Why Creative Commons?

Although I’ve not managed to keep up fully with the Open Content Licensing for Educators course being run by the WikiEducator group this week, I have managed to spend enough time with to do a bit of thinking about copyright, Creative Commons, and what all this stuff means to me as an educator. The course has been a good introductory overview of these issues, although I was already fairly aware of much of  the information being shared. The real value was in connecting with other educators from all over the world and hearing so many different perspectives on how traditional copyright can be so debilitating, especially in the developing world.

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on this copyright law stuff, but I have been taking a keen interest in the work of the Creative Commons folk for quite a while now and I try to take every opportunity to promote the benefits of the Commons. Reading through the forums, it’s clear that this hasn’t been the case for everyone, and it’s been great to see so many interested educators taking their first steps towards knowing more about CC and OER, and sharing ideas on how it can benefit them. As an exercise in spreading the excellent work of Creative Commons, the course appears to have been a great success.

Because I feel like I’m coming at the course content from a slightly different perspective, I decided to make this short video as a summary reflection on what Creative Commons means to me. It was prompted by a comment by Wayne Mackintosh in the previous post on this blog, where he pointed me towards a similar reflection video by Justin Cone, the producer of the Building on the Past video. As someone who has been pushing CC for a while, I thought it would be appropriate for me to take the opportunity to capture a few thoughts about it.

http://www.vimeo.com/21453342

I’d love to read some comments about how Creative Commons has made a difference to what you do as an educator.

Becoming More Open

One of the things I feel quite strongly about is encouraging the responsible sharing of educational content through appropriate open licenses. There are lots of problems created by traditional copyright, and anyone who works in a school knows just how silly the copyright rules can be at times. While I understand the need for content creators to protect their work from being stolen and to protect their right to make a living, there are many times when the rules imposed by traditional copyright just seem completely absurd.

I’ve pushed the idea of Creative Commons for a number of years now, and I try to make sure that everything I produce is published under a CC license. I want to share by default, not by exception, and I can’t help but imagine what a better world we’d live in if everyone did the same. It’s so ironic that so many teachers are the most blatant abusers of copyright, yet feel so affronted when it’s suggested that they license their work in a way that might allow others to use it freely.

For quite a while now I’ve put a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike license (or CC BY-NC-SA) on this blog (and most of the other sites I publish). I originally decided on that license type because it seemed logical to me… it implied that you can use my work without the need to seek permission so long as it was attributed to me, you didn’t restrict others from also taking it from you, and you didn’t make money from it. It seemed logical.

Tonight, as part of the Open Education Content for Educators course I’m doing with the Wikimedia Educators group, I read an article called The Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons -NC License. I’d heard other people talk about why, for educational purposes, it’s a good idea to not include the Non-Commercial limitation in a CC license, but I’d always included it anyway because, while I’m happy to share, there’s a part of me that doesn’t really want to see other people getting rich off my work. However, I’ve realised that including the -NC limitation raises a whole lot of other issues that I hadn’t considered, and may actually make it harder to use my work than traditional copyright. I don’t want that. I want to be able to share freely, and to allow anyone to make use of what I create and write.

The use of an -NC license is very rarely justifiable on economic or ideological grounds. It excludes many people, from free content communities to small scale commercial users, while the decision to give away your work for free already eliminates most large scale commercial uses. If you want to obtain additional protection against large scale exploitation, use a Share-Alike license. This applies doubly to governments and educational or scientific institutions: content which is of high cultural or educational value should be made available under conditions which will ensure its widespread use. Unfortunately, these institutions are often the most likely to choose -NC licenses…

…Recognizable and genuine free content communities can only evolve around the principle of true freedom. You have the chance to send a clear message whenever you license your own works. You have the chance to be heard, amplified by the voices of free content supporters around the planet.

For this reason, I’ve decided to remove the -NC requirement and change the Creative Commons licence on this blog to a CC BY-SA licence.

