This year I was introduced to Creative Commons by a teacher at my new school. I really wanted to figure out how I could/should incorporate it into my classes, particularly the digital storytelling elective I was teaching. I spent large amounts of time trying to wrap my head around Creative Commons, copyright and Fair Use since my students would be using digital media. I was trying to find a simple, straightforward way to explain it to my students and it was really hard. Additionally, there didn’t seem to be any generally accepted guidelines among the teachers. We do have a 6-12 scope and sequence regarding citations and sources (what students should be able to know and do by certain grade levels) but it doesn’t say much about digital media**. Needless to say, I felt like I was floundering around trying to get a handle on this. I did find some guidance while researching digital storytelling to develop my elective. I repeatedly found myself in a section of Jason Ohler‘s website “Art, Storytelling, Technology and Education”. He includes a section on Copyright and fair use in education and decided for the sake of time (and my sanity) to use the information Mr. Ohler provided as my main source of guidance.
Although Mr. Ohler does a good job trying explaining the complex world of copyright , it’s implication in education and even providing guidelines, he admits that there is still a lot of ‘gray area’. He writes, “The information on this site is not intended to be used as legal guidance. Rather it should be used simply to help you develop your own perspective about copyright and fair use issues as they relate to your professional practice.” And that’s the impression I’ve gotten from various articles I’ve read. Lots of people offer ideas and guidelines and suggestions, but there’s no real consensus on specifics. On the other hand, this might be a bit easier if I was still in a school in the U.S. Being at an international school brings up other issues that complicate it even further. A lot of what I’ve read on copyright is based on U.S. laws and court cases.
So, in an effort to make it workable in my classroom, I decided to take Mr. Ohler’s advice and develop my “own perspective” and develop some expectations for my students in my classroom. I decided to introduce my students to Creative Commons as a source and talk with them about copyright. I found showing them photos on Flickr.com was a great place to start. Since there are both copyrighted and Creative Commons photographs, we could take a look at photos and they could find out what the permission was for different images. I then adapted some Fair Use guidelines for the class projects which basically puts limits on the amount of copyrighted work they can use and that they must cite all sources of information and media. I felt this was a good start for myself and my middle school students. We had some basic conversations about copyright, Creative Commons and Fair Use but I also warned them that as they progress through high school and university, they will have to pay very close attention to expectations regarding using others’ works and creations. Now, I feel better that I’ve made an effort to learn more and address these issues with my students during this school year. I am more prepared to educate my students about this complex issue and tighten up my expectations (more Creative Commons/permission to use and less Fair Use or ‘okay as long as cited’). I have accepted that copyright and education is a complex issue and I will never fully comprehend all the parts of it or be truly confident that I am within the law(s) but at least I am making the effort to educate my students about it and make it part of the expectations in my classroom.
**I am happy to report that after a recent discussion our Humanities department intends to make sure we incorporate more about digital media in our Citation Scope and Sequence so that our students (and teachers) are more equipped to deal with how we use others’ works and creations.