When is a Remix no longer a Remix?

As many of you may know, I’m a big supporter of Creative Commons and the ideals of open sharing. I publish most of my stuff under a CC licence, usually BY-SA, because I think sharing is important and I believe that the world is a better place if we allow others to build on what we do (in the same way that I often build on the influences of others).

So, a while back I published a couple of things to the OER Commons; a site where teachers can upload and freely share their educational resources with others. The general idea is that if you publish to OER Commons, anyone can take your work and remix it and build upon it to create a version for their own individualised use. For busy teachers who all too often find themselves “reinventing the wheel” in the creation of their own teaching resources, it’s a brilliant concept. You can also attach metadata to the resources you share to make them more searchable, and even map them to the US Common Core standards if you wish. If someone finds your work useful, but wants to make slight changes, the site provides the option to remix the work, connecting the new work with the old work via metadata. Like I said, it’s a brilliant concept.

One of the resources I published to the OER Commons was a worksheet called “What Rights, where?” which aims to be a guide on how to select the appropriate Creative Commons license for a piece of creative work. It links to a Google Doc which suggests a range of scenarios and asks the user to think about which of the CC attributes might be most appropriate for the circumstances.

I got an email the other day informing me that another OER Commons user, Binod Deka, had made a remix of my What Rights, where? worksheet. I was pleased to think that someone liked it and might have found it useful enough to remix it for their own needs. After all, that’s the whole point of OER Commons.

Of course, I was also curious as to what changes he might have made to it, so I took a look at his version to see what was different. You can see his version here. The weird thing is that, from what I can see, it bears absolutely no resemblance to my original. His seems to have just removed 100% of the content that I provided, and he has replaced it with a plagiarised cut and paste of information from the Wikipedia definition of what Rights are. It’s a related idea I suppose, but completely disconnected from my original work.

I suppose it’s one of the risks you take when you share openly, that you have to trust that people building upon your work won’t destroy more than they create. While I’m glad to see my work getting used, I’m not too thrilled about the idea that his work of plagiarism from Wikipedia purports to be a remix of something of mine. I don’t think it was done with malice or any ill-intent, but it’s a bit annoying. It’s also a bit ironic that the work that gets credited as the source (mine) gets cited with a remix link, and the work that is actually used in the remix (from Wikipedia) is not cited at all.

I like the term “remix” because it implicitly suggests that the original work should still be somewhat evident in the new work. A remix is not designed to completely mask the original work in the same way that students are taught to hide their original sources lest they risk an accusation of plagiarism. I have no issue with someone remixing my work, but I’m perplexed by the idea of my work not being even remotely evident in the remix.

All of this got me thinking… At what point is a remix no longer a remix? For that matter, when does plagiarism cease to be plagiarism? And how much originality needs to added to an idea of influence before you can legitimately consider it to be a new work?

As always, your thoughts are valued in the comments…

Featured Image: Acrylic Paint from Wikipedia

Twisted Pair

My friend and prolific blogger Steve Wheeler issued an interesting blogging challenge the other day called A Twisted Pair. He proposed taking two different people with no apparent connection and writing a post about learning that somehow connects the two, which I thought was an interesting idea. Steve proposed a few possible pairs of names on his post to get our ideas started, and although there were many pairings that intrigued me, two that really stood out were both people who have always inspired me – Pablo Picasso and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.  So here goes…

There are probably numerous ideas to explore in terms of how the concepts of learning are embodied by these two people. I’ll try to begin with the obvious and then see if we can find other connections.

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso – Image from Wikipedia

Let’s start with Picasso. Picasso was an incredibly prolific Spanish artist with a body of work that is profoundly extensive. Over the years his work moved through multiple phases where he would latch onto an idea, explore and delve deeply into it, allowing it to morph and change until he seemed to have wrung every possibility from it, then a completely new idea would emerge and the process would begin all over again. His early work of the Blue and Rose periods shows incredible artistic talent, and his later work deeply explored ideas of construction and deconstruction, leading to many of the Cubist works for which he is most famous. Picasso had an incredible ability to see the world through the eyes of a child, to find the core essence in complex things, and to simplify them down to their essentials. Despite never actually being a teacher himself, these traits have been present in every great teacher I’ve ever known.