If you also publish work under a Creative Commons license, I’d encourage you to have a read of this article and consider opening up your content to help build a freer, more open world.

As an aside, one of the conversations we are having at my school at the moment is about changing our mindset about the content we create, and perhaps making everything we do available under an OER or Creative Commons license. For a large independent school like ours this is a big step, since in many ways, our content is a valuable commodity and is part of the reason that parents send their children to our school. Some would view it as our competitive advantage, and the notion that we might make it freely available is seen by some as crazy. But nonetheless, we are serious about investigating ways to license what we create as Open Educational Resources and to look at lifting that ridiculous rule that says everything you produce while at school is copyright owned by the school, not the teacher. We want to find ways where it can be used freely by both. I have no idea just where this discussion will end up, and just how open and free we might be able to make things, but for a school like ours it’s wonderful to seethat we are even having the conversation.

PS: If you have a WordPress blog, you might like to use the Creative Commons Configurator, a free WordPress plugin that adds both human and machine readable information to your posts. It’s super easy to use, and is one of my favourite WP plugins.

If you use Microsoft Word, there is also a free add-in you can install called the Creative Commons Add In for Microsoft Office. It adds a button to the ribbon that lets you include a CC license of your choice to any printable document. If you must use Office, it’s a nice add-in to have.

Ideas for End of Year Slideshows

Slide ViewerIt’s that time of year when I start to get a lot of teachers at school asking me for assistance with creating an end of year slideshow of photographs of their classes, often with an intention to create a DVD that can be sent home as a memento of the year.

It’s a lovely idea, and I encourage it.  The kids love it, and it’s a lovely way to finish the year.

To assist with this, I thought I’d offer a few tips and suggestions on making slideshows…

  • Start by gathering all the photos you intend to include into a single folder.  It’s much easier if all your assets are already gathered in one place before you begin working with them.
  • Use a piece of software well suited to the task.  Although PowerPoint is often suggested, it’s a bit of a dog when it comes to putting these types of presentations together.  PowerPoint is the right tool for slideware presentations, but it’s actually not very good at doing “slideshows” with music.  The end product of PowerPoint is, well, a PowerPoint file, and it requires PowerPoint to view it, so it can’t just be “played”in the same way a video can.
  • Instead of PowerPoint, try a tool like Photostory.  It’s much easier to get your photos in the desired order, add music and narration soundtracks, add titles, etc.  Plus, it gives you an actual video file at the end so everything is nice and self contained.  It’s the right tool for the task, and does a much better job than PowerPoint!
  • You could also try a web 2.0 service such as www.animoto.com, which makes amazing high definition slideshows with only a few mouse clicks.  Feed it your photos, choose a template and you’re done! Both myself and the school have Animoto Pro accounts, so you can use this to make your shows if you like.  Just see me if you want the login details.
  • You can copy the final slideshow file onto a disk, either a CD or a DVD, as a way of distributing it.  However, getting your video onto a DVD – that actually plays in a DVD player, as a DVD – requires several more steps and some more specialised software.  Ask me for more details if this is what you want to do (and be prepared for more work to do it!)
  • If you want to make multiple copies of the finished disk, there is a CD/DVD duplication tower up in IT Services.  If you take your master copy up there, and a stack of blank disks, that’s the fastest way to make lots of copies.

Then there is the thorny issue of copyright for the music… (sigh)

