Cooking with Meggy

Cooking with Meggy is a multi-touch book that I created for the Meggy Jr., a handheld video game device that I have been using in my Introduction to Computer Science classes. It was my first self-published book, and it filled a need that wasn’t being met; there were no books about coding for this device, so I created and published my own. This inspired other teachers to start publishing their own content, and now our school has a number of teachers who have created and published original content on their own. Along the way, it has pushed our school to explore important questions of copyright and intellectual property with respect to the work that teachers create while at the school.

With iBooks Author and the iBookstore, publishing has never been easier. We are encouraging teachers to develop their own books to further their own professional development, as well as for use by their own students. One question that has arisen for leadership is what the appropriate share of royalties should be for the teacher, and for the school. Because it costs nothing to open an iBookstore account, teachers could just as easily publish using their own iBookstore account, as use the School’s. This would allow the teacher to keep all the proceeds, and retain ownership of the material even after leaving the School. Yet a number of these books were created using school resources, such as a school-owned laptop or as part of a paid sabbatical or fellowship grant. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions during our iBooks Author trainings is precisely, what is the school’s split of the revenue from the work done on the book, since the teachers are primarily developing the work on their own time and with very little input from the school. Teachers are understandably reluctant to take on a new publishing project without a definitive answer.

One leadership challenge and opportunity for me has been to push the School to think about these issues, and to try to define what the scope of a teacher’s work is. For example, we have a number of teachers on our faculty who are wonderful at what they do because of their real-world experience as practicing artists, or active novelists. If a teacher develops an original work while employed by the School, is that work simply a natural expression of that teacher’s art, or is it a work that is commissioned by the School, that would not have otherwise been written? What if it incorporates scenes or examples from that teacher’s work with students? Are we employing teachers who write, or writers who teach? What we are finding is that lawyers tend to recommend the most restrictive terms that are most favorable to the School, and yet we are trying to find a balance that is fair to teachers also while protecting the School from being taken advantage of.

Another separate challenge for us has been teacher education around copyright. We still have a number of teachers who create books using images dragged in from Google Images. We have decided as an organization that anything that is published under the School’s brand will be entirely original copyright, or copyright-cleared material either by direct permission of the artist, or through a Creative Commons license. The problem is that many teachers either think small (“it’s just for my own classroom, no one else will see it”) or misunderstand what fair use means (“it’s covered under fair use because it’s educational”). This has created an opportunity for us to exercise leadership by educating our faculty about copyright and fair use, and requiring a meeting with one of us before they begin writing their books.

When I created my little book on coding, I got a firsthand look at all of the questions and issues we would be dealing with in the years to come as the publishing floodgates opened. From a leadership standpoint, the most valuable thing I did was to actually engage in the task that we were trying to encourage our faculty to do. It led by example, and helped us to get out in front of the issues and control the message before we created precedents that would have been difficult to back out of later.

© Douglas Kiang 2020