It takes a true spirit of curiosity and invention to let your ideas drift and morph from one to another, and a brave indifference to failure when some of those ideas inevitably fail to bear fruit. Again, the parallels with learning are strong. The idea that all progress is ultimately reliant on trying new things and tolerating failure, rather than achieving total perfect execution. To learn you must be prepared to fail a lot. And to fail a lot you much be prepared to try a lot of new things. There are many important learning concepts embodied in this simple idea – that learning is a process of iteration, of trial and error, of feedback and feedforward, of allowing ideas to flow uninhibited from one insight to the next, all fed by childlike curiosity and endless wonder about “what if?”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Tim Berners-Lee – Image from Wikipedia

The other person in this twisted pair is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. I read his biography, Weaving the Web, many years ago and found it to be a fascinating insight into his curious, creative spirit and his selfless approach to designing a system that was simply aimed at making the world a better place. The impact of the WWW on humanity has been absolutely seismic, and will probably be seen as the single most influential invention of all time. I think you could argue that the Web has redefined pretty much everything about the way modern society works, yet someone less altruistic than Berners-Lee could have easily tried to build in a system of monetisation to the very core of the way the web works. Berners-Lee invented the idea of a URL – a Universal Resource Locator – where every webpage, every image, every video, every online asset, has a unique location, and could be expressed in a way that every computer could understand. This was a revolutionary idea. But imagine a world in which the notion of a hyperlink was protected by a patent, and every click on the web would earn a small royalty payment for its inventor? With the “patent wars” played out by just about every big tech company these days, this is not hard to imagine. Had Berners-Lee maintained the intellectual property rights to the web he invented he could have been richer than Bill Gates and God combined. But he didn’t. He quite deliberately didn’t. He saw the web as something that was for the greater good of humanity, and placed that goal ahead of any desire to get rich from his idea.

There are a few learning principles that resonate with me about Sir Tim. Openness. Sharing. Altruism. A desire to build something simply to make the world a better place. As Eric Schmidt once observed, “If [computer networking] were a traditional science, Berners-Lee would win a Nobel Prize”.

When I think of the greatest teachers I know, and the most engaged learners I know, they seem to embody certain characteristics. I think that both Picasso and Berners-Lee show some of these characteristics in different ways.

First, from Picasso, is the ability to take information from multiple sources in a variety of ways and reinterpret them as your own. To “steal like an artist” if you will (a phrase often incorrectly attributed to Picasso). To allow yourself to absorb influences and ideas from all over the place, and have them percolate through your mind, being processed and critiqued and changed along the way, emerging as completely new ideas and understandings. There is no such thing as learning in a vacuum, much as there is no such thing as creativity in a vacuum. Everything is a remix. Every idea is borrowed from somewhere. When you immerse in this kind of creative learning process, the end results are often unrecognisable from the influences that formed them. This morphing process is, as Stephen Johnson says, where good ideas come from. And I will add, where good learning comes from. I can think of no better person to embody this idea of learning through the growth of ideas than Pablo Picasso.

The second important aspect of learning is the idea of learning for it’s own sake. Learning should be worth doing, not just to get a grade or pass a test or get a certificate, but because the simple act of learning is intrinsically valuable in and of itself. Curiosity and wonder should be their own rewards. Building and making and tinkering, be it with ideas or actual physical objects, does not need to be formalised with rewards. I think Berners-Lee embodies this idea, in the unselfish way he started out by trying to solve a fascinating problem just for his own personal benefit but quickly realised it had a much broader application, and he was willing to just give it away because it felt like it was the right thing to do, and that it would help many people. Like the invention of the Web, the best learning is usually done simply because it is worth doing, with or without a reward at the end.

These are my learning lessons from Pablo and Tim.

Wonder. Be curious. Make. Grow. Share.

Just because.

Header image from Wikipedia

155 Lessons in the Creative Process

Some of you might have seen that I’ve been working on a daily blogging project this year called My Daily Create. You can visit it at www.mydailycreate.com (or click the link in the menu bar above). The basic idea is that I’m attempting to create something every day of the year during 2014. It could be music, a video, a drawing, a photo or a poem. It could be something practical and usable, or something retinal and frivolous. It doesn’t matter what it is, I just plan to make something each day. So far it’s going pretty well and I haven’t missed a single day yet.

