Glocalising digital education: challenges and opportunities

November 28, 2019

Australian Association for the Teaching of English Treasurer and Reading Australia Secondary Resources Manager, Phil Page, was invited by the International Publishers Association to speak at a side event for the World Intellectual Property Organisation Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights in Geneva in October.

Phil and the AATE are passionate advocates for the value of educational publishing. This is his speech, reprinted with permission.

It is indeed a delight to be here today and to be able to speak to you at this important event, and to share with you one Australian teacher’s 50-year experience as a user, creator, publisher, monitor and reviewer of educational content in hard copy, combined textual and digital forms and purely digital formats within a context, designed to meet and serve our own specific national circumstances.

Whilst this context may not be applicable to other national and international jurisdictions and their educational sectors, what I am about to describe certainly fulfils Australian requirements through a fair and balanced licensing system which incorporates appropriate exceptions and limitations’ arrangements for educational institutions. I offer this perspective to other jurisdictions and am keen to hear and learn from them as to their experiences.

Since the establishment of Australia’s Copyright Agency in 1974 and its subsequent statutory appointment as the Collective Management Organisation (CMO) for the country, I have worked in schools as a teacher, a user and creator of educational content, a school principal, and, after my retirement from full-time teaching, as the Treasurer and publishing project manager for my national professional teaching organisation, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, later referred to as AATE.

In this role I have led and/or project-managed the development and publication of a very wide range of digital educational materials and have managed our own small hard copy and digital publishing enterprises.

This has incorporated work for governmental statutory authorities including:

  • Educational Services Australia, which produces digital content across all
    curriculum areas for school use
  • the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) – the
    teacher registration oversight body – producing digital and video content
    for the professional learning and growth of teachers
  • the Asia Education Foundation, for the provision of digital teaching
    resources to assist in closer relationships with countries in our region,
    and even,
  • work for our national financial watchdog ASIC (the Australian Securities
    and Investments Commission), producing digital materials for the
    teaching of financial literacy within schools.

Beyond the governmental or statutory authority sphere, I have worked with AATE to transition between print and digital resource production and publication and have partnered with cultural and philanthropic organisations including:

  • the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund
  • various podcasters and writers’ groups
  • not-for-profit arts’ organisations
  • other commercial publishers, including Australia’s oldest First Nations’
    publisher, Magabala Books, and
  • our own AATE digital publishing arm to produce digital or combined
    media/digital educational materials.

In all of these publishing undertakings AATE has always worked alongside or has directly employed practising teacher/members, highly experienced educational specialists or academics to create, review and publish this extraordinarily diverse educational content. Teachers as creators is one of the hallmarks of quality Australian digital resource publication and is one of which we are justifiably very proud. In the eight years AATE has been involved with digital resources we have engaged well over a hundred practising teachers, educational and cultural specialists and academics to write, review or manage
our work.

It’s well worth noting that AATE is not the only publisher to harness the expertise of practising educational specialists and teachers for its educational publications – it’s a relatively common occurrence in Australia; although we would obviously claim that we do it best. Indeed, AATE’s volunteer commissioning editor is a full-time classroom teacher in a Western Australian school, and our latest major publication (digital and hard copy) has been written by a full-time teacher and a full-time assistant principal in separate, large Tasmanian schools. Working with teacher creators, AATE – a small publisher by any standards – has been involved in or responsible for the publication of well over 150 sets and compendiums of digital resources and texts, and is currently engaged in the production of some 25 ongoing projects – some major, some minor. Additionally, we have plans to further expand our digital production to include simple, accessible and cheap, classroom-ready materials for purchase and download by teachers and/or schools.

“We believe that our national regulatory framework is excellent, striking the right balance between paid and freely accessible material produced specifically for our national conditions.”

In all of these endeavours our content producers have been remunerated fairly and well for their expertise and effort. Teachers and educational specialists, working outside their normal classroom working hours –  and in conjunction with for-profit and not-for-profit publishers –  produce extensively researched, carefully planned and specifically targeted material, designed to fill a gap or need in the educational resource landscape. The material is localised and relevant and encourages innovation and excellence.

The creators’ and publishers’ intellectual property rights are well-protected under the CMO, Copyright Agency’s, rules, and appropriate royalty payments are received when such material is copied or re-used.
Whether the digital materials have been published via sponsorship from cultural bodies, through other government agencies or authorities, commercial publishers, or by ourselves, the content creators and their publishers have been remunerated or have received funding for the particular publication. Ongoing use of these materials is regulated via a very fair and flexible system with a robust arrangement for exceptions and limitations which I will come to shortly.

The Copyright Agency monitors usage of these materials and collects licensing fees and royalties for payment directly back to the creators and publishers. On its 40th anniversary in 2014, some $2.4 billion had been returned to content creators and publishers.

Through this revenue and process, creativity, innovation and quality are encouraged and promoted. Nowhere is this more evident in the quality of the work being produced by Australian creators across all educational sectors. This trend is continuing with the exponential growth in the digital sphere and particularly in the realm of quality educational content. In a world flooded by often mediocre, if not dubious digital content across all media platforms: film, television, radio, news sites, blogs and music, to name but some, the educational world too is awash with content volume rather than content quality – and like the truth – quality is very often the first casualty.

