Has any elementary school student in the history of the world tried to sell their Google Slides project to anyone? No you say? So why do elementary schools spend time each year forcing students as young as 2nd grade to attempt to follow arbitrary citation formats for images they re-use after grim, confusing lectures about “Copyright” from the head of the class?
We’ve all seen it: the three slide presentation with a title, a few sentences, an image or two and then the attempt at a citation, usually below the image which then mars the aesthetics of the student’s work. Instead of focusing on how to use the tool, to format things for readability or follow design principles, we get nine year old novice keyboarders taking eleven minutes to mis-type a URL. I walked in on this “copyright/citation lesson” so many times as a tech integrationist; you could literally see the enthusiasm for both the subject and the technology draining from the student.
The idea of dropping citation instruction from elementary digital learning programs will cause some serious pearl clutching among some of our media center and teacher colleagues, and let’s be clear—nobody is saying you can claim another’s work as your own, that is common sense.
What is not sensible is the way “copyright” is almost universally mis-taught in schools.
As “taught”, it not only discourages kids from following their natural inclination to be innovative and inquisitive using digital tools, more importantly, the endless focus on copyright denies the stronger argument that almost everything a student does as schoolwork falls under “Fair Use” and would be/is therefore exempt from any/all copyright claims in the first place.
In US law, fair use has four broad categories. They are:
Effect: Whether the purpose and character of the use are of a commercial nature or are for nonprofit educational purposes.
Nature: Whether the nature of the copyrighted work itself is primarily factual or creative.
Amount: How much of the work is used, or how substantial is the part used, in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
Purpose: How the use affects the author’s ability to market and realize a profit from the work.
Fair use is almost always granted if it is noncommercial, for schoolwork or education and not being used to try and make money, obtain views, etc.. As well, re-purposing an image is not using the entire article, webpage, etc., as your own. Student reports are not meant to be public repositories to inform others about penguins or cats or tigers, and when students use images and information in their assignments, it’s nearly always for non fiction work, which is almost always granted fair use.
At a minimum, schools should be balancing the boogeyman of copyright with the freedoms of fair use.
What is nearly as frustrating as the focus on copyright over fair use is the tone deafness to the fact that Western culture largely rests on and is entirely enthralled by sampling, reusing and repurposing material. Popular entertainment is so often based on sequels and spinoffs, rehashes and remixes! We should be encouraging creative transformation and re-use in schools, not haranguing primary school kids about copyright.
The good news is that some things can be improved by actually doing less, not more! Please pass this link of resources from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to your teachers, your integrationists and your media center colleagues. Because, to cite the Foundation’s main point behind creating the resource, “Students need fair use information, not copyright intimidation.”
2020 is an opportunity for schools to re-explore their relationship to digital citizenship. The growing erosion of our privacy as well as our amplified cohabitation with Artificial Intelligence (AI) present us with new challenges.
We are tracked 24/7 with digital ecosystem grids which have become seamless and frictionless parts of our daily routines. In (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism), Shoshana Zuboff describes this process of tracking. She calls the information that makes up these digital ecosystem grids “behavior surplus“. Behavior surplus is the personal data that we leave on our devices and give away daily based on a mutual agreement (user agreements) between the digital companies and us. These agreements (when is the last time you read a user agreement?) give permission for our behaviors online/offline to be tracked, collected, monitored and analyzed by companies and in some cases governments at will. The purpose of “surveillance capitalism” is to leverage this “behavior surplus” to mitigate the uncertainty of our desires and to better predict what we will do. This is then turned into a profitable commodity. The value of our “behavior surplus” is unprecedented and the raw material of human data is fueling the engines of innovation, economics, politics and power.
Over the past few years, AI has had a growing impact on our lives, more often than we realise. Daily, it seems we develop a growing dependency on this cohabitation with AI: be it our GPS, HomeAssistant, iRobot vacuum cleaner, Health Device, DatingApps, SmartWatch, or SmartTV. For our students, this seamless integration of AI into our lives often comes as a frictionless change. Tik Tok is a great example of this – a social media platform with sophisticated AI and unprecedented tracking algorithms, which in a short time added 1 billion users. Overnight, Tik Tok become a teen favorite and serious competition to Snapchat and Instagram. For many educators, new digital consumables are embraced with hesitancy but somehow often the convenience is enticing enough for us to succumb to the charm of the “smart” and “wifi“ ready products.
I have worked with groups of educators and students to build a series of lessons around ARTE’s Do Not Track in order to highlight the complexity and intricacies of how we are tracked. The different episodes are thoughtfully constructed with interactive components breaking down the erosion of privacy. I am surprised how often a percentage of students confidently express their indifference with this erosion of privacy and its implications. In some ways this makes sense. If the current privacy landscape is the sole point of reference, the current state of privacy is interpreted as normal. In comparison, educators interacting with ARTE’s Do Not Track respond with far more anxious discomfort as for many this erosion is compared to experiences where individuals felt greater control over their privacy. As we re-explore digital citizenship, we need to take these varying perspectives into consideration.
The fact is that most of our students are highly proficient digital consumers and not digital natives. The same goes for many educators in general. If we think of our own interactions with digital environments, it’s very likely that most of our time is focused on consumption.
We need to consider re-framing how we support educators and students in a school setting away from a sole focus on digital citizenship to a broader focus on digital fluency. This requires us to develop an approach where the focus is on developing purposeful connections to our digital ecosystems with the goal of becoming ethical digital creators of content.
