In this module we focus our attention on legal issues and government legislation that have an impact on the online classroom. These issues include:

Each topic is considerable enough to comprise a course in its own right; however, we will do our best to provide a brief overview of each, and point you in the direction of resources that can help answer any further questions. 


Learning Objectives

At the end of this module, participants will be able to:


Glossary of Key Terms

Photo of a dictionary definition Alt Tag - Short for alternate text, Alt tag text displays when a user places the mouse over a graphic. Alt tags should convey what the graphic is or about.

Fair Use - A U.S. doctrine that allows for the limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review.

Creative Commons - A non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon and legally share.

Copyright infringement - The unauthorized use of material that is covered by copyright law. Involves the violation of the copyright owner's exclusive rights.

Public Domain – Works within the public domain are considered copyright-free. Anyone can use them in any way and for any purpose. To avoid plagiarism, proper attribution to the author or source is still required.

Section 508 – Effective in June 21, 2001, Section 508 requires Federal departments and agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology to assure that these technologies provide access to information and data for people with disabilities.

Screen Readers - Software applications that work by 'reading' the behind the scenes coding on a web page. Screen readers attempt to identify and interpret what is being displayed on the screen.  This interpretation is then re-presented to the user with text-to-speech, sound icons, or a Braille output device.


Big Idea - Copyright and Fair Use

Photo of multiple cds Heading to the photocopier and not sure what you can or cannot copy for your students? Recording a documentary on PBS you would like your students to view?

What you can and cannot do with other authors' creative works is subject to issues related to copyright and Fair Use.

Copyright law and Fair Use guidelines are complex issues. Although copyright law is cut and dry in terms of its definition, Fair Use is much more subjective.

Copyright gives the author of an original work exclusive rights for a certain period of time in relation to a particular piece of work. Rights refer to the publication, distribution and adaptation of the creative work. After a given period of time, the work is said to enter the public domain.

Fair Use is a U.S. doctrine that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review.

Questions as to what defines "limited" and "fair" can be a matter of interpretation depending on the intention of the materials being used.

Here's How - Copyright and Fair Use

Ann Holder is the Director of Library Services and Copy Rights at the Newton Gresham Library, Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. In the following video she discusses some of the common misconceptions faculty have with respect to Copyright and Fair Use.


From the Field - Copyright and Fair Use

Photo of a library book Activity

To guide you through these complex issues, Ann highly recommends the Crash Course in Copyright from the University of Texas Library.

There are many links to go through in this tutorial. At the end, you will be asked to take a quiz to review your understanding of the issues. (You will need to enter your name and email address to receive your score.)

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: Do you have any further questions and/or resources related to copyright and/or Fair Use?



Big Idea – Creative Commons

A conversation regarding Copyright law and Fair Use would not be complete without a mention of Creative Commons (CC).

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization working to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) available to the public for sharing, using, repurposing and remixing. To learn more, watch the following video. 

Here's How - Creative Commons

In another module, Trends in Online Learning, we discuss the number of schools and institutions, such as MIT and Princeton, who are now making their course materials freely available on the Web.Creative commons logo.

The move towards "open access to content" means that increasingly, copyright holders are making books, music, and other creative works available under licenses that grant anyone permission to copy and make other uses of the works without specific permission or a royalty payment.


Find resources on the Creative Commons site you can share, remix and reuse. Choose one of the categories along the top, for example, Google images.

Enter a key word from your subject area. Keep adding keywords to narrow your search.

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: What are some creative ways to introduce the concepts of copyright, fair use and Creative Commons to younger students?

From the Field – Creative Commons

Dr. Lawrence Lessig One of the founding members of Creative Commons is Lawrence Lessig.

Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society.

Several of his best-selling books, such as the future of ideas, are available for free download on his site.

To review some of the concepts introduced in this section, complete the exercise below.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 







Big Idea - Protecting Student Information

Photo of middle schools students arm in arm Another piece of government legislation that impacts the classroom and one of which you should be aware is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Federal law protects the privacy of student education records and grants parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.

On the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) website, guidelines for the protection of student's education information are clearly outlined. This site provides information on what you can and cannot share with parents and the community.

Here's How - Protecting Student Information


Read through the FERPA website, especially if you are considering circulating any contact information about your students to members of your school community. In the following activity we explore several scenarios that refer to this law.

Scenario 1
You are a middle school classroom teacher, and would like to circulate a phone list of students to other members of the class so that they can be in touch with each other outside of classroom hours to form study groups.

Can you do this? >>

Scenario 2
You are a professor at a community college. Your students are requesting a contact list (phone numbers and emails) of other students in the class, since a number of your course assignments include project work. 