In such a world, there is a pressing need for high quality digital educational material as well as traditional textual resources designed and matched to the context for which they have been produced. An excellent example of this is the recent 2019 Australian Educational Publishing Awards. AATE and its not-for-profit partner, The Red Room Poetry Company won the award for the most outstanding secondary education resource for 2019 for its poetry resource, Poems to Share II, against an exceptional field of over 20 commercially published textual and digital resources.

Phil Page with the EPAA Award for ‘Poems to Share II’. Photo: Lindsay Edwards.

Our resource is a combined textual and digital publication, with the digital teaching resources made available on payment of the modest purchase price. This poet-, teacher- and student-created material provides textual and digital content of exceptional quality and in so doing remunerates its home-grown creators, resource writers and publishers fairly.

The Australian copyright management system, suited to our particular national needs and with efficient and effective exceptions and limitations provisions, has proved essential to the protection of intellectual property rights, and, hence, to the continuing production and publication of excellent digital materials. Only through the payment of publishers and creators – from whatever source: government, statutory authority, philanthropic body, cultural and arts’ funding bodies or via direct user payment, can such tailored, quality work be done and the expanding needs of the educational sector met.

Via the Australian CMO, its member-funded Cultural Fund invests substantially in the production of freely available online educational materials for Australian teachers. The results of this endeavour – Reading Australia – have seen the publication of over 170 exceptional and extensively supported digital teaching resources for Australian literature, which are all freely available online to anyone in Australia or beyond.

The Cultural Fund provides the financial support to the content producers and publishers and the intellectual property rights remain with the creators/publishers. It is an ideal educational publishing scenario which provides the funding for free resources by way of the copyright licensing fees and royalties paid by users. 1.5% of the CMO’s licensing revenue is directed to the Cultural Fund, or around $2 million ach year. An enormous amount is achieved through this modest funding.

As well as being creators of digital educational content, Australian teachers are also great consumers of online teaching materials. The system of exceptions and limitations, as it applies to educational bodies, has stood the test of time, and provides an optimal balance between availability and accessibility of content and the payment of appropriate licensing fees. Each jurisdiction’s educational sectors pay an annual licensing fee based on the number of students within the system to the CMO.

Via an auditing process, usage and copying of materials is monitored and the creators/publishers paid accordingly. AATE’s small not-for-profit publishing enterprise receives relatively substantial payments each year through the monitoring and auditing process. Licensed users, such as educational institutions are party to very substantial exceptions and limitations to the normal content usage rules. This means that within their schools, teachers have great scope to copy and reproduce materials for use in their classrooms – a huge boost to their teaching repertoire.

This long-standing arrangement also carries some risks. Teachers who have grown up with this system – it’s all they know – often think that the exceptions and exclusions applicable within their schools also apply to their separate work outside of school. This is definitely not the case, and often we find teachers applying the same exceptions to their outside work as those which apply only within their schools. As a response, our professional teaching organisation has embarked on an educational program to alert and inform teachers as to their rights and responsibilities both within and without their workplaces.

It’s a task born out of long acceptance of the current copyright provisions and one which we, as a teaching organisation, are well-equipped and happy to take on board. It is also a successful collaboration involving teachers and teaching representative bodies working with creators and publishers.

Another risk is the fraudulent use of our digital materials whereby unscrupulous individuals sell or re-sell our member-only materials via various online sharing sites as if it is their own content. A difficult problem, but one which we are endeavouring to address. Despite these difficulties, and whilst there is no doubt room for improvement in a range of areas, we believe that our national regulatory framework is
excellent, striking the right balance between paid and freely accessible material produced specifically for our national conditions.

In my experience as a teacher and school leader, all Australian professional teaching associations recognise the value of a robust regulatory framework that protects the Intellectual Property rights of creators and publishers and which offers their members workable and efficient exceptions and exclusions, thus allowing them to freely utilise an ever-widening range of digital resources. The licensing
fees paid by educational sectors to our CMO allow this to happen seamlessly.

An imagined worst case scenario alternative of a non-regulated, open-door, free-for-all approach would see an immediate and marked decline in the quality of locally produced digital material – or indeed its disappearance altogether; the speedy demise of local publishers both large and small and concomitantly, their commitment to their national markets; teachers and educators left with no yardstick against which to assess resources – in effect at sea in a vast ocean of impossible to differentiate content – and most significantly, blatant disregard for the intellectual property rights of publishers and creators, including teacher creators.

In its place what would we see? Most likely masses of content of questionable or no merit suffocating what’s left of the quality materials – a bit like the Great Northern Pacific Garbage Patch where huge volumes of plastic garbage clog the ocean surface, stifling movement and life within and through it – and presented in formats in which educational content would take very much a secondary role to the algorithmically targeted and generated advertising platforms that it would need to survive.

… and my response: “No thanks. What we have already works very well for all of us and most notably for our teachers and their students.”

Phil Page
Australian Association for the Teaching of English
Secondary Resources Manager, Reading Australia Project

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