Monday, December 26, 2011

Great Video on Copyright, Fair Use, Remixing & Reposting Online

I just came across this very informative video which is posted on the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center website. In it, the executive director and associate director of the Stanford Fair Use Project, who also happen to be lawyers, answer questions about what is permissible to post to YouTube (or really anywhere) and what isn't when it comes to using material for which someone else holds the copyright. The questions are very authentic because they were selected from questions submitted by YouTube users.

The video is just over 30 minutes long but is well worth the watch, especially if you like to remix others' content for posting online or you have the opportunity to educate students on copyright and fair use. Students will be interested to know what is ok and what isn't in regards to mashups, parodies, and lip dubs. I was interested to hear the experts take on software tutorials, which I had never considered might be copyright violations (good news for all us teachers and edtechies - they most likely aren't!).

What I really appreciate about this video is that the experts speak in everyday language that us non-lawyers can understand. I think older middle school and certainly high school and college students would easily follow this video. The video is also aimed at the question of fair use in general, not specifically at educational fair use, so the content is applicable both inside and outside of school.

The key to fair use seems to be the transformative nature of a work that draws on or uses someone else's material. I am not going to try to summarize transformative use here, because for some reason it is a concept I have a hard time getting my mind around. But after watching the video below, and being exposed to some other materials in recent years, I am starting to understand the concept better and beginning to believe I might draw the line on what is and isn't fair use far on the conservative side. The examples of transformative use in the video will be personally helpful for me to refer to in relation to future questions I may have on the subject.

Another nice feature of the video is the fact that they display each question on the screen when it is asked, so after viewing the video in its entirety one time (which I highly suggest you do), you can always scan through it to revisit particular questions that pique the interest of you or your students.

Of course, the video comes with the caveat