Ph. is taking an online class this summer: LS211: Introduction to the Humanities. It’s a class I know well. I first developed the online version several years ago2002 and taught it a handful of times, including every summer during my tour de PhD. I was the course developer for, I don’t know, seven years right up until I landed in Ypsilanti.
Now two years later, I encouraged him to enroll in this particular course because he needs it for his major, and I thought there was a chance the main textbook might still be in use and a few crumbs of the course I’d designed might be lingering in the new version. All this amounts to is a faint hunch that we could have some conversations about the course materials–in-family supplemental instruction.
You can imagine my surprise–and horror–when Ph. received as a welcome email an message I wrote many years ago as a template for other instructors to adapt when welcoming student into the course. What a peculiar turn, this message in a bottle, from me to students in the early oughts, then with details removed as a template from me to instructors of the course, then minimally modified from an instructor to Ph. late last week.
The class begins for Ph. today. In fact, he just shared with me a Google Doc with the major project assignment (because I was curious; plus he is working in my office today), and, indeed, it is the very assignment prompt I created a half decade ago. I’m baffled, conflicted. I mean, I know it was work-for-hire. I know the other school “owns” these course materials. I know they are entitled by contract law to redistribute and make money on every scrap of material I put into that course. And even though this situation hints at odd and unsettling pedagogical practices (for a course–ironically–we paid tuition for), and even though I am not crazy about the idea that Ph. would be taking a course dependent upon such an aging bundle, I am nevertheless reassured by what feels like stepping through a wormhole, i.e., that the course is solidly enough developed that materials I wrote and assembled several years ago could still be sound today. It’s a principle to teach by, I suppose: create classes you would like for your children to take one day (and understand that if you sign a contract releasing work-for-hire, you just might end up paying tuition for them to take it).