Can you do this? >>  

Big Idea - Section 508Photo of a young boy with headphones

The final legal issue we will explore is the US Federal Section 508 certification guidelines.

Section 508, effective June 21, 2001, requires Federal departments and agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology to assure that these technologies provide access to information and data for people with disabilities.

For online teachers, this means thinking about the design of online curriculum to ensure it is accessible to all learners.


For a thorough overview of accessibility issues, we highly recommend spending time on the WebAIM Introduction to Accessibility Website. This site provides a thorough overview of issues related to technology and learning.

Be sure to watch the videos in this introduction, as they provide a thorough overview of some of the issues online instructors need to consider.

Here's How - Section 508

The AIM site provides a comprehensive overview and practical strategies for four categories of disabilities.

On the following pages, you will find information regarding each category, along with a summarized list of strategies for use in the online classroom. Check each category overview for more information.

Visual Disabilities

Online Strategies


Visual Overview

  • Limit the amount of times you require learners to use a mouse and try to supply keyboard alternatives (for example, tabbing from link to link).
  • Provide Alt tags for images, photos and graphics. (See sidebar for more information.)
  • If your students are listening to web pages using screen readers, allow them the option of skipping over navigational menus and long lists that might be difficult or tedious to listen to.
  • Make links meaningful within the context of your writing. For example, "Click here" is problematic. 
  • When using tables, consider what it is like for learners to listen to the content of table cells. Provide column and row headers and try to ensure each cell make sense when read row by row from left to right. 
  • Provide text summaries of complex tables and graphs.       
  • Avoid using colors to convey meaning. Try to think of alternative ways to highlight information.



Here's How - Section 508


Auditory and Motor Disabilities

Online Strategies

Auditory Overview

  • Provide transcripts for audio clips.
  • Provide synchronous captioning and transcripts for video clips.

Motor Overview


  • Since learners may not be able to use the mouse, ensure all functions are available from the keyboard (for example, tabbing from link to link). This is also critical for students using voice-activated software.
  • If learners have difficulty controlling the mouse or the keyboard, creating small links or moving links will be problematic.
  • Provide a method for skipping over long lists of links or other lengthy content.



Here's How - Section 508


Cognitive Disabilities

Online Strategies


Cognitive Overview


  • Keep lengthy interactive processes as simple and brief as possible.
  • Break long interaction into separate pages, while allowing learners to keep track of their progress.
  • Provide simple reminders such as "step 2 of 4" to help learners keep track of what they have already done and what is left to do.
  •  Provide clear instructions at the start of any task.
  • Avoid making extreme changes in how you deliver your course without first warning students. Course navigation should be as predictable as possible, or at least proceeded by warnings and/or explanations as to why any changes might be occurring.
  • Use headings or visual cues to focus the attention of learners. Avoid background noises or images that distract. Use bulleted and numbered lists.
  • Leave white space.
  • Provide information in multiple formats.





From the Field - Section 508

Photo of Beth Case In the following audio recording, Beth Case, Research Associate with the School of Education at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX discusses several strategies teachers can use in their online classrooms for teaching students with disabilities. Scroll down and click the grey arrow to begin. (The recording is 4:20 mins. There is no video component).






From the Field - Section 508


Visit the following resources for further information regarding teaching students with disabilities. Feel free to suggest some more.

Discussion Question: Any suggestions for further resources?

Complete the review exercise below.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 


Photo of a student talking to a teacher In the course of this module we have outlined three legal issues that impact online education.

With respect to Copyright law and Fair Use guidelines, we recommended the Crash Course in Copyright from the University of Texas Library.

We outlined the protection of student information provided in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Last, we reviewed the US Federal Section 508 guidelines for student accessibility. We reviewed some of the key tenets of this legislation and provided practical steps you can take to ensure materials in your online course are accessible to all learners.

The WebAIM site is a wonderful resource from which we have based most of our materials.

With respect to each legal matter, we have tried to point you in the direction of finding the extra resources to ensure information on these issues stays current and exact.

The Final Assessment follows the References.


Copyright. (2009, September 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:17, September 17, 2009, from 

Creative Commons. Retrieved August 10 25, 2009 from

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), US Department of Education. Retrieved August 10, 2009 from

Harper, G. (2001). Copyright Crash Course Online Tutorial, University of Texas Library. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from

Search Engine Genie, Search Engine Glossary. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from

Teaching Students with Disabilities, Disabled Students' Program, University of California Berkley. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from

Teaching Students with Disabilities, Faculty Resource Guide, York University. Retrieved September 25, 2009, from

WebAIM: Web Accessibility in Mind. Retrieved August 14, 2009 from

Final Assessment

Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.

 Question 1

 Question 2

 Question 3