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Occasionally, my university gives me outside work to design courses for other teachers or graduate students. This includes course books and other complete materials so that teachers using them have little to prepare.

How do schools typically arrange the payments for course designs?

  • Are course designs typically only made in a one-time payment, with intellectual property transferred to the university?
  • Is it at all typical for course designers to ask to retain intellectual property rights and to receive continued fees for each semester that a course is used?
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As you changed the question to be more specific, I'll add a separate answer:

How do schools typically arrange the payments for course designs?

At the universities I have been associated with, a course is designed by the professor that teaches it, or as a collaboration between multiple faculty that are teaching separate sections. Many times you will find that intro courses that are taught by multiple faculty are still independently created -- a Calculus I course can be drastically different when taught by two different professors even if they are teaching it during the same semester. I would not recommend this, but it is frequently done this way. Savvy students will try to take the section with the professor who has the best reviews. Depending on the school, this is one forcing function for better teaching, although not a particularly good one.

To answer the question (Peter Shor's comment notwithstanding), course design is generally part of the duties associated with being a professor, and no extra payment or duty relief is garnered. I have never seen a case where payment is given for course design at the collegiate level. That is not to say that it isn't done, but I haven't seen it. I have, however, seen many cases where one professor will give all class notes, homework assignments, and tests to another professor in order to build his or her course from those materials, but this is done out of good will and not for payment.

Are course designs typically only made in a one-time payment, with intellectual property transferred to the university?

I have never heard of a royalty agreement for course design, and I would be very surprised if you could get such a deal. Universities do work out deals with textbook publishers for reduced rates on course materials if the book will be required for a class, but that is different from asking a particular professor/instructor to design a course.

Is it at all typical for course designers to ask to retain intellectual property rights and to receive continued fees for each semester that a course is used?

No. The bottom line is that courses are (read: should be) mutable entities that change with the times, and with the person teaching them. This is not to say that there shouldn't be a standard for a course, but I find it hard to believe that a college or university department would hand an instructor a set of materials and dictate that the course must be taught exactly in accordance with the set of lesson plans, with the same materials. I am all for providing helpful materials for instructors (as well as standards), but dictating them removes the creativity from the act of teaching, and limits the ability to prepare new material for the class.

To get off my soapbox: if you can design a course that your department will buy lock, stock, and barrel, and then you can convince them to pay you each time the course is used, go for it. You'll have to convince them that the course will indeed be viable next year and the year after, etc., but they may be willing to buy your argument. My suggestion is to work out the best deal you can for a one time payment, and move on.

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Did you agree to design the courses before talking about payment? I don't know if you have any recourse at this point as there was never a contract in place. I would guess that had you inquired ahead of time, your superiors would probably have asked someone else to do it for free, as that is probably what they were expecting.

If there is a system in place for paying you for the course design, I would assume it would be a one-time payment with no residual payments, and you should work that out before beginning design. If you can work something out where you do get royalties down the road, that also needs to be in a contract, and I would be very surprised if you were able to pull it off (but good luck!).

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    +1 for "...asked someone else to do it for free, as that is probably what they were expecting". – JeffE Jul 11 '13 at 15:20
  • Excellent answer. They will likely want it for free (but you might be able to get a one time payment for it). I can't imagine you could get royalties each time it is used. At least I've never heard of a school agreeing to something like that. – earthling Jul 12 '13 at 1:21
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    You should be paid for course design; it's a lot of work. Tenured professors at universities, whose job descriptions include a lot of other duties besides teaching, often get teaching relief when they are doing course design. – Peter Shor Jul 12 '13 at 15:21
  • I have edited my question so less emphasis is placed on my personal situation, as I simply want to know how universities typically arrange payment for course designs. – Village Jul 14 '13 at 11:43
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    I think they typically don't arrange payment for course designs. (Most of my colleagues have designed courses, but I don't know anyone who was paid for their course design. It's just part of he normal faculty workload.) – JeffE Jul 15 '13 at 2:23
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I think the main dividing line in cases as you describe would be between if you had your own company producing courses and "licensing" them to the university and being contracted as a consultant for doing what you are doing. In the latter case you are being paid to produce something for the university and in doing so waive rights to the product. I do not want to get into the copyright regulations because you will need to find out what the university and your contract says (and that may not be very clear). If you licensed a course, things would be different since then your license would state under what conditions the product can be used and you could ask for a fee every time the course is given.

The main unclear part of all of this is where the intellectual rights (immaterial property) lie. I think you could produce a course under your current contract but retain copyright on materials in the course. Again you probably need the help of a lawyer to find out what is possible. Again you need t look at how the contract or university regulations stipulate such rights. If they do not then national or international laws apply.

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