Murky Waters

I was having a conversation yesterday with some of my sixth grade students and the topic of copyright came up. Not sure how much their teachers and parents had been talking to them about copyright, I started doing some digging about their understanding of what it meant.

Quickly I realized they knew, more or less, what copyright was. It also rapidly became apparent that the way they applied that knowledge varied dramatically. We were specifically discussing music when one student made the comment, “Well, in American they really don’t care about what songs you use, America doesn’t really care that much about it.” Wow…that certainly is a misconception that needs straightening out!

Another student tried to explain it to the group (she’d obviously been having serious discussions with someone about this) and she used the words “Yeah, but you’re stealing their passion!” She went on to explain that sites like LimeWire are illegal but more importantly they are wrong-because it allows people to steal a person’s passion.

The first student still wasn’t convinced, and was struggling to understand how you are ‘stealing someone’s passion.’ We tried to explain it as something that would hit closer to home. Using the analogy of him creating a film (he loves video making) that he had spent months and countless hours on making-then having another 6th grade student from a different school download his video, using his ‘passion’ for his or her own gain or credit. All without acknowledging (whether monetarily or otherwise) the actual creator of the stunning film. He was quiet for a minute, gave a quick nod to the group and said, “You have a point there.”

After we had this discussion, I found myself thinking about this for quite some time. I think copyright is an area we all struggle with understanding. I wrote an earlier blog post that touched on this as well. I found myself in murky waters when it came to explaining to my students what we could and couldn’t use on our new student site we’re creating (my new final project). So how do I help kids understand that there is potential for them to cause trouble if they use the music performance video if the group didn’t have permission to perform the music in the first place…and is that even an issue? And how do we know if the videos we’re using are following copyright laws, how can we tell? Since there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule, how do we help kids make sound decisions?

As we’re trying to wrap our heads around all of this and make sense of it, I also find myself really feeling my kids’ pain and frustration with this issue. This is the generation of collaborators, of believers in Google Docs, Wikis, and Open Source. They don’t understand that just because it’s there on the Internet and I can click on it, download it, put it in my presentation-it doesn’t make it okay to do so.

In light of all of this confusion and murkiness, I found the sliver of light shining through. When I asked my students if they knew what Creative Commons was, all of them were aware of it and what it meant. I introduced them to and they were excited (though one of the students asked if they had songs like ones Michael Jackson sings…had to burst that bubble a little bit-they weren’t going to find the top downloads from iTunes BUT they would find good music that they could use without breaking laws).

As I said in my earlier ramblings, I think we are going to have to rethink what copyright means in this day and age. We’re going to have to find a way to clear these murky waters for us and for our kids.

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Facebook Workshop

Without going in to all the details of why, let me share with you about my experience with a group of students doing some ‘Facebook sensitivity training’ as the HS counselors called it! I chose to refer to it as a ‘Facebook/Online Profile workshop’. I’m sure the students didn’t enjoy all of it (they weren’t really meant to after all) but I will say that I thought it was an incredibly worthwhile 4 hours.

Initially we began the day with just talking about Facebook. We looked at how it works; we examined and discussed the privacy settings (which most kids were unaware of) and even gave the kids time to go in and put some settings into place. As we were chatting as a group about Facebook, one student said he hadn’t worried about ‘getting into trouble’ because he wasn’t ‘friends’ with any adults on Facebook. Suppressing the urge to grin, I looked at him and asked him if he was ‘friends’ with any of the other 20 kids in the room. He confirmed he was ‘friends’ with just about all of them. I then asked the group to raise their hands if they had adults as friends on Facebook. Every single hand in the room went up but this boy’s. As we had just finished discussing the privacy settings and how friends of friends can see what you write…he was smart enough to put two and two together and sheepishly nodded his head saying “okay, I get it.”

Eventually I gave the kids some time to research Facebook, Privacy on the Internet, and/or Cyberbullying. We then came back together as a group to share what the kids had found. They were shocked at the information they found-the lack of privacy and the way information was being used to fire people from jobs, evict tenants from their rental homes, and deny students admission to universities. This was a major eye opener for these kids…and that is what has me worried! Why was this information new and unknown to these students? The events they were reading about have been happening with more and more frequency-yet it was all news to these 20 sixth, seventh, and eight graders. And what about the rest of the kids that weren’t a part of this workshop? How much do they know about all of this? Who is talking about this stuff with our students…?(more to come on this in a later blog post-hopefully it will be good news about the direction we’re headed in due in part to our Facebook fiasco!)

