Tuesday, December 23, 2008


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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Participation = Fear?

Last week was a very interesting week. It's the first week of the new semester, and I thought is a good day to talk about what it means to...participate.

My class of seventh graders brainstormed a bit, discussed, and I was surprised to find that, the most obvious answer was, "it's what we get graded on." And also, "it's raising your hand in class." That brings up a very good concept: are we telling our kids that participating in life, in culture, in society, only happens at the expense of a grade or a payment?

"It's what we get graded on."

When it comes to the global picture, when kids grow up, will they participate in their government or a social cause because it's the right thing to do, or will the shun it because of the old adage "what's in it for me?"

The idea of participation as a grade is being pushed out of fear- "raise your hand, or else, you'll fail this class." Should not participation be nourished and encouraged? If you say that kids get a grade for participating, what are we really saying to them? How are we setting them up for the future with this current model of participation?

It's an interesting question. My idea of participation comes from a 34 year old technology teacher, who has much experience to draw upon. For a 12 year old, whose only experience is getting a participation grade, I wonder how that will shape them in life.


image from Pop Rocker on Flickr: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2319/2416080818_1e80fb5e5b.jpg?v=0

Thursday, October 30, 2008

About "Drop Box" Collaboration

As technology and education continue to evolve, the word collaboration is thrown about almost like a towel these days. Through my twitter and Classroom 2.0 accounts I'm constantly being bombarded with invitations to collaborative projects. The problem with most of these projects is, they are mostly serving the teacher's portfolio rather than the students.

Right now is a very interesting time for technology education, and it is clear that educators out there are "seizing the moment" and carving their niche into the establishment, hoping to be the first to try this new tool or the first to implement that. I'm sure there's part of me that's interested in that too, hoping that my blog takes off like wildfire, and can inspire millions of teachers and educators.

So when I get opportunities like http://liferoundhere.pbwiki.com/ I wonder to myself, who is this serving? The students or the creator? This is not to belittle the project at all, which I very may well have my own students try, but I am beginning to see a trend in our Web 2.0 technology education towards collaboration that is really not collaborating.The project asks:

LifeRoundhere is a fascinating idea that requires that students create a movie about how stereotypes affect culture. By making this a global project, you really open things up and offer a world view of stereotyping from all over the world. This is a perfect example of what I call Drop Box Collaboration. Having a global project is great, but how is this really collaborating? It's not. It may not be intended that way, so there's nothing wrong with that.

But my issue lately, is collaboration as a whole. Collaboration involves working together toward a common goal. So this end product of liferoundhere, the wiki, will be more of a collection or a collage of movies that highlight stereotypes across the world. What I want to know from a project like this and projects like these is: how do you get students who live in other states, countries and continents to actually work together to create something together? The problem is, once the process is done, most often students just drop their work in a box and are done with it. Technology can offer us much more than a drop box.

It's All About the Process
What needs to be address in technology curriculum is process. The process of creating the project is really what is important and where the learning takes place. By making the collaboration happen after the process is over, really loses the value of the experience. The collaboration is in the process, it is the process, not in the end product.

Again, I got an invitation to a project, this one by the New York Times, no less. It's called the Polling Place Photo Project. It has been suggested that students in social studies class might want to be involved in something like this. While I love the idea of having students and people all over America taking pictures of their polling place experience, it, again, is Drop Box Collaboration. This project will serve the NY Times more than it will students or the people. The NY Times gets to show off (for free, no less) wonderful pics of polling places across America, and if you can pay attention after the election is over, maybe students and teachers can go to the website and check it out. It's after-the--fact collaboration.

"People in America don't know how to collaborate, yet."

It's All About the Teachers, and Facebook
During a recent chat with a colleague, I was told, "you have to start small" in regards to collaboration. I take this to mean that teachers in America are still learning how to collaborate using these new tools, and it's okay to try something new even if it isn't "true" collaboration.
I guess she might be right, but can't we think big, as well? What I see, and these are just two examples of collaborative projects, but yesterday my wife, said something poignant. She said "people in America don't know how to collaborate, yet." I take Facebook as an example. I was looking at Facebook the other night, and I saw post after post after post, but nobody is commenting on each other's posts. It's like a million people wanting to be heard, but they don't know how to get people to read their stuff, or get their attention. So if I look at this objectively, people are really trying to be heard, trying to be listened to, and they see Facebook as a great place to finally have a box from which to stand on. Except they, themselves, have no listening skills of their own, so all we get are a billion people shouting with no one listening, or very few.