Earlier this week I presented a keynote at the EduTECH conference in Brisbane on the topic of creativity at the invitation of the organisers. I find creativity an interesting topic to talk about, but it’s usually one of those things that’s easy to talk about in general terms but much harder to talk about specifically. I felt even more challenged by it because several of the other speakers were also talking about creativity, including Sir Ken Robinson, who, as I’m sure most readers of this blog will know, is considered somewhat of a guru on the topic of creativity in education.

I do find that the general message of what most people say when talking about creativity in education boils down to “It’s important, you should do it”, with very little actual guidance on HOW to make it happen and I tend to think we probably need a little more information than that.

So the plan for my keynote was to be a bit more practical and specific about creativity and so I decided to share some of what I’ve learned from doing my daily create each day in the form of lessons I’ve learned about the creative process and how they might be used with students.

For the people who asked for a copy of the presentation, here are the slides (I’ve had to remove the video content as it was just too big a file with them included)

Despite a shaky start due to some dodgy AV, I was pretty happy with the way the keynote went. The talk was basically presented in three parts…

  • Exploring Creativity – showing examples of the sorts of creative projects I’ve been coming up with during the first 155 days of My Daily Create.
  • Learning from Creativity – sharing some of the lessons (or meta ideas) about creativity that I’ve found from forcing myself to make something every day.
  • Applying Creativity – showing a few examples of how some of my daily creates have turned into activities and tasks that I’ve been doing with my kids in the classroom.

The lessons that I offered about creativity were these…

  • Create is a Verb – you have to actually DO stuff in order to be creative, not just think about it or talk about it. Actually DO it. Seriously. It’s amazing how many people wish they were more creative and overlook this simple fact.
  • Wonder. A Lot – Most creativity springs from being curious about things. Wondering “what would happen if…” or “why do we do it like that?” are often the starting points for coming up with new creative ideas.
  • Curiosity + Action = Creativity – When you combine the wonder with the action, things happen. Take action on your ideas, no matter how silly or fleeting they might be. Anyone can have a good idea, but the people who take action on their ideas are the ones we deem creative.
  • Make time to Play – Yes, making stuff takes time. So if making stuff is important to you, then make time for it. Make time, not find time. None of us can find time, we each get only 24 hours in a day so you already have all the time you’re getting. It’s a matter of clearing space in your day to make time for creative acts.
  • Wander off the Path – Something that becomes incredibly obvious when you force yourself to make things every day is that you almost always make something different or unexpected to what you thought you might make. Be led by your curiosity, your mistakes and your hunches. If you go somewhere you didn’t anticipate, just keep going. Don’t try to undo your mistakes, just turn them into the end result,.
  • Your Ideas are not Original – Hardly anybody ever has original ideas. Everything is a remix of things we’ve seen and heard elsewhere, just repackaged and remixed in our own way. So copy ideas shamelessly. But remember that while copying one idea is plagiarism, copying lots of ideas and combining them all together in new ways is where real creativity comes from.
  • So Share – If you use other people’s ideas (and you do!) then don’t be precious about letting other people use yours. Share generously and give away your stuff freely. Don’t be an idea hoarder. You’re just a conduit for ideas, so pass them on to others.
  • Creating = Learning – You learn when you create (and isn’t that the goal in education?) You might learn the things you expected to learn, but more often you will probably learn things you didn’t expect to learn. Be open to ideas, follow them, be inquisitive, be generous, and you really cannot help but learn through being creative.

The “big idea” I wanted to communicate was that creativity is a process, an active thing you do, and should do it regularly. Borrow and share, be open and curious, and you WILL come up with creative ideas. Some people claim they aren’t creative,  but there is no such thing as a non creative person, just a person who has chosen not to see the world creatively.

Finally, I showed some simple examples of how my daily create has spilled over into my teaching and helped me bring these ideas into my classroom.

I finished the talk by getting the audience to help make Daily Create number 155, chanting the phrase “Creativity is  daily deliberate act”.

The response I got afterwards from people was really nice. Quite a few people came up to say they got a lot out of the talk, and Twitter had lots of positive feedback too. It’s really nice when that happens. When you give a keynote it’s always hard to know what you could possibly say that might be of any value to the audience, especially when so many other speakers seem to know so much more about it, and speak so much more eloquently. But all I can really do is speak from my heart and mind, sharing my own personal experiences, so I’m glad it resonated with others and they found it useful.