On a side note-I established from the outset that I was far from against Facebook, if anything I was a pro-Facebook believer. It was perfect that while I was working with these kids on understanding the negative power of social networking, at the same time there was a huge rally happening in our neighborhood that demonstrated the positive power. An environmental studies teacher with his class started a Facebook group to ban plastic bags in Thailand and at that point had over 7,000 members! They advertised the rally on Facebook and had over 1,000 people attend. Now that is power in connections.

As part of the workshop, the students had two ‘assignments’. The first one was to write an essay on some of the things they had learned from their time together. They could write on anything from Facebook to Privacy to Cyberbullying-it was their choice. The second assignment was also a choice-they could create a list of “Dos and Don’ts” for Facebook or they could create a collage of words/pictures representing who they wanted to be in this world (we had spent some time discussing this around Online Profiles and Cyberbullying earlier). This is where something remarkable happened.

One of my students, Gina (who is one of the coolest 8th graders I’ve met), wrote an excellent essay about Facebook and privacy. She posted it on her blog and I shared the link with Jeff, who then twittered it out to his ‘peeps’. Gina quickly found herself in the limelight with people from all around the world reading her essay and asking if they could share it with others-teachers were requesting her permission to share it with their entire class of students. Here’s the goosebump moment-Gina loves writing and has written some stunning poetry. She really has a gift…and in her collage, she had written: “I want to someday be…writing things that make people think about their lives.” Well, Gina, as an 8th grade middle school student, you’ve managed to do just that. But please don’t stop writing-there’s a lot more thinking people need to do and you have just begun accomplishing your dream!

Gina's collage

In following up with each of the students in the workshop, I asked them what was the biggest thing they took away from their ‘training’. Almost all of them answered without hesitation “There’s no such thing as privacy on the Internet!”

Mission accomplished.

Heavy Burdens

So, it’s been quite a bit of time since I last wrote on my blog. I guess a true testament to whether I really am a ‘blogger’ or not. Seriously though, one avid blogger per family seems good to me!

Trying to get back into the habit of writing on my blog is not something that comes easily or naturally. As I made attempt after attempt to force myself to initiate my mandated posts for this last class, I found myself even more reluctant than usual. As per my habit, I finally stopped to analyze what was making it even more difficult than in previous classes.

I kept coming back to an interesting event that took place quite a ways back. While for some this might not seem very significant, or it may be confusing as to why it had such an impact on me, I’ll try and explain.

Part of my job involves interviewing new students and families and ensuring that our school is a good fit on both sides. Initially I was not too excited about this aspect of my job, but have since come to appreciate that first contact with students and parents. Some weeks ago now, one particularly enjoyable family interview was significant in my ‘blogging’ life.

As I was chatting with a prospective student and his mother, we came about in conversation to discussing blogs. The mother shared with me she had read a technology coordinator’s blog from our school. I guessed it was my husband’s and she confirmed that it was. She then paused in conversation and said, “Hey, you have a blog don’t you? I’ve read your blog!” She went on to describe some of my posts in detail to leave no doubt she was indeed talking about my blog.

I’m sure the look on my face went rapidly from astonishment, to embarrassment, to panic and finally culminated in stunned amazement. This was a pivotal moment in my life…

Now let me explain why. First of all, let me say that this woman was absolutely lovely and incredibly positive and complimentary of my writing. She’s actually asked me a couple of times about why I haven’t written more recently (so here you go, Lilian, this one’s for you! More to come soon). So this shouldn’t bring about the extreme reluctance I’m feeling, right?

And it can’t be because someone who I didn’t know had read my blog. I’ve actually had a couple of strangers leave comments; I’m aware that at times my quiet little blog is actually getting out there in the world.

So exactly what is it that was pivotal about this encounter? After much thought, I realized this was my first experience with meeting someone who knew about me because of my blog before I knew them. It was…strange. Not bad, but definitely different. It made me realize that what I put here on this blog is really representing me. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t consider that fact before, but it just didn’t mean as much as it does now. This is going to be, for some, their first impression of who I am. This is huge, major really. Now when I blog, I am feeling a heavier burden than before-which is not necessarily a bad thing. Isn’t this what we’re trying to get our kids to understand? This is what the world is seeing as representative of who we are, we must always remember that. I just had it brought home to me in a powerful, and surprising way!