Edtech policies (part II)

For the first post in my series on edtech privacy policies, terms of service and contracts, click here.

In his recent post You are not alone on the Salaita affair, Jonathan Rees comments on the social media policies enacted at the Colorado, Kentucky and New Mexico state systems. He encourages other professors to speak up:

Few of us can be sure whether or not our campus is really the canary in the higher education coal mine. However, better mine safety everywhere eventually benefits everyone with a pick and shovel. The more we professors talk to each other, both on social media and off, the better off we’ll all be when bad ideas surface that may someday affect us all.

—Jonathan Rees

The evocation of the canary is very beautiful. It resonates quite a bit: ETH Zurich was after all founded to help the Swiss develop their own railway systems. In any case, looking back at his writing, Rees has really dug in the Coursera labor practices. This seems like a good opportunity to continue my edtech policies series.

After some googling, one can easily find the Coursera Framework Agreement between Coursera Inc., a Delaware corporation [..] and the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado [..] for the benefit of the University of Colorado Boulder.


Independently of any stereotype that as an academic I hate capitalism, another stereotype could be that I also quite like to read contracts. Of course this one makes for a particularly interesting read: it is supposed to hint at how MOOCs will be sustainable for the UC system and how Coursera, Inc. will outlast its 85M dollars "gifts" from venture capital.

The contract details the various rights and obligations of the parties involved, the different Coursera monetization strategies (ten instead of the eight like in the 2012 Michigan contract), the Course Acceptance Procedures, the responsibility of the University Advisory Board when things go wrong, etc. Of particular interest to me is how it already packages in Exhibit G-1 the relationship between an instructor and the university.

It also includes the following gem:

I hereby release, discharge, and promise not to sue Company and its affiliates, successors and assigns from and against any and all claims, demands, costs and/or causes of actions of any nature arising out of or in connection with the exercise of any rights herein granted, including, without limitation, any claim for infringement, right of publicity, libel, slander, defamation, moral rights, invasion of privacy or violation of any other rights relating to any Content I upload, share or otherwise provide in connection with use of the Platform.

—Exhibit G-1, Form of Agreement for Instructors and Guest Presenters

In other words, IANAL but once the instructor signs this, s/he is giving free pass to Coursera for any libel, slander, defamation, invasion of privacy etc against her/himself. I don't know the backstory on how the faculty at Colorado accepted this, but would be very interested. At UCSC, the collective bargaining chapter has on the other hand been very critical, as has been discussed in part I of this series.

Rees' words on this are very apt, to his credit a year ago already:

At some point you have to realize that you do not work in a vacuum. Teaching a MOOC or not teaching a MOOC, speaking out in favor of them or remaining silent – these things all have an effect on the rest of your profession. You can’t just declare that MOOCs are the future and let the chips fall where they may. You have the ability to influence what kind of future we’ll all face.

—Jonathan Rees (Labor Day 2013)

Can we guess what XXIst century education might guarantee in terms of labor rights? Is there an online strike clause in any of them? All I could find is called Force Majeure:

Each party is excused from performance of this Agreement (other than for any payments due) and will not be liable for any delay in whole or in part caused by the occurrence of any contigency beyond the reasonable control of such Party. These contigencies include, without limitation, war, sabotage, insurrection, riot or other acts of civil disobedience, act of public enemy, failure or delay in transportation, act of government or any agency or subdivision thereof affecting the terms of this Agreement or otherwise, judicial action, labor dispute, student disorders, accident, fire, explosion, flood, severe weather, natural disaster or other act of God, shortage of labor, hardware failure, interruptions or failure of the Internet or third-party network connections or incapacity of an instructor.

Force majeure clause 19.6 of University of Colorado Boulder contract (emphasis mine)

I don't know if those risks are sorted in any way, but can't help but notice that act of God sits right between labor dispute and failure of the Internet.

Apparently Rees has a show on the road. The title is Educational Technology, Budgetary Priorities and Academic Freedom. Should be good.