Sunday, February 22, 2009

Teaching - a Slippery Slope to Criminal Activity - Intellectual Property and Copyright

When I first became an elementary teacher I wondered how I was ever going to have enough "stuff" to fill a year of teaching. I felt I had to have thousands of engaging lessons and resources to compliment and guide my students through the curriculum. I had no idea how I was going to build up my resources at hand, but I learned quickly. . . I begged, I borrowed, I stole (just like the teacher before me).

What I discovered is that teachers are like magpies - we steal whatever shiny object we can get our greedy little beaks on - but our thieving ways are totally justified because we're motivated by the needs of our sweet, innocent students. That is our trump card - our students needs.

Do you think I'm exaggerating? I should add that in my 2nd year of teaching I attended a workshop called "All the Good Things I Know I Stole" - by a highly respected educator in the International Reading Association. She modeled stealing intellectual property very well!

Teaching Magpies like Me

Last year I attended a presentation about Copyright in Winnipeg. The speaker provided wonderfully frightening anecdotes about teachers being charged hundreds of dollars for showing movies they didn't have the rights to show. He told us that copying an illustration/character from a book and using it in a bulletin board display was indeed breaking the law. Posting the jackets from picture books around the library, also illegal. Altering a story from it's original format, against the law as well. I'm not entirely sure if the speaker discussed alternatives because I was too busy going through the list of numerous offences I had participated in during that week alone.

Something I learned from this experience is that teaching awareness of copyright is not enough to effectively persuade teachers/students to respect intellectual property. Awareness without providing alternatives is disempowering, and creates a culture of fear. What I needed - and probably what a lot of educators need - is an empowering method of unlearning how we've previously used (stolen) intellectual property so that we can navigate our way legally through the waters of intellectual property.

Luckily, this notion of providing alternatives to stealing is also noted in Mike Ribble's document Passport for Digital Citizenship. Ribble recommends a four-stage cycle of technology integration which "helps the user begin to internalize those issues. It is a cycle because there is no real end to learning. We are constantly learning, relearning, and unlearning information about technology" (p.16). The four stages include: awareness, guided practice, modeling and demonstration, and feedback and analysis.

I believe working through such a learning model with our students will make them more confident with their digital endeavors and make our job as copyright leaders more rewarding. We will be moving away from the thou shalt not.... stance on copyright to the here's what we can do instead stance - that alone is a more powerful and more fulfilling place to locate ourselves.

Free Culturalists & Creative Commons

Doug Johnson discusses intellectual property much more eloquently than I ever could in Changing how we teach copyright Pt 3. In his post, he mentions a growing movement of individuals called "free culturalists" who

"argue that everyone in a society benefits when creative work is placed in the
public domain where everyone is allowed to use and build upon it, that current
copyright laws give the owner too much control and for too long a time."

I feel this all-is-fair-because-it's-out-there approach is somewhat unfair and disrespectful to creators (ironic considering I confessed my thieving ways here). Artists should still have rights over their work, while at the same time, they shouldn't be afraid to display their work for fear that it will be stolen. Like Ms. Janesko in Do Students Respect Intellectual Property, who required her students to gain written permission to use copyrighted materials, I feel it is important to teach students that we have an ethical responsibility to acquire permission to use intellectual property. It may seem like a hassle, or a waste of time to require students to do this, but if we truly value intellectual property, then it is simply something that must be done.

That is why I feel Creative Commons came along just in the nick of time. Creative Commons Licences make it so much easier for students to use images ethically. The following video not only explains very well why Creative Commons was developed, but also illustrates, through it's images, the breadth and depth of the creative artistry we have access to through the Creative Commons:

In this video - two statements stood out for me:

  1. "Creative Commons is designed to save the world from failed sharing. For people who actually want to share. . . "
  2. "We have all these new technologies that allow people to express themselves, take control of their own creative impulses but the law is getting in the way."

Providing space for artists who want their work to be used is a brilliant idea. I am astounded by the quality of works - one might have assumed that it was a dumping ground for poorly constructed art, since many were providing free access - but there is actually everything from the amazing to the absurd. The very nature of Creative Commons is exciting - I would enthusiastically share this video with staff and higher grade students when discussing copyrights. As I said before, it is not enough for us as Teacher Librarians to say what we can't do -we need to provide an alternative for staff and students that fills their need - and Creative Commons came along at the right time to fill that need.

A Note from the Magpie Gallery

While Situating myself with the other magpies, I've come to realize that what I've actually been doing is modeling bad behaviour. If I expect my students to act responsibly, then I too must act responsibly, and stop stealing. A few years ago, I wasn't ready to make this shift in my thinking - because it seemed too difficult to follow the good life. I turned a blind eye to copyright because I was worried about where I was going to get all my teacher stuff. After I attended the workshop about copyright, I started asking permission from the photographers on Flickr to use their images for my bulletin board displays. I was really excited by their openness to share, and their interest in my use of their photos. It was a positive experience for me.

Now, with the creation of places like Creative Commons, and the feeling that the world is shrinking, and that permission is often just an e-mail away - I have hope of finding it easier to walk the straight and narrow copyright road with a clean conscience.

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