Back to the blackboard


Together with my colleagues I am responsible for a significant number of courses. Courses that make up a variety of programs, both in the Bachelor's and the Master's. With over two-thousand students, the basic course Data Analytics for Engineers managed by Natalia Sidorova is unquestionable the frontrunner. With a group as large as this, exceptional situations are bound to arise, but one in particular stands out.

Natalia drew to my attention the fact that a huge amount of material is being distributed online by students. Material that lecturers have made available on Canvas is simply being copied to other websites and from there, shared with the world. Lecture slides, exam questions with solutions, everything has been made freely available online to the entire world by our students. What most students don't seem to realize is that all this material is copyright protected and that means they have absolutely no right to distribute it.

Having learned of this, I went looking for my own course codes. I advise all lecturers to do the same sometime. You soon come across websites where, indeed, your lecture material has been posted. Old exam papers with solutions, for example, or books. Among all the material, it was this that surprised me most. The old exam papers and the books that I use are all freely available to all TU/e students. They can download them from Canvas or from the publisher's website and the TU/e foots the bill. So why would you distribute any of this again illegally? It turns out that these websites reward the students doing this with ‘points’. They have turned the illegal distribution of material into a game.

As a result of this game element, the students' names are simply known. After all, students are posting the material to get points and these sites exist thanks to the data provided by these students. Students that post a lot material can upgrade their 'contributor level'. You can find many students of our university who are participating in this 'game'.

No there's no doubt in my mind. I'm going to stop sharing material on Canvas. I'll just go back to using the blackboard. Drawing pictures with colored chalks and telling a story. No fuss and bother with copyright or illegal uploads. And students who share their own notes online? Fine, that's allowed. As in the past, they can make photos and videos only with permission and only for personal use.

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