It reminds me that sharing, one of my classroom's central themes really isn't an American value. We can say it is, and we teach kids to share their toys when they are young. But when they grow up, we say- "every man for himself!" and "go out and get what's yours!"

It's a very interesting time in this country. With open source software gaining popularity, companies sharing trade secrets, and social networking gaining huge popularity. But the question is, are we still trying to serve ourselves, or are we trying to serve our students and our community? Who is more important? Only time will tell.

Friday, October 17, 2008

TechCon 2008, Naperville, IL

Today we had a great session which I will update more about soon. But I think one of the nicest tools that we saw was from www.polleverywhere.com. Here's a poll that I created after the conference was completed.

The conference introduced us to an extreme amount of Web 2.0 tools, luckily, some that I'm already using like Diigo and Flickr, but I was particularly interested in Wes Fryer's uses of the cell phone in (or out of) class. I see potential already with my blogging class, and I'd like to see how to safely import some of these voice blogs. I'll write more about those later.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fremont 79 Goes Green!

I can't believe how proud a moment this is! Could it be that I'm teaching in one of the greenest school districts in the state? While I don't have trouble showing my environmentally green colors, my own Fremont District 79 is planning to power itself using sustainable wind power! This is Illinois, right? While we do have some green initiatives, we are no California or Vermont. One could probably count the amount of wind turbines in Illinois on one hand. Just to offer some evidence, this picture from Lee County, Illinois proves that turbines do, actually exist here.

The original report from the Chicago Tribune states that a recent "study of area wind patterns presented to the School Board... determined the breeze blows strong enough to provide energy for the school district, confirming what many had suspected. Estimates suggest the district would tap only 80 percent of the electricity generated."

You mean we'd actually have power left over? That means that Fremont would be able to sell that power back to the grid, and actually make money off of this initiative.

The economy is having troubles, if you haven't heard. While I'm excited that this district is reacting to economic issues in such a positive way, I wonder: is this the beginning of a "green economy" in America? I mean, instead of us worrying about whether or not we go into another depression, is it possible that, instead, we emerge from this economic stress utilizing green technology as a way to help us cut costs and save money?

This is certainly evidence that one district is taking matters into it's own hands, and leading a charge that could definitely cause a domino effect. How much does the Chicago Public School system pay in electric bills? Could we soon see the completely underutilized Lake Michigan as a haven for wind or water turbines? Wisconsin has been trying to build wind turbines on the lake for about 5 years, and that plight is highlighted in this Washington Post article. They still won't see any action on their plan until 2009.

Whether it be because of global warming or economics, the fact that Fremont and other districts are finally turning to alternative energies is a good, positive reaction from this economic stress. Now, maybe the lowly consumer can get a break- soon- with these alternatives.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reflection on Copyrights in Light of Social Media

A question came to me recently while my students were creating Internet content. My students are working on their own blogs, podcasts, and digital stories, and use images and other content that is already available to them online. The question was about "re-purposing" content on the Internet. Much of the content that is created on the Internet is re-purposed, meaning that these creators have taken other people's images or artwork and have created new works, or mashups, as some folks have now called them.

One of the most recent re-purposed or mashed-up artworks that I can remember came to my email inbox the other day.

The question here is: Is this legal according to fair use?

For a run down on fair use policy please check out Brad Templeton's Website.

The answer to that is, technically....no...and yes.

Technically, under fair use policy, and in the case of The Dark Knight Trailer Recut- Toy Story 2, the creator of this mashup is free to create their content under the exception of parody. You could argue legally that by combining the two, they are a clear parody of each other, and that the comic effect is seeing the characters speak in the language of the Dark Knight voices. Mad Magazine has done these types of parodies since back in the 1950s, but the difference between Mad Magazine's type of parodies and this youtube mashup is that the creator didn't really add anything new to the artwork, they just rearranged it.

