Free To Take? Free To Give!

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization based out of California, founded in 2001. They have been the catalysts behind a movement to freely share creativity, especially through digital means like the internet. In internet years, this is practically an ancient ideology and yet, it still seems to be having trouble gaining traction in the general population.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking part in the Learning 2.011 conference in Shanghai, China. The Learning 2.011 conference is a gathering of educators that share and discuss effective use of technology in teaching and, more importantly, learning. One things that struck me about the people at this conference is that they are not normal. Before any of you in attendance take offense, please know that I actually mean this as a sincere compliment. While it was certainly not normal that about 75% of those in attendance at the conference were using Mac computers (compared with about 12% of typical households), it’s also not normal to see so many quality professionals give up the rights to their creative efforts. So this begs the question, “Why isn’t this the norm?” and “What prevents people from sharing their creative efforts for free?”

The quick, easy answer that jumps to mind is ‘greed.’ When people put effort into the creation of something, traditionally, the expect to be compensated. This makes sense, as people do need to feed themselves and their families. But this is definitely an evolving concept. There is an iconic slogan used by technology activists that goes, “Information wants to be free.” And while this slogan is embraced by this particular group, it is actually used somewhat out of context from the original quote from Stewart Brand which says, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” As you can see, there’s quite a bit of context to the quote that changes the meaning but, in his book ‘Free,’ Chris Anderson summed it up nicely by saying that common information wants to be free and rare information wants to be expensive.

The idea being that the cost of publishing information on the internet, be it a blog, a photograph, a video or anything else you can think of is quite an inexpensive endeavour but the cost of having a blogger or a photographer or videographer come and produce a custom tailored presentation or product for you is very specialized and thus a more valuable endeavour for the content provider. In this case, there is still a monetary valuation of the person’s work however the stream from which the money comes has just shifted from many people paying a small sum for more general information to fewer people paying larger sums for more specialized and tailored information.


AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by ryancr

To bring this back to an educational point of view, I must admit that while I have been familiar with Creative Commons for quite a long time, I have been hit and miss in my enforcement in it and it really comes down to laziness on my part. I can make all the excuses in the world (my favourite tending to be that I’m so pressed for time with the constraints of trying to fit all the MYP Technology criteria into just a trimester that I don’t have time to teach creative commons properly) but really, I’m doing my students a disservice and I’m going to be putting a much bigger emphasis on CC and sharing or information within (and, in turn, outside of) my classroom.

I have made an effort so far this year to include more skill building (such as online searching, assessment of website reliability, etc.) but it has felt a little bit tacked on and not quite organically part of our units. If anyone reading this has had success with fitting in skill building seamlessly into the MYP Design Cycle, I’d love to hear more about it.

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