(This seems like a long post, but it is about one of the most important experiences I’ve had in a classroom in a long while.)
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).
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.
[For a lesson plan and accompanying resources for this, visit www.tinyurl.com/5qahht.]