The LawLast week I attended (and presented) at Web 2.0 Senior Managers Workshop – Liability and Law a JISC Legal event.  The session focused on the legal implications of using Web 2.0 services (e.g. Facebook & YouTube) in teaching and research.  My 5-min overview of Web 2.0 use in HE was followed by scenario-based presentations from Alison Bryce & Gillian Cordall from Maclay Murray & Spens LLP.

The scenarios & presentations touched on a wide range of potential issues including data protection & privacy, intellectual property, discrimination against students with disabilities, liability for content and copyright.  Further details of the issues are available on the JISC Legal website [link to follow].

The main problem identified was not the Web 2.0 services themselves but a lack of understanding about how the services worked and the potential issues.  It was suggested that there are two approaches needed to deal with the legal implications of using Web 2.0: Regulation & Education.

Regulation – institutions should make sure their IT conditions of use for both staff and students encompass Web 2.0 services.  It was suggested that this might include some kind of a “Web 2.0 Project” policy that requires staff to sign an “agreement of understanding” (my phrase!)  if they are going to use external services in their teaching or research.

Education  – the main focus, and the one that interests me, needs to be guidance & support.  As the lawyers pointed out really it’s all about informed decisions.  We need to make staff & students aware of the pitfalls and regularly.  Having a policy is fine but making everyone aware of it and understanding the issues is key. This is quite a challenge… ‘Web 2.0 & the Law’ workshops are unlikely to pack them in, so we need to be more subtle. For me a  key approach is to get staff taking advantage of these services on a personal basis – which would both sell the potential benefits for teaching and allow the issues to be highlighted.  Our Web 2.0 sessions in the Library’s  e-literacy programme already do this but it’s an area we’ll be looking to expand on this year.