  • Please respect copyright when you choose your music!  If you just want to make a slideshow with a music backing track, you are in a very grey area (copyright wise) if you just rip commercially available music from a CD, or download it from the web.  If you were just using it in class, then you’d probably be fine, but if you intend to make multiple copies and distribute them to parents… well, personally, I think you’re taking a big risk.
  • While you may never get caught for flaunting copyrighted music, you never know whose parent just happens to be a copyright lawyer.  And you’re certainly not modelling good ethical use of media to your students.  If they see you ripping commercial music from CD, or downloading illegal music files from the net, then you’re just encouraging them to do the wrong thing.  Is that really what you want to do?
  • There are plenty of free and legal music sources you can use, where the music has been released under a Creative Commons license, or some other Open License.  Sure, it’s not going to be Top 40 stuff, but there’s lots of great musicians out there making amazing music that they quite willingly give away for free use.  Why risk a copyright violation (and worse, set a bad example for the kids!) when there are plenty of legal, ethical alternatives you can use.  Do you REALLY need a soundtrack by Pink?
  • For copyright free music, take a look at www.jamendo.com or www.freeplaymusic.com.  It’s amazing what’s out there.

Photo Credit: Slide Viewer by bcostin
NB: This post is based on an email I sent to all the staff at school

Redesigning Learning Tasks: Part 3

My role at school is all about trying to helping teachers leverage technology to come up with more interesting and engaging ways to help their students learn.  Some of our older students are in laptop programs which gives them fulltime 1:1 access to their own computer but many still do not, especially in the junior years. Which is a bit of a shame since there is, I think, so much scope in the younger grades to use technology in interesting ways that support the curriculum.  Unfortunately, with the way things are structured at the moment, our primary kids get scheduled into a single one hour lesson in the computer lab each week.  That’s not really my preferred option, as it’s hard to get technology integration working in an ongoing, embedded way when it involves trotting off to the computer room once a week.

Ironically, all our primary classrooms do actually have a small pod of four desktop machines in them, but unfortunately I don’t really see them getting used in any consistent, meaningful way.  Technology integration is still, by and large, reliant on that one hour a week of “computer time” in the lab.  However, whether I like it or not, it is what it is, and until the system changes it’s a limitation I have to work with.

Ludus - our school Blog ServerOur Year 4 students are doing a unit of work on Australia at the moment, so I started the term by having a planning session with the Year 4 teachers to look at how we might weave ICT into the unit.  A couple of years ago, the ICT component was – you guessed it – making a PowerPoint about Australia, but thankfully we’ve tried a some new approaches over the last few years. For the past two years we’ve been using blogs to get the kids writing about Australia, in fact I think we’ve come up with some good ideas for structuring the writing process when blogging.  We started off using Edublogs, but after having a particularly frustrating series of outages, the school decided to set up our own WordPress MU server and gave every student their own blog on that system. It took a bit of fiddling to get the feeds on the front page working the way we wanted, but that internal WPMU site worked quite well for us.  Because we run Moodle, we recently installed Mahara as well, which also provides blogs for students and so I guess we’re a bit spoiled for choice at the moment when in comes to school blogging.

Although the blogs had worked quite well for us in the past, for the unit of work on Australia the Year 4 teachers felt that they wanted to try something a bit different, so we brainstormed some ideas and came up with an idea that I think has worked very well.

For me, ICT integration becomes far more interesting when it involves lots of little skills used in a lot of different ways that student have to piece together into a finished product.  I like it that way because it give them a broader understanding of the way that technology tools fit together, and I think helps their understanding of how technology can assist them cross over into many areas.  I also like the idea of providing a structure, a scaffold, so that even our struggling students have a clear framework to work within.  However, surrounding that scaffold should be flexibility, options, choices, and a way for more able students to scale their work up and allow for that important differentiation.

What we came up with was a project called 25 Moods of Australia.  We brainstormed a collection of words (it started as 25 words, but grew to 50) that described various moods – haunting, hostile, creepy, effervescent, etc. Using a free wiki (where every student and teacher was given their own login) we published a list of all the words.  Working in pairs, the students then adopted a word from that list. There are 50 students in the two Year 4 classes, so working in pairs required 25 words.  The reason we came up with 50 was to give them a choice of what word they wanted to select, and to provide some extra words in case any students wanted to do a second one.

