Kids, copyright, and open ed - one of the biggest learning experiences of the year

This week I had one of my best classroom experiences of the year. I had the opportunity to teach a bunch of middle school kids about copyright and open ed.

It was an incredibly active and engaging discussion, and I learned as much as they did.

A summary of my observations is below. (cross posted from my Mobile Musings blog)

Here is the lesson plan and accompanying resources if anyone wants to use them:
As a part of a project in which students are writing poems to be included in a collected ebook, I had the opportunity this week to teach several groups of middle school students about copyright and open content. (I am often frustrated by teachers telling kids to "just get any image from Google to include in your Powerpoint/Word doc.")

Facilitating this discussion with kids was tremendously enjoyable and thought-provoking. I am sure that I learned as much as they did (and I think they learned a lot).

Here are a few of my big take-aways:

1. Relevance leads to critical thinking and engaged learning. Copyright is a topic that is immediately relevant to kids -- as a result, they were highly interested and had a ton of questions, comments, and thoughts. While they were engaged, I was able to insert other topics from math, writing, and reading. I think this is a key to improving learning (and it doesn't flow naturally from a textbook or a pacing guide).

2. In general, kids want to be legal. They are, however, seriously uninformed. (When asked about what they knew about copyright, many confused it with plagiarism. They think this is a what-I-can-do-in-school issue rather than a legal issue.) They had many questions about what they needed to do to be legal.

3. The filesharing tools these kids use (almost universally) are Lime Wire and Photobucket. For those not in the know, Lime Wire is P2P file sharing software, apparently used by kids for exchanging music illegally (being used as the new Napster or Grokster). I believed most of the kids when they told me that they didn't understand the legal issues involved with this. Their big concern with the service: viruses.

4. Most kids were not aware of the fundamental premise of Wikipedia: that anyone can edit it. This was shocking to me. When they understood this, they found it very empowering. (Together, we edited an article about their school district -- something that you'd never find on Encarta or EB.) This led to a very sophisticated discussion about the pros and cons of an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. These kids got it a lot faster than most adults. We also talked about vandalism, wikispam, and version control.

5. Once the students understood the basics of copyright and open content, they quickly began discussing some pretty high level concepts about intellectual property. Unprovoked by me, they asked about financial issues, transference of copyright, IP address tracking, use of personal images (image release issues), paparazzi photos, parodies (as they relate to fair use), and lots more. It was phenomenal.

6. Kids are all over Firefox and view it as a better browser.

7. They were not familiar with the term "open source." :( On the other hand, they expressed a universal contempt for Microsoft (to an extent that I found a little scary, but what a force for the OER community to harness).

8. Only one kid out of about 150 had ever heard of Creative Commons. How had he heard of it? YouTube.

9. They enjoyed finding open content that is legal to use in their projects. They were surprisingly adept at finding and understanding the licenses (CC, GFDL, public domain) and at including appropriate credits for the pieces used in their own work.

10. Kids who often appear bored and lacking in critical thinking and articulate communication skills suddenly seem like geniuses when they are discussing something that matters to them.
What fun! My mind is still reeling at all the epiphanies I had during these few days.

Views: 33

Tags: commons, copyright, creative, ed, open, wikipedia

Comment by Dennis O'Connor on May 20, 2008 at 8:43am
Karen, thank you for a great post. You've really hammered home the importance of motivation and interest as a way to reach middle schoolers. Many teachers might think that copyright would be a dull dry topic. You've kicked that misconception right out the door.

This is a line we should all hang on the classroom wall: "Relevance leads to critical thinking and engaged learning."

I teach online classes about information fluency skills. ( This week we're looking at ethical use, which covers copyright, plagiarism, and citation. Your post and lesson plans are spot on for the educators taking my class. I've recommended they drop by and read about your week of epiphanies.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights!

Comment by coakes on January 7, 2009 at 12:31pm
Dear Karen,
Your blog post here is so informative and engaging. I am getting ready to begin a project with two 8th grade language arts teachers as we begin a journey with 100- 8th graders posting on our ning called ourspace where we will study and develop character for their writing assignments. The ning is private right now, but if we open it up, I mean when we open it up I can let you know. Cheryl


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