Citation and Attribution in Grade 7

Our Grade 7 Science students are researching various natural disasters as part of their unit on Earth Science. The teachers have asked me to come in and talk about image attribution. As usual, I took things a bit further than that and used the time to discuss copyright, fair use, Creative Commons, MLA citations and attribution. It seemed a lot more interesting than just showing up, saying “This is you can attribute your image” and then walking out!

We started by looking at some of the amazing and horrifying images of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami at The Big Picture. We read the captions and discussed how the news wire services work. In every caption was an attribution to the photographer: for example (David Guttenfelder/Associated Press). We boiled the concept of attribution down to this:

Attribution is about being polite and giving credit where credit is due.

We took a moment to discuss copyrights and how it should work in the real world: ask for permission, pay some money (probably) and then use the other person’s work. All students agreed that that isn’t how it actually works for them. We talked about Fair Use in Education (for their academic work) and Creative Commons (for their personal projects) and how they apply. It was quick, simple and to the point.

A finally, what is usually the boring stuff: MLA citation. When I asked them why they needed to cite their work, I got some good answers:

  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Allow the teacher to check your sources.
  • Allow others to go deeper into material.

All of those reasons where useful to others, but weren’t actually useful to the students themselves. So I had an idea: I quickly loaded up the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site and went over it with them. We talked about the various elements of a proper MLA citation and how it applied to this site. And then we made the connection:

Citation is about verifying the quality of your source.

Yes it takes some time to do (even when using NoodleTools), but most things that are important usually do!

IB Art and Creative Commons

I had an interesting conversation with our IB Art teacher after school today. We were initially talking about Photoshop and the best way for her students to learn new techniques. Very quickly, however, the conversation turned towards copyright, fair use and creative commons.

We came up with some very interesting discussion points and I wonder what you think about any or all of them. (My thoughts are in parentheses.) I also wonder what the IBO and the examiners think on these matters:

  • If a student is creating digital artwork (in Photoshop for example), under what circumstances would you – as the Art teacher – allow him/her to use CC-licensed photos? (Personally, I would allow it. But it better be good!)
  • How does one attribute CC media when it is used to create a piece of art? (No clue!)
  • Is it a violation of copyright to use images from a magazine in student work? (Yes, definite violation.)
  • What if he/she is taking the images, cutting them into unrecognizable pieces and creating a mosaic with those images? (Less certain… does this make it transformative?)
  • What if he/she is only taking a small portion of the image so as to make it unrecognizable? (My feeling is this is a violation.)

I am certainly no expert on copyright, fair use or creative commons. But as Shepard Fairey and others before him have shown, not very many people can agree on boundaries of these terms. Do your boundaries as an artist and as a teacher of art differ?

Note: Just for fun we sat down and watched A Fair(y) Use Tale. I always enjoy watching that!

Thing 10: Copyright, Copywrong and Creative Commons

Please excuse the brevity (and funny punctuation) of the next few blog posts. Being in Europe has its drawbacks: expensive internet cafes and funny keyboards.

Teachers have always gotten around traditional copyright law, whether they knew it or not, by the “Fair Use” standards in place for education. While this serves us well, it will not always serve our students. Nor does traditional copyright laws take into account the instantaneous nature of sharing and remixing information.

Enter Creative Commons.

CC licensing is necessary in today”s world. It can, I think, be thought of as a community. I”ll use your images, music, etc. and you can use mine. There is nobody policing anything. It”s up to the individual users to ensure that they are abiding by the terms of the license that has been placed on the work by the creator.

I kind of like that idea when it comes to students: empowering people to ensure that they are using other people”s work responsibly.