Armed with their chosen words, each student pair started by creating a new blank page on the wiki for that word. Then they had to find a clear, concise definition for the word (so that they understood it) and they then added that definition to the wiki page.  They used both regular paper dictionaries as well as online dictionaries. It was useful to compare the two.

The next job was to use Flickr to find a photograph taken somewhere in Australia that they felt captured the meaning of that word.  This was quite tricky… the Flickr search engine is not as sophisticated as Google’s and so to find a photo that both described their word and was taken in Australia required some thinking.  It involved looking carefully at the images, at the tags, at the captions, and using a bit of detective thinking to find photographs that met all the criteria.  To make it even trickier, we had a talk about copyright and the use of other people’s photographs without permission, which led to an interesting discussion about Creative Commons.  The students picked up on this idea very easily, and now know how to use the Advanced Search feature in Flickr to find photographs that are free of traditional copyright restrictions.  (I was feeling very encouraged to hear from their teachers that they are also now being much more mindful of copyright in other areas of their school work, and they’ve been observed looking for Creative Commons images for other projects as well! I consider that a major win!)

Once they found an image they like, they then used the All Sizes selector in Flickr to find the 500 pixel, medium-sized version of the photo and they copy it to their desktop. They also copy the URL of where they got the image so it can by pasted into the photo caption as an attribution, required by all CC licenses.  Once the photo is copied to their computer, they then upload it into the wiki (we used Wikispaces) and insert it into their page.

The next job is to go to Google Maps and find the location of where that photograph was taken on the map. This is also tricky, since not every photo makes this clear.  Some photos are geotagged with the exact location of where they were taken, but many are not.  We talked about geolocation.  We learnt to look at the tags, the keywords, the captions, the other photos in the Flickrstream, and to look for clues that might give us an idea about where the photo was taken.  And sometimes, when their were no clues, we had to make educated guesses about where the photo could have been taken.  Once we decided on a location – either a definite location based on real clues, or an imagined location based on common sense, the students found that place in Australia on the map.

Using the Link option, they then generated the embed code for the map, copied it, went back to the wiki and created a widget. They pasted the embed code into the widget and saved the page to reveal the embedded Google Map of their best estimate for the location of the photograph.

The last step is for the students to then write a couple of paragraphs talking about their photograph and why they think it represents their focus word. This can be quite a challenge, as they have to think very carefully about how exactly they will justify their selection, describing the photo and linking it back to the key ideas in the definition of their word. They also need to write about the map location and explain how they knew (or guessed) that the photo was taken in that place.

As you can see, it’s a task that contains a LOT of small pieces.  It contains lot of ICT skills and techniques and understandings in a number of areas. It is a task of small pieces loosely joined.  It’s also not a task that can be plagiarised.  It’s not a task where there is a “right answer”, as any answer could be right if it was justified well enough.

Remind yourself, these kids are 9 and 10 years old. And they have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of moving information around, remixing, repurposing and restructuring it in fairly sophisticated ways.  They quickly pick up the ideas of bringing all the pieces together to make something new. I think they are using some reasonably advanced information skills, as they learn to search, evaluate, synthesize and create with the information they find, and then add value to that information by interpreting and summarising and justifying it.  In short, I’ve been really impressed with what they can do. And even more impressed with what they can’t do, but can learn to do.

You can visit the wiki at http://ausmoods.wikispaces.com, although at the time of writing it is still a work in progress.  The final stage, when everything is complete, will be for them to use the discussion tabs on the individual pages to leave comments and feedback for each other.

I think it’s been a really good task, with plenty of really worthwhile ICT skills built in, as well as an integrated use of literacy, writing, geography, thinking and reasoning, collaboration, and so on.

If only we had more than an hour a week to do this stuff…

Lessons from the Conservative Right

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Larry Lessig is one of my heroes. This is a terrific video that ought to make you very angry (or at least, damn annoyed!)

The question is, what will you do about that anger? Are you in this fight? And what part are you, as a modern educator, playing in creating this important reform?

Recorded at TEDxNYED