Here is a link to the slides in Google Drive, (without the videos) but if you’d like a copy of the actual slide deck in Keynote format just drop me a note and let me know.

Homage to Duchamp

It’s interesting that as you get older you become increasingly aware of your own influences. Aside from my parents and my direct family, who obviously had a major influence on my life, there are only handful of people whose ideas, thoughts and perspectives about the world have been so influential, so pervasive, so far reaching, that I can honestly say they have shaped the person I have become.

We all have them. They are the people you would invite to your ultimate fantasy dinner party. The ones who are so interesting, so fascinating in their ideas and the way they think about things, that you would give anything to spend time talking with them, learning from them and being in awe of them.

duchampI only have a few people in that category, but one is Marcel Duchamp.

For most people reading this, your reaction is probably “Marcel who?”

I don’t want to turn this into a history lesson, so if you want to know more about Duchamp, you can no doubt look him up. It’s quite likely that he will not affect you the way he affected me, and that’s ok. That’s what makes us all unique. But to me, Duchamp was one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th Century. He was one of the truly great thinkers whose ideas had a profound, lasting and life changing effect on me. His insightful genius, his witty sense of humour, his unswerving individualism, and his sheer brilliance forever changed the way I see the world. Or perhaps it was that he gave validation to the way I was already seeing the world for myself. Either way, I grew up seeing Duchamp as something of a hero. He struck me as one of the most brilliant minds I’d ever encountered.

As a young teenager, and then on into art school, I read everything about him that I could get my hands on. I pored over his work, looked at whatever photographs I could find of both him and his art, and was always astounded at the way he managed to express such profound ideas in such simple acts of creation. His disruptive sense of fun was more than just a means to amuse himself, it caused us to question and change the way we think about art, life and the world. Or at least that’s what it did for me. It was the way he took the idea of art beyond the “retinal” – the way something looks – and instead explored intellectual ideas embedded in the art.

Anyway, I was stunned tonight as I browsed around the web to find a 28 minute video of Duchamp being interviewed on the BBC in 1968 (the year he died). It’s an amazing interview.

Which brings me to the second point of this post. YouTube. I still hear of so many schools that block or limit access to YouTube. When I was a kid, growing up trying to read everything about Duchamp I could lay my hands on, I was completely unaware that any television interviews with him even existed. For everything I’d read or seen about Duchamp, tonight was the first time I had ever heard his voice or seen a moving image of the man. I went to art school in the 80s and taught art for several years but until tonight I had no idea that a 1968 interview with Marcel Duchamp existed.  Tonight was the first time I’d ever heard one of my lifelong heroes actually speak. And it was YouTube that made it possible. Forget the criticisms about millions of cute cat videos or pointless clips of stupid people doing even stupider things. Tonight I finally met one of my lifelong heroes and it was YouTube that made it possible. Think about that.

Seriously. If your school is still blocking YouTube, do you have any idea what you are depriving your students of?

Header Image: Wikimedia Commons http://goo.gl/nw77Qu

Developing Deliberate Daily Discipline

CreativityAs December 2013 came to an end I was considering doing another one of those 365 Day Photo Project, where you take a photo every day for a year. I’ve done these before, one very successfully where I actually did take and post a new photo every day for a year, and two other attempts that started well but eventually ran out of steam.

Being disciplined is hard, at least, it is for me. These projects where you promise yourself that you will do something every day for a year are not easy. You miss a day here or there and then conclude that there’s no point carrying on with it.  In truth, even if you only took 150 photos out of the 365 you’re supposed to, you’d still have 150 photos! Not to mention a whole lot more practice as a photographer.

This year I wanted to do something, but was looking for something a bit different to just taking photos. So I asked for some suggestions on Twitter and got a bunch of interesting ideas back. Taking these suggestions as a whole, I thought it might be interesting to keep it a little bit open this year and just create something, anything, every day. So in 2014 I’m doing a project I’m calling The Daily Create. Every day I’ll be posting something – a video, a poem, a piece of writing, a song, a story, and yes, maybe even a photo or two.  To keep it organised I’m doing it on a different blog dedicated just to the purpose at http://mydailycreate.blogspot.com.au/

Why do these daily projects? What’s the point?

Aside from the idea that I think that we all have a basic need to create and share our ideas with others, forcing yourself to do something every day is a wonderful way to keep learning new things. In the eight days I’ve been doing this project so far I’ve learned to use apps that I had never really learned to use, discovered techniques that I didn’t know about, solidified ideas that had only been nebulous thoughts floating around in my brain, and even solved a couple of practical problems around the house. These simple little daily creations have already given me a number of project ideas that I can get my students to work on this year.

I think when you get into the swing of doing something every day your brain starts to see new opportunities to learn and create. We talk a lot about the value of iteration, and learning by doing, and just making lots and lots of stuff regardless of whether it’s any good or not, and daily projects are a good way to do that.  You WILL learn things along the way, I promise you that. Although some people don’t always associate the idea of having discipline with the idea of creativity, they are most definitely connected!

January is easy. We all have enough things floating through our heads that we can fill January up. By mid-February you’re starting to run out of ideas but if you’re committed to the project you just force yourself to keep coming up with them and that’s where it starts to get interesting. By June you’re clutching at straws, coming up with some wacky and unexpected things because, well, you promised yourself you would and have to come up with something! By September you’ll be looking back a body of work that will surprise you in its diversity and by the end of the year you’ll actually be sad that it’s coming to an end.

It’s these little daily deliberate actions that add up over time to produce the unexpected things that often become the work we are most proud of. And if you get to next December and you’ve stuck to it, I guarantee you’ll be even more proud of yourself just for sticking with it.

CC Image: http://zeitgeist-1984.deviantart.com/art/Employ-Creativity-321300663

My Other Computer is a Data Centre

YouTube CubeOne of the most common questions I get asked by teachers is how to include video in their online resources. Whether it’s including video clips in Moodle or embedding a video into a wiki or blog, the use of video can be a powerful tool for helping students learn. As someone once said to me “Give me 3 minutes and the right piece of video, and I can teach you almost anything”.

Working with video has a reputation for being complicated. I remember doing an online video project about 13 years ago with a school in Japan and we were literally air-mailing VHS cassettes to each other each because it was the “simplest” way to get the job done. Indeed, it’s true that even just a few years ago, working with video was still relatively difficult… the file sizes are huge, the editing process can be complex, and storing video files for playback on the web has traditionally involved a bewildering array of codecs and other technical-sounding choices. It’s all too much for many people.

Tools like Moodle can handle the inclusion of video in a course. If you can edit your video and get it in the right format, Moodle will usually handle the storage playback for you. Or not. It can be a bit of a lucky dip, and it often requires a disproportionate amount of work that many teachers simply don’t have the time or skills to do.

Enter YouTube.  YouTube celebrates its 10th birthday this week, and it would be an understatement to say that it has totally changed the way that regular non-techie people publish video. Thanks to YouTube’s massive backend infrastructure, much of the hard work of uploading, hosting and sharing video online is no longer difficult. I heard recently that there is currently over 100 HOURS of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute, so the amount of content you have access to is truly mind boggling.The fact that so much content is being added to YouTube every minute of every day is testament to just how straightforward it is for “normal” people to manage.

Most people have used YouTube to watch videos. Whether it’s to learn something new by watching a TED Talk, or just to have a giggle at a cute cat video, YouTube has become a repository of just about any piece of video content you can imagine. The thing you should know is that YouTube lets you take just about any piece of video, in just about any format, and when you upload it, the YouTube servers do all the hard work of converting, transcoding, storing and publishing that clip.  That’s all the really hard stuff that for so long was the part that made working with video way too hard for many people. Now, if you can click the Upload button, you can publish a video to the world.

But did you know that there are a whole lot of other things that you can do on YouTube?

If you go to www.youtube.com/editor you will find a reasonably capable online video editor at your disposal. Sure, it’s not Premiere Pro or Final Cut, it’s not even iMovie, but for a completely free video editing tool that runs in nothing but your web browser, it’s surprisingly functional. Best of all, you have direct access to ANY video on YouTube marked with a Creative Commons license. And that means millions of videos, on just about any subject. While it’s a great thing for students to be able to capture their own footage, there is an awful lot of useful production you can do with access to the enormous library of YouTube videos without any need for a camera at all. Just search for what you want and drag it to the timeline, then use the trim bars to isolate just the part you want. Or click on the clip to get the scissors tool to split the clip at any point. Or click the magic wand tool to add all sorts of video effects, including image stabilization. Creating a video from the work of others is as simple as dragging the desired clips into place, trimming them down, getting them in the right order and even adding transitions, titles and music. It’s all right there on the webpage. Oh, and of course if you’ve uploaded clips to YouTube previously, you can edit your own videos as well.

For anyone who has been editing video for a while, this is jaw dropping stuff. While it’s a relatively simple editor right now, there’s little doubt that it will get better and better over time. Worth noting is that, because it’s using the massive resources of YouTube’s server farm, the computer you’re editing on does not have to be especially powerful. The servers are doing all the heavy lifting at the other end.

Once you finish editing, you can then publish your work back to YouTube and share it with the world. It’s just ridiculously easy.  Once your completed video is back on YouTube you can share it in all the usual ways, including embed code. This brings us back to where we began with this article, with the ability to easily grab the embed code and drop it into Moodle, a wiki or blog, or any website that accepts embed code (and really, these days, that’s just about all of them)

So now you have a video that sits nicely on your blog, wiki or learning management system, powered by the resources of YouTube

What’s the bottom line?

If you want to use video in your teaching resources (and you should be!) then make sure you check out the creative options that YouTube offers. It’s more than just cute cats.

A Labour of eLove

It’s always good to celebrate creative successes. This is one of those times.

eloves me, eloves me notWhen I first met my partner Linda she had started working on the novel she always wanted to write. That was six years ago, and the novel has certainly had its stops and starts over that time. Writing is not always an easy thing to do, and there were times when life just got in the way and it became difficult for her to keep moving that cursor to the right. However, I’m pleased to say that over the last few months she’s really pushed herself to finish writing the manuscript, and over the last few weeks it’s been through seemingly endless revisions and edits, fine tuning of words and sentences, and onto the final processes of typesetting and preparation for publication.

I’m proud to say that Linda’s first novel is now finished, published and available.

The novel, eloves me, eloves me not, is a contemporary love story in which 39 year old Kayte Wexford realises that she still hasn’t met her Mr Right and so decides to give Internet dating a try. As the story unfolds she experiences some hilarious, fascinating and occasionally scary insights into the pros and cons of finding love online. It’s a clever, wonderfully well written story, with interesting plot lines and an ending you probably won’t see coming. It’s got some really funny scenes in it, some others that get quite hot and steamy, and it cleverly weaves in a lot of useful lessons about finding love and staying safe in the age of the Internet. If you’ve ever tried Internet dating there will probably be lots of scenes and characters you will recognise and identify with!

I’m particularly proud of the fact that Linda decided to self-publish the book. As an independent author and publisher, she gets to have total creative control over the end product. She got to write the story exactly how she wanted it to be written. She came up with the vision for the cover artwork and managed a design contest through 99designs.com to bring it to reality. She leveraged a group of friends from around the world to read the first draft and offer constructive feedback. She got it typeset exactly how she wanted it. She managed the publication process through CreateSpace.com (Amazon’s self publishing division) as well as creating ebooks through Kindle Direct Publishing and SmashWords.com.

Of course, self-publishing is a double edged sword. While you get to maintain full creative control over the final product, you’re also responsible for creating awareness and demand for it. Right now, she’s working hard to spread the word that a) the book exists, and b) people should read it!

Needless to say, I’m incredibly proud of what she’s done, and would like to support her as much as possible. So, if you know someone who would enjoy reading an intelligent, funny and contemporary love story, please tell them about eloves me, eloves me not. It’s available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions, and on SmashWords in just about every other format, including epub and mobi. (It’s coming soon to the Apple iBooks Store, Barnes and Noble and the Nook Store, but SmashWords can provide all those formats right now). If you know someone who would like the paperback version, may I suggest they get it through her CreateSpace store… it’s exactly the same price and version of the book as Amazon, but CreateSpace offers the best royalty payments for independent authors.

You can find out more at www.elovesmeelovesmenot.com