Sunday, March 7, 2010

Creative Commons and A Tale of Two Traumas

Childhood Trauma #1

When I was just a lad sporting a lovely but lopsided afro (trauma for another posting) I often suffered from canker sores or aphthous ulcers if you prefer. One day I asked my mother how to get rid of them. Her instructions were to use a glass of hot salt water, and she emphasized hot. I took her advice without question and went on to rectify my problem. Long story shorter, I began drinking salt water!!! As you can imagine, something didn't feel quite right inside but an how could my mom be wrong? Much later, when she found out, she had a laugh and corrected me. "Gargle son, what would make you swallow salt water?" Traumatic.

Learning about intellectual property and copyright law has been a similar experience. Over the past week I have realized I have based much of how I teach on interpretations of other teachers' interpretations of these issues.

Key Lessons and Corrections:

1) Copyright Laws are Complicated: Okay, this belief was true. I defy any kid let alone any busy teacher to make sense of Canadian copyright law (Document found here). These laws do establish the rights of my students' intellectual property which is basically anything their minds can produce (Butler, 2005) but not the ideas themselves (intellectual freedom wiki). They establish what other people can and can't do but the language is so complicated it often turns people like me off.

2) Copyright Laws can be Restrictive: This I knew but Professor Lessig opened my eyes to how restrictive. He shared that our new digitial world founded on the idea that every user is a creator and the key function of creating is sharing. He also shares that copyright laws were created before this common reality and therefore limit the freedoms of creators who genuinely want to share. This brings in the new alternative...Creative Commons (Take the time to watch Professor Lessig's video below)

3) Creative Commons = anti-trauma device: Creative Commons is a relatively new movement(created in 2003) that provides creators of content a simple, clear, and effective way to share (not restrict the use)their content. In short, with the use of a few basic symbols people who access your intellectual property will know exactly how they can use, copy, remix, and share your property. Bye, bye insanely huge legal documents. For a full explanation view the video below and click here.

4) Educators aren't gods: Early on in my career multiple colleagues shared with me that as a teacher I could copy pretty much whatever I wanted as long as it was for school. As long as I could label the activity as educational...I was untouchable. Much of what I believed is actually only partly true and the myths I believed are common to many teachers (Matthew Neeldeman) Once I looked at Canada's fair dealing exceptions many of my materials are in direct violation of our laws. Did you know there are strict time restrictions on how long teachers can have recordings of television or radio broadcasts? Did you know that there "are no guidelines that define the number of words or passages that can be used without permission from the author. Only the courts can rule whether fair dealing or infringement is involved" (CIPO)

Implications and Trauma #2

My dad didn't really set curfews. He allowed me to decide when to go to bed. I interpreted that freedom as it didn't really matter to him or anybody else. I selectively ignored his important statement "Don't let your night life interfere with your day life." I stayed up super late every night and it took me a long time to realize that my dad, my teachers, and countless other people were impacted during the day by my poor decisions at night. You think I would have learned quicker as my dad always made a point of getting me up early after my latest nights.

1) Students have rights - I was reminded teachers and librarians have been tasked with protecting and facilitating students' intellectual freedoms. According to Lamb (2007) this includes allowing our students to participate in rich experiences that the read/write web has to offer. She also includes removing restrictions and increasing access. This fits perfectly with utilizing Creative Commons licenses and materials. If they have access to materials that were designed with sharing in mind, they can freely wander, borrow, and create...legally!!!

2) What we do matters - It seems weird saying this to teachers but...our students learn about how to exercise their rights and their freedoms from us so we need to know what we are doing. Mike Ribble (2008) wrote about the importance of digital citizenship to our students. In this article he outlines a four stage model for teaching digital citizenship. The stages are awareness, guided practice, modeling and demonsrtation, and feedback and analysis. Key statements from this article:

"Awareness means engaging students to become technologically literate....Students need to learn what is appropriate and not appropriate when using different digital
technologies." (p. 16)

"Following awareness activities, educators need to provide their students
with opportunities to use the technology under their guidance by focusing
on “appropriate use of technology.” (p. 16)

"Adults need to be positive role models of good digital citizenship so
students can follow their example." (p. 16)

I was short changing my students by not acknowledging issues like copyright and intellectual property. By modeling a wreckless abandon approach as I surfed, copied and pasted from the net I was modeling poor digital citizenship. In short, how can teachers participate in any of the above activities if they refuse to educate themselves and fully acknowledge the value intellectual property? Or as Jennifer Janesko asks "If we, teachers and parents, do not clearly understand copyright and fair use issues, how do we properly teach our students?" (2008, p. 9)

3) Change takes time - My colleagues and I discussed about how quick and easy it is to ignore copyright and just do whatever we want...after all it is for the kids. Learning about copyright laws and finding highly effective and engaging creative commons content will take time. BUT if we communally explore the commons we can help each other out (Click here to get started or try ccMixter)

4) Ignorance and apathy have consequences - Some people make their living through their intellectual property...through their creative works. Haphazardly stealing from others just because technology makes it easy harms real people. One of my colleagues this week shared how the intellectual theft of her husband's artwork profited the burglar but hurt them. Our actions do have consequences and we as educators need to act as if this is true and instill this truth in the hearts and minds of the next generation of digital citizens.

Non-hyperlinked Resources:

Butler, R. (2005). Social responsibility: Intellectual property defined. Knowledge Quest, 34(1), 41-42.

Janesco, J. (2008). Do students respect intellectual property? Learning & Leading with Technology,May, 8-9.

Lamb, A. (2007). Intellectual freedom for youth. Knowledge Quest, 36(2), 38-45.

Ribble, M. (2008). Passport to digital citizenship: Journey toward appropriate technology use at school and at home. Learning & Leading with Technology, December, 14-17.