Copyright, Mashups, Plagiarism, and Information Management

Here’s a perspective on the role of copyright and the new digital skills that we should be teaching to our students:

Memorizing is a necessary skill. Accessing our memory is indeed quicker than accessing the net. Whether that information is accurate is another story. The problem is that in this Information Age too many educators are only teaching and testing memory skills, wallowing in that lower end of Bloom’s. If they’re not teaching students to discover, curate, and manage information, though, they’re missing the realism in GenZ’s future. This is also necessary before they move to the upper end of Bloom’s. Information management is the memory’s next door neighbor.

(Read more at Getting Smart: Generation Z: The Biggest Cheaters Since Homer.)

Renfro goes on to aver that “Teaching about copyright and proper content sharing should be an essential standard. Students should respect the work of others just as they will want to protect their own work that they upload to the net.” This begs Week 3’s assessment question: How do we teach copyright in Asia, in countries where international copyright law is not followed to begin with? What is our obligation as educators?

I think the issue should be separated as Renfro unintentionally does. In other words, we should consider 1) copyright law, and 2) proper content sharing with the understanding that 1) Copyright law should NOT be universally taught, and 2) Proper content sharing SHOULD be a constant, though not necessarily central, part of our curriculums.

Copyright law should NOT be universally taught.

I don’t mean to say that copyright is unimportant. But the fact is that copyright law is far from uniform in terms of interpretation and enforcement around the world. What is a crime in America may not be a crime in Sweden, as The Pirate Bay so gleefully points out. Teachers and students have enough on their plates than worrying about media companies’ efforts to continually restrict the public domain. These are not issues that should be a priority compared to our core literacy skills. Paul Johnson sums it up well in his subversive view of copyright:

We are simply tying ourselves in knots worrying about what people shouldn’t be doing – especially on petty matters. (Who exactly suffers if a movie is shown in school as a reward rather than in direct F2F instruction?) Perhaps we should approach copyright to teaching people what rights they do have, about being honest when we don’t know if something is legal or illegal and erring on the side of the consumer, and about using the morality of a situation rather than the legality to make a judgment.

In other words, we should be focusing on common sense, ethics, and etiquette that can be universally applied rather than obscure, nation-specific laws that occupy entire programs of study in law schools. Which brings me to my next point:

Proper content sharing SHOULD be a constant, though not necessarily central, part of our curriculums.

In the traditional academic context, “content sharing” is just using proper quotation & citation rules, something we’ve always wanted to our students to use when researching. Copyright wasn’t much of an issue simply because the duplication and dissemination of information was more difficult. Now that the Internet has enabled the limitless sharing (or stealing, depending on who you talk to) of content, it’s much easier to break copyright rules. But as I said before, we should not focus so much on that as teaching students how to cite a source when they’re creating a work under innocent and non-commercial intentions. Teachers should model the proper attribution of all media, not just print, and demand that students do the same. I like Renfro’s vision of how this might be done:

Many teachers think that having students create Powerpoints is a great 21st-century skill…Maybe a more thoughtful assignment in the Information Age would be to have students download multiple Powerpoints, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, create their own based on what they learned, and upload to the net to showcase their product for others to see and comment on, while giving appropriate attribution for the content and images they use.

This forces students to synthesize and evaluate sources – old skills, new context. And it doesn’t force them to add another layer on top of their research, that of determining the AMERICAN legality of what they are doing.

I’m not saying that knowing about the Creative Commons and all that jazz isn’t useful. I’m not saying that teaching kids not to pirate movies and music isn’t important. But in MY 9/10 history classes, I have bigger fish to fry.

2 thoughts on “Copyright, Mashups, Plagiarism, and Information Management”

  1. Thank you for the link to Adam Renfro’s article – and your thoughts on his main ideas. I went to the site and read the entirety of the article. I was somewhat surprised at the two “most egregious offenses educators site regarding students and copyright. The first one – students accessing information via their own devices in class? Really…? An “egregious offense”…? It seems to me that that is something I actually encourage. But the second – students passing information off as their own – I do find troublesome. And I think that is the point, one Renfro comes back to later with his PowerPoint example. I think his example is brilliant, precisely because it involves going past the low-level thinking skill of just finding and accessing information, to analyzing and synthesizing information, constructing your own thoughts and opinions. I think if that is the classroom expectation, if that is the culture of your class, then directly teaching copyright law is not a priority. It doesn’t need to be. As you said – you and the kids are “frying bigger fish.”

    One additional thought / question. How do you see kids’ (and teachers) use of Evernote, Pinterest, Diigo, etc. fitting in here? I have some experience with them, though not enough for my own sake, let alone in use with my kids. I am thinking it comes back to the same issue as with the PowerPoint example. It comes down to “what comes next.” What do you do once the “access” stage is “over” (if it is ever is)?

    1. I’m familiar with Evernote – which, along with Google Calendar, organizes my life – and have heard of Diigo, but only heard of Pinterest this week. Yes, I’m terribly behind on all the new Web 2.0 tools (I only JUST heard about Dipity, as well, maybe that is already so 2011). But in a nutshell, I’m ambivalent about tools that make the sharing of information easier.

      On the one hand, they’re these great tools that let a group of students become more than the sum of their parts. For example, I’m planning to use Prezi’s collaboration features this quarter for a student-directed research project; they’ll post their group research question and sub-questions, and together will compile properly cited answers in the prezi and create a question web. Awesome.

      On the other, I feel like it just enables the low-skill students to ride on the coattails of others. In torrent-speak, they become “leechers” instead of “seeders.” Where’s the incentive to learn research skills and critical source evaluation by themselves? Okay, they can find information, and they know it’s relevant because the smart kids have it listed as a source too. But can they synthesize it into something new?

      I’ll have to think more on it. Time for bed. =)

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