found that some people in education apply different ethical standards to crediting academic materials and things that they use from companies. I had the amazing experience of asking an outreach educator why his course web page didn't reference Geospiza as the source for one of our tutorials. They did list sources for other materials. He told me, without even blinking, that they only reference academic groups, and never anything from companies.)


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