Now- it could also be illegal as well. What if the creator decided to combine Toy Story with a very inappropriate other movie, like, let's say a pornographic film? Now, let's also say that nobody cared about the mashup, until it started to be emailed and forwarded to millions of viewers across the world, and Pixar started to see that their funny kids movie called Toy Story was now being viewed as a sendup and it started to hurt the sales of their Toy Story products and DVDs. Soon, nobody wanted to watch Toy Story because it reminded them of that filthy mashup.

Pixar could just turn a blind eye to all of this and shrug it off, or they could argue copyright infringement, and claim that this goes beyond parody and beyond fair use. In this case, they might try to take the creator to court for infringement, or they would probably take youtube to court for allowing the content to be hosted there.

So is The Dark Knight Trailer Recut- Toy Story 2 legal? The only way to really know would be to go to court and have them decide, but for now, both sides in this case -Pixar and the youtube creator- will just stay silent and hope that nobody has to go to court. Almost every mashup could be considered illegal and legal, and until one party gets seriously damaged- the rules will be relaxed.

If Pixar did decide to sue the youtube creator, does the youtube guy have copyright protection in this case? I'd say they do under the parody exception of the Fair Use policy, but any big company with deep pockets could make things very difficult for any regular Joe to defend himself in court. Most likely, Pixar would just send the guy a cease-and-decist letter and hope their product is not damaged. Or they could make an example out of him and sue him, like JK Rowling recently did to an author of a Harry Potter fan book. The latter option is not usually a good PR move.

So, interesting, but who owns The Dark Knight Trailer Recut- Toy Story 2? Well, that's a super question. Again, this is really a court issue if we are to argue fair use. The creator could argue that it is him because of the parody exception. According to Brad Templeton, "a court has never ruled on this issue, because fan fiction cases always get settled quickly when the defendant is a fan of limited means sued by a powerful publishing company." If Pixar did want to argue it, though, it they might have a good case in the fact that the guy never really added any of his own content, just rearranging it.

Can't I just put this on my web page, and claim that I made it? Well copyright protection actually does protect the little guy. This youtube video was originally uploaded to a youtube account, and the owner of that account has a record of that. So let's say that this blog article is so popular that and everybody starts giving me credit for this mashup that I made, and more people go to my website, my website's ad sales go up, I get to go on NBC's Today Show, and start making a buck from this mashup, the original owner could sue me in civil court for copyright infringement. I have to give credit where credit is do.

So what do I think?
I know that Title 17 is outdated. Jonathan Zittrain from Legalaffairs.com reminds me of the crux of Title 17: " The law—Title 17 of the federal code—proscribes such acts as the public performance of music without payment to the composer or the copying of books without permission of the author (or more likely the company to whom the author long ago assigned rights). " We are moving too fast for the courts and the law to keep up with this Title. That's why, until now, the big publishers and movie companies have basically not done anything. They can say that they are tolerating the consumers creating this "fan fiction" because it works as free advertising, but it didn't work so well for Steven Vander Ark, the man who tried to publish the Harry Potter Lexicon, and claimed Fair Use under the fact that it was a reference book. JK Rowling sued him and actually won damages of $6000. You could state that JK was out of line, but she was publishing her own encyclopedia, and it's her right to do so. You can read about the outcome of that trial at New York Daily News.

I think it's important to protect original works, but I think that the courts will help this thing along. The courts can't even predict how this new copyright law will work, so as long as we're patient, this will play out in court. I'm waiting for the first "little guy" to put a mashup on his website that actually causes extreme harm to a movie company. It's not really a question of if this will happen, it's when.

So, when it comes to my classroom, are my kids being illegal when they post pictures that aren't their own to their blog? Should my student who wrote this blog take down the photo of the ball and glove because he didn't create the photo? Well, in this case, I think that the fact the he didn't create the photo is implied, and I guess you could argue that in court, but that doesn't teach him to give credit where credit is due. I agree that he should at least give credit for where he got the photo. I think that technology is going to have a cure for all of this soon, and by that, I think that someone will create a simple Web 2.0 tool that allows you to give and swap creator watermarks and post that information to your website.

The content has just grown too fast too much, and I believe it's only a matter of time where the Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 will catch up and offer us a solution for referencing all of these things.


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