Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Student Copyright Issues

If you have seen the title of this post in your reader and have dropped by to hear yet another take on what to do about students downloading music and demonstrating their mastery of a slick copy/paste technique, then you have been misled. I have been musing over the past couple of months about student rights over their own 'images and schoolwork' once it is published. A few happenings and conversations have got me thinking about this.

eg. I received an email from a non-teacher type who just happened to have been at some education conference recently and in passing mentioned that we would be proud of the work students at your school are producing because this writer had seen a couple of presenters showing our kids' work posted online as examples of points they were making in their presentations.
My initial response was along the lines of, "Wow, that's great to hear that others are appreciating the work the kids are publishing." But soon came the thought, but it's not me who should be hearing this - it's the creators of the content. It takes hours to put together a presentation for a conference, but would take less than five minutes to leave a quick message on a kid's blog to say that you would like to use their work and show it to an adult audience. Imagine how affirming that would be for the kids AND it would model fair use and digital citizenship to them at the same time.

It is particularly difficult for non-classroom teachers to access examples of student content to use in presentations so we inevitably end up showing work created by students who we don't work with. And what I have discovered is that under New Zealand copyright law the students own the work, and so deserve to be informed if not directly asked, when their work is used by others. I am obviously not a lawyer, but take a look at the Guidelines for Schools for the online publication of student images and schoolwork and check out this Ministry of Education publication, particularly where it deals with student copyright issues.

It is not just other educators who can overlook who has copyright to student work either. As classroom teachers we can spend long hours supporting, monitoring, tweaking and fixing up student online content and can justifiably feel a strong degree of ownership of the work published by our classes, but actually it is owned by the students and their parents/guardians. Whether it is simply their writing typed up in a post, images in a slideshow or complex 3D animations or movies - it all belongs to the students.

Which brings me round to some of the questions I have been asking in earlier posts on this blog; if the students own this content, who is taking care that policies are in place to ensure that students can have content removed if they no longer want it online or don't want it in a particular space online? What record does the school management have of where content is being posted and the user names and passwords to manage it if the teacher moves on or loses interest in that space. Does the student's copyrighted content then become cyber-junk? This means the ability to access (as an administrator) student content posted online should not remain solely with one teacher.

My boss, who always likes to bring the virtual world issues into perspective by comparing them to 'old school' issues, reckons student copyright is no different from how it used to be with school books and projects; we all can remember teachers who wanted to keep a brilliant science fair project or fabulous piece of student art work to show to the next year's class as an exemplar. They had to ask the student for permission to do this because they clearly owned it (though in many science fair projects there is often a fair degree of parent ownership!). And so it should be no different with online content.

It is an interesting read to find out about student copyright issues and wonder how often their rights are being overlooked. One clause that should be fairly obvious is the right of the student "to object to derogatory treatments of their work" - make you think twice before you publishing their work on some sites wouldn't it! Another issue arising from this is creative commons, which I am sure most readers here would think is a good innovation. But, as teachers we don't have the right to apply a creative commons license to the work of students - they would have to (with their parents if they are primary or intermediate age).

Hard to teach them to do (copy-)right by others if we are not doing right by them in the first place isn't it!

The need to consider the Copyright Act 1994 - from the MoE booklet
Schools often wish to publish on the Internet original material that students create at school, including artwork and text material such as stories, poems, and other literary work. Material such as this, created by students, attracts protection as copyright works under the Copyright Act 1994. The students each own the copyright in their own artistic and literary works. Schools do not own the copyright in students' schoolwork unless it is legally transferred to the school.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Managing all those Blog feeds

One of the key indicators we are researching through our Manaiakalani Cluster projects is the impact of authentic audience on student motivation and engagement, and ultimately on their learning oucomes. This means that they are increasingly publishing their work in online spaces such as blogs. As our students move more and more into working in online spaces the task of tracking their changes and just keeping up with it all can become daunting, particularly for those in school management roles (and secondary school teachers) who are overseeing more then one class of students. At the moment there are close to 100 blog feeds alone from our cluster students, from Year 1 - 13.

I have been working with principals and teachers to introduce them to RSS and try to find a method that suits their eLearning style to aggregate their RSS feeds. We have explored all the usuals; Netvibes, Google Reader, iGoogle, browser based, Apple Mail (would love to know if Outlook and Entourage have simple RSS like Mail does), etc and the most commonly used appears to be adding a feed gadget to the sidebar of their own class blog, as I have done on this blog. But this doesn't allow for the sheer volume of blogs they want to follow.

I have come to accept that the sort of person who is reading this blog has no problem with the concept of RSS, but not everyone is willing to either set up an aggregator OR go searching for the feeds. Most willingly accept responsibility for a feed from the work they monitor from their own students as part of the job, but the rest of it feels too hard or too geeky. So I am trying another solution.

I have tried adding individual feeds to our cluster website using Grazr, and that worked well while we only had 10 or 20 accounts feeding in. As the numbers grew it has become a 'hunt the needle in the haystack' to try and find them.

In the holidays I saw isaac_d send a tweet from Twitterfeed and I checked it out to see if it might be a one stop solution for Manaiakalani. I created a new Twitter account, clusternz , then signed up to Twitterfeed and added all the RSS feeds from the cluster blogs one by one - very tedious, as even on our KAREN connection it doesn't load fast! Now every time one of the cluster blogs publishes a new post clusternz automatically sends out a tweet.

However, I didn't actually create it to Twitter from myself, as I can't imagine many people wanting to follow an account that only tweets blog updates! I really wanted the RSS feed that Twitter generates on the side bar.

So now I have another option for creating widgets schools can put on their web pages, like this one, or individuals can add to their blog side bars (an example in the sidebar of this blog), or the RSS feed works in Mail, iGoogle etc. I have had feed back from two people this week who say it already feels much better having all the kids' blogs consolidated into one feed and not swamping all the other feeds they follow.

The only problem with this is for teachers in schools who block twitter, but maybe if this is an effective system for the principals to use, they may unblock it ;)

And now, I am waiting to hear feedback from you all that there is a MUCH simpler solution that I haven't thought about yet.....

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Confidently leading online learners

During the last school term, after I had spoken at a conference, a teacher came up to me and told me that the 21st Century learning I had been talking about had not been happening in her class but she was determining to give it a go. "I'm thinking about where to start," she said "but everyone says that blogging is out and Twitter is where it's all at, so what do you say to me starting with Twitter in my class?" Well, mentally I was retorting, "No, don't do it - as you were - forget about anything you just heard from me". But of course I didn't say that aloud. Instead I asked, "Who is the Everybody who is saying this?" "Oh, The Media!" was the response.
Of course one teacher informing her decisions about the next step for her class (or other people's children as I always prefer to think of it) from media sound bites and a conference speaker may well be an abberation, but it was enough to get me working on another post about my musings around Web 2 issues. Over the past couple of years I have talked with heaps of educators who are starting out using Web 2 tools with their schools or individual classes. I have come to see that there are a couple of very important understandings to be clear on before setting out like Captain Cook on an exciting voyage of discovery with an eager crew of children.

One of these is to have an understanding of
the community you work in and the other is to have an understood purpose for doing this. Understanding the community - the parents, the Board of Trustees, the school vision and leadership, the policies already in place, the students you are working with - will save a whole raft of problems later on. I have loosely grouped communities into 3 categories;
  1. The 'walled garden' community
  2. The 'go-fer-it' community
  3. The 'yes - but' community
The 'walled garden' community are very cautious about the whole online thing with their children and are reluctant to have them on the internet, most concerned about their images and content being online, and even request directly that their children are not included in any online spaces - including the school website. My belief is that these parents have a right to have this attitude and if you have chosen to work in this community it is up to you to make it work! Parent education and involvement is an obvious starting place, but in the meantime you are obligated to respect their wishes and work within the 'walled garden'. Hopefully they would accept password protected web spaces, students represented by avatars and pseudonyms etc, but it is their call.
The 'go-fer-it' community at the opposite end of the spectrum do exist! As a community they 'get' Web 2 and enjoy it. They are proud of their children when they see them online and support them gaining a measure of online 'fame' through their online identities. (BTW, I am taking it for granted that, despite this open attitude, the school is working within 'Netsafe' boundaries with things like first names only, no phone numbers and addresses etc). I believe that the challenge for teachers with this level of trust and freedom is to constantly be evaluating ethics and behaving responsibly online and not just 'winging' it. Continuing to remember that with freedom comes responsibilities. And to continue to keep the community well informed of new directions the students/class/school are taking - as there always will be the next new thing.
The 'yes - but' community are anywhere on the continuum between the other two and they deserve ongoing education and information. They may well agree to one situation, eg happy to have the class blogging, but have uncertainties about another online environment. Every community has the right to be completely informed about what their children are doing and where their learning is taking place, but this group may respond particularly well to regular opportunities to come into school to see the students demonstrate their learning and hear from the teacher the thinking behind what is happening. And of course the more they are invited to be involved as a contributing audience the greater the buy in is likely to be.
In the early days of eLearning I held 'open class' once a term from 3pm till 9pm where the students could bring in their extended families and show them online, and using the data projector if they wished, what they had been learning. And of course the parents were welcome to talk to me as well, but the emphasis was on the students informally presenting. In my last year of doing this I had so many come in that we set up a mini theatre and one child brought in the neighbours as well as the whanau to look at his work.

Finally, if I was changing jobs I would be asking questions about community attitudes to 21st century learning before I bought into the job - some things take a lot of energy to change! Having a clear understanding of the purpose for using Web 2 spaces with your students will seem obvious to anyone who reads adult edu-blogs, but I am no longer surprised when I meet teachers planning to 'set up a wiki/blog' simply because they have been told that it is the thing to do now. My own experience working with children in eLearning has been to state the purpose in writing and hand it to the boss (and sometimes Board of Trustees) when I get the next new idea to try something different. And the first set of bullet points is about the learning I would hope to incur. This way of operating has primarily benefited me because writing a brief resume clarifies the thinking - a bit like writing a blog post - and when you get a green light it helps to have the support of management behind the project.
One of the questions the Manaiakalani lead teachers asked each other at our last workshop was 'Can a first time visitor to your class blog tell from the home page what the purpose of this blog is?' They worked in groups on this, analysing each other's blogs and in the end decided out of the 16 teachers present only 3 were absolutely clear. Discussion followed about how to improve the clarity of purpose on the other 13 and changes were made accordingly.
You would expect that the purpose of your blog would evolve over time, but it can be a useful exercise to ask someone else to give feedback about whether the current purpose is clear.
Having lots of teachers talk to me about their own online spaces and hearing about the issues arising in their specific situations has contributed greatly to this post - so thank you very much for your openness. This is also a continuation of the thinking coming out of our discussions around developing robust Web 2 policies for our school and cluster. As always your thoughts are welcome :)