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Building Responsible Digital Citizenship

Image licensed from Shutterstock

Long before the Internet became the go-to research tool, most students had been taught about the proper use and citation of text-based sources, using styles like MLA and APA. But with the internet making it so easy to find text-based information and easily copy it, teachers have had to ramp up their efforts to instill ethical and legal awareness around plagiarism. Many schools even subscribe to plagiarism detection services like turnitin.com to have additional means to check student work. Recently, the humanities team at my school completed a scope and sequence for successfully building this ethical understanding and citation process with text-based sources starting at Grade 6, using MLA format at all levels and in all classes, including science and math. We also subscribed to turnitin, with all students in grades 8-12 having accounts.

Along with traditional text-based research, the Internet and new technologies have more and more teachers facilitating projects that require other media like images, music, and video. At the same time, many teachers are publishing some of that work out to the world through blogs or other means. This creates a whole new issue in regards to the need to use legally licensed media and give proper attribution in the process. This is also a critical understanding and skill to go along with preventing text-based plagiarism, and is key aspect in building responsible digital citizenship with today’s students.

Creative Commons Symbol

One of the ways in which I work to build responsible digital citizenship with these other types of media at my school is by teaching about and requiring students to use Creative Commons licensed media in their work/projects that include images, music, and/or video. I also work with fellow faculty members to build their understanding so they can support the students in their own classes. This previous post about my colleague’s culminating project in her Humanities class references my assistance with the Creative Commons search and attribution process.

In my Technology Skills for the 21st Century Learner class that I blogged about a few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned the project where I have the students create a lesson that they teach to middle school students about “Ethics and the Internet.” My second semester students recently facilitated the lessons with the 7th graders (my first semester students did the lessons with the 6th and 8th graders).

Using a Understanding by Design (UbD) unit planning template, I have the students plan all three stages of the lesson, using the following goal/benchmark from our information literacy standards in stage 1 (they are also assessed on this benchmark for this and a couple of other projects during the semester):

  • Students advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.

Photo by Thomas Galvez

The students create the educational presentation and activities that they will facilitate. Of course, if they use any media that they don’t create themselves, it must be Creative Commons licensed media. While they are putting their lesson together, I coach them about the approach they are taking and give feedback on the activities they are creating. Their lesson needs to last at least one hour.

Both semesters’ students enjoyed doing the lesson. The response from the middle school students and their teachers was positive, as well. One of my colleagues who observed the students’ lesson said that it was great that this idea and process was being presented to students by students. I definitely agree. You can read some student reflections on the experience here.

The students that come through the Tech Skills class in the future will continue to do these lessons for the middle school students. In the same way student knowledge about plagiarism and proper text-based citation needs to be refreshed and retaught each year, students will need to be refreshed about Creative Commons and properly citing other digital media each year so that they can develop a deep understanding of the process and an empathy for the legal issues that surround the creation and publication of original and/or mashed-up work.

Here’s the slideshow I use to introduce Creative Commons to both staff and students:

The Power of Flickr

I’ve been using Flickr since August 2005. It’s been a great site for sharing photos with friends and family (prior to Flickr I had a MSN groups site). I’m in my ninth year of living overseas now, and I know my friends and family have appreciated me keeping them up-to-date with my travels and life overseas through the photos. Over this time, I’ve come to appreciate the photographic arts and learned some of the basic rules of taking good photographs, striving to take quality photographs during my wanderings in the process. Thus, I guess I can claim photography as a small hobby of mine.

flickrstatsOne aspect of Flickr I didn’t expect when I first signed up was the exposure my photos would get on the world stage. Titles and tags given to photos on Flickr are completelysearchable through search engines like Google and Yahoo (see the photo of the stats of my photos being accessed through these search engines). So, over time, more than my family and friends end up seeing my photos as long as I’ve allowed the photos to be viewed publicly.

What I’m really amazed about in all this is that I have had four requests from complete strangers to publish my photos since I joined Flickr. Now I’m sure there’s other Flickr members that have gotten many more requests than that, but considering that I am not a professional photographer and have never solicited my work in any way, I find it amazing that four of my photos have been published!

This photo of Islamic tile work at the Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain was the first one to be published. In June 2006, A lady from the BBC contacted me to use the photo for a GCSE Art revision site. I was very flattered by this request. Of course, I agreed. Considering all the photos that are uploaded to Flickr (and other photo sharing sites) I thought this was just a one off situation. This photo was one of my favorites, so I was happy it was found nonetheless!

In August 2007, I received a second email from a lady working on publishing a story about new casinos in Macau on the website NowPublic. This situation was a little different in that she asked me to go to the NowPublic website to upload my photo(s) she saw on Flickr to be part of the story she was writing on NowPublic. This was my first experience with and exposure to citizen journalism. If you’ve never seen the NowPublic site or never heard of citizen journalism, go check it out. It’s great! Anyway, at this point, I thought it was another kind of random occurrence with another person asking to use my photos.

Elapse another year and 2 months, and I got a request from an editor of a small, independent, alternative magazine in British Columbia. She asked if she could use a photo of a mistranslated sign at the Beijing airport I took for an article she was writing on mistranslations from around the world. With this third request, I was starting to feel amazed as to the power of Flickr in how it gives the amateur photographer opportunities (even when not looking for them!) that would have been difficult to get a few years ago.

Come January 8 this year, I received a fourth request to use a photo, this time by a marketing representative for a surveyors’ institution in the UK. She was asking to use one of my photos of the Bird’s Nest (Olympic stadium in Beijing) for an upcoming book they are publishing on their organization and surveying. This time I was absolutely blown away- a book that will be printed and distributed in the traditional means of publishing would have one of my photos in it! Of course, I agreed.

With all of these examples, I haven’t asked for money, just a proper credit of my name with the photos. Beyond the credit, the magazine editor from B.C. graciously sent me a hard copy of the magazine and the surveyor’s institution will send me a scanned copy of the page on which my photo appears (they can’t afford to send the whole book right now, which I understand).

flickrviewsOne last element that has amazed me with Flickr is the amount of views my photos get in general. The Sungnyemun Gate photo I took during a trip to South Korea a couple of years ago has had 2044 views! When I first noticed this, I couldn’t figure out why. Then one day, I realized that people were probably brought to it in looking for photos of the Namdaemun Gate that was burned down nearly a year ago- a historical moment bringing people to my photo! If only my family and friends were viewing my photos, it would only amount to 10 – 20 views or so at most (A person actually has to fully open a photo by clicking on it to consider it a ‘view’. Many photos are easily seen in the photo stream, so people don’t click on them, thus not getting a ‘view’ stat). So, when I see my photos being viewed more than 20 times, I know others around the world are finding them somehow.

So to wrap this up, social media and Web 2.0 sites like Flickr have levelled the playing field in getting creative work out to the world. Any one can publish photos through this or other photo sharing sites, allowing others to find their work and publish it through other mediums. In the educational realm, we need to encourage and give our students opportunities to do the same. Along with these opportunities to publish meaningful work to the world, teaching how to tag and title creative works effectively will be an important of the process. At the same time, helping students to understand Creative Commons and how the rules of copyright affect them and their work will be incredibly important in this world of easily accessible creative property, file sharing, and mash ups.

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