The concept and idea behind digital fluency is built on the work of the DQ Institute and its well thought out DQ Framework and the 8 digital intelligences. Digital fluency is facilitating an approach where learning opportunities are constructed around the natural connections of our day to day lives with these 8 digital intelligences. The important aspect of this focus is not excluding other essential learning in the curriculum. To make this meaningful, digital fluency needs to have clear connection points to personal experience, ensure these connection points are purposeful, and build on the learning already taking place in a school’s curriculum.
The above graph is one sample of several surveys done with middle school students asking them what areas of the DQ Framework they would like to learn and focus on. Interestingly, there was a clear pattern across several groups for Digital Safety as the highest priority (from the DQ Competencies.)
An important aspect of this is allowing student voice to actively guide the design of these digital fluency connections. They are identifying valuable needs and ensuring this open communication is key to making this shift meaningful to them.
Here are some examples of what digital fluency could look like, and what some schools are already actively creating. One example is giving high school students a LinkedIn account and spending time supporting what it means to have a public profile and how to curate a positive digital footprint compared to a personal social media footprint. Other schools are creating blended courses for parents on how to understand the difference between the pedagogic use of digital devices in schools and the challenges of a more open ended environment of digital device use outside of school in the home. Another example is having students develop public service announcements regarding malware and then coaching younger students on how to identify phishing emails and how to manage an antivirus app. Another is walking through the architecture of effective password creation and developing sustainable strategies to ensure a solid level of security in the students personal lives as a podcast. Or having students coach their parents through the privacy and security settings of their favorite app and create a how-to help screencast.
It is through these activities that participants build on a set of dispositions, skills and knowledge where they feel a sense of autonomy in addressing the complexities, challenges and opportunities of the digital ecosystems we are so intimately connected to.
The new decade at our doorstep will be intrinsically connected to cohabitation with AI and a dilution of the autonomy we have with our privacy. Scaffolding digital fluency as an essential part of learning provides a guide for students to shift their energies away from being passive digital consumers. Digital fluency provides a mindset to better understand the importance of the ethical responsibilities of digital creation and the implications of the digital ecosystems which permeate our lives, both visible and invisible. Ignoring this will just amplify a society of passive digital consumers, while eroding our free will.
Part of our responsibility of working in a boarding school is taking our advisory group of students on a weekend trip somewhere in Switzerland. It is a chance to bond with the students, obviously get them to know one another, and to offer support for many who are far from home and in boarding school for the first time.
I booked an overnight at Lac Lioson and was excited to share the experience of hiking, enjoying the clean air of the Swiss Alps with my advisee students and my family and forgetting about work for awhile. However, it wasn’t long into my second day that I discovered that you can take teenagers are what they are, no matter how idyllic the location. We were having a great time, don’t get me wrong. We rented dirt scooters and bumped down Alpine cow pastures, walked around a wonderful lake, and had a great dinner of cheese fondue. They even played cards and enjoyed one another’s company for awhile.
But something just wasn’t right. It was the constant beeping, blipping, checking miniature screens and giggling at snapchats, instagrams and selfies of friends in other places. As close as I thought we were getting to the others around us, those omnipresent things, those gadgets (I won’t even honor them with an actual name), took us away. So, at dinner I took the risk of putting mine (brought along for pictures and for emergency purposes of course) in the middle of the table in the hut and announced that I was turning mine off and encouraged everyone to do the same for the remainder of the trip. No one followed suit, not even Suzanne, my favorite and most trusted advisee. They clutched them a little closer, looking a combination of hurt, offended, and ‘are you kidding me?’ So, my little black powered down object sat there by itself, unaccompanied and useless.
One boy in particular, seemed to really enjoy the small victory. He had this new Samsung with a huge screen. It was like a mini mini I-Pad and I wondered what sort of person could possibly carry something like that around all day. But he did. I considered pulling rank as Principal and forcing them to put the objects on the table but feared what my options would be if they refused. So, I decided not to empower them by bringing attention to it, but let it go, taking solace in the card games at least and the incredible natural beauty of our surroundings.
The next and final day, it got ugly. Samsung boy resisted going on the day two hike and actually sat down twice on the trail, swiping and jabbing his precious gigantic screen, a sight that really started to enrage me as we were surrounded by spectacular Alpine mountains. But there he sat, refusing to move. Daring me to act. Why did I let them take those things on the hike? I asked myself. Oh right, so they could take pictures. And I picked my battles too. At least while he swiped and texted he was walking, however slowly, up the mountain to our destination. I asked on of his friends, at one point, what would happen if I challenged the boy and made him give up the Samsung. “He wouldn’t give it up,” the friend said. “Oh no?” I said. “What if I grabbed it?” “Then he would just grab it back,” the friend said without hesitation. “If I threw it off the mountain do you think it would shatter?” I said, finally, feeling perspective slipping away.
“He has another one,” the friend said, smiling and turning to finish the last third of our hike.
Epilogue: The boy (a senior) finally made it up the mountain and said on his way down he didn’t want to be part of our advisory group anymore. I smiled and said, “I am proud of you for making it up the mountain. I knew you could do it.”
Thanks for reading. If you haven’t seen the video below, it summed up our experience this past weekend, though we did have some very nice in person moments. Keep fighting the good fight of educating young people to appreciate the world around them.