If you want to share, say so!

I took part in the Open Content Licensing for Educators online course that ran all last week.  It was run by the team at WikiEducator and was a great insight into the many copyright issues that can be addresses by creating Open Educational Resources using clear and open licensing terms.

I know that many educators don’t think in terms of “licensing” their work, but really, whenever you make something that can be used to help either you or others teach, it’s a “resource” and the way that you indicate how you are prepared to let others use that resource can be considered a “license”.

The thing that became screamingly obvious as I worked through the online course content last week was that…

a) All educators need to get much, much better at MARKING our work (where we’re allowed to) with some form of designation that indicates how we wish to share it. We all produce resources, but very few of us consciously consider marking those resources with a “license” to indicate how we want to allow (or restrict) others to use them. Creative Commons is ideal for this purpose, but there are other options too, such as AEShareNet.

The point is, whatever you choose to use, use something. (I know that some of you will rightly point out that the copyright for work you produce for your employer is technically the property of your employer…  I don’t even want to go down that slippery slope right now… I’m just saying that, where you are able, when you are allowed, PLEASE add some indication to the resources you produce to indicate how you will permit further reuse and remixing of those resources. I’m sure we have all experienced the frustration of finding a good resource that we’d like to reuse, but cannot find any mention of how the creator intended to share it… when it’s not marked as shareable then have to assume it’s covered by full All Rights Reserved copyright, and therefore we are technically unable to use it until we get permission… it’s a pain in the neck!)

And secondly..

b) For education, the best type of license is a CC-BY or a CC-BY-SA.  These are the only two CC license types that are classed as “Culturally Free”, meaning that they allow real sharing, reuse and remixing by others. Adding the well-intentioned NC (Non Commercial) or ND (No Derivatives) to a CC license can still make it difficult for people to use your stuff easily and legally, and in some ways are almost as restrictive as full copyright.  There are obviously places and situations for all six of the various CC license types, but for education and to allow real freedom to share, BY or BY-SA are the best ones.

Whatever terms you decide to use (although I’d encourage you to use the most free – libre – license you can) please mark your work – worksheets, powerpoints, IWB presentations, videos, etc – with something to let downstream users clearly know what they can and can’t do with your work.

Getting an Ad-Free Ning

Quite a few teachers at our school are starting to see the advantages that a Ning community can offer.  We have been using Nings this year with several classes, and I’m finding them a really good, really easy way to get teachers interacting with technology in ways they might not have done otherwise.  Ning provides a visually rich, yet secure, environment for students to collaborate and socialise in, with a range of tools that are both useful and fun to use.  Because Ning offers many of the same kinds of tools that Facebook offers – discussion, video, pictures, chat – students find it easy to adapt to.  It also provides a few things that Facebook doesn’t – blogs, music and page customisation – so it allows teachers to modify the Ning toolsets to meet their individual educational needs.

Although Nings are proving incredibly useful for educators, the Google ads that appear on the right-hand menu are problematic for many educational purposes.  As good as the Ning environment is, with the ads in place (and in a new Ning the ads are often for inappropriate things like weight loss, online dating, work from home schemes, etc) Nings become largely unsuitable for school use.  While it’s possible to pay to remove the ads, the cost and red-tape involved in doing this in a school setting also make it less likely that educators will pursue it as an option.

Realising this, the good folk at Ning very generously offer an ad-free option for k-12 educators.  Simply ask to have the ads removed, and they will remove them for you.

The problem is that the instructions for getting the ads removed are not obvious. They require you to write to them and ask for it; a nice personal approach, but not just a matter of clicking a simple checkbox in the same way that Wikispaces offers ad-free wikis for educators.  With Ning, you need to know where to direct your request for ad removal, and that information is not all that obvious.  If you Google “removing ads from a ning” you will find instructions to do it, but I’ve found that the instructions can be out-of-date or do not always match what you see on your screen… it can be a little confusing.

I just applied this morning to have a Ning made ad-free, and managed to work my way through the confusion. If it helps anyone else, here’s how I did it.

  1. Go to http://help2.ning.com/AskUsAQuestion
  2. Fill in the URL for the Ning you want made ad-free
  3. From the “Select a Topic” dropdown, choose “General Question”
  4. In the “Describe your Question” field, write a short request for your ads to be removed…  as an example, this is what I wrote…  “Hello, I’d like to request that the above Ning be made ad-free for education. Our school is doing a collaborative project with our sister school in Japan and would like to use the Ning environment for these exchanges. Our students are aged between 13 and 17 and the Ning will be used only for educational purposes. Thanks!

They say it takes about 3-4 days to get approved.

Thanks Ning-guys!  Hope you get a great big serving of Internet karma as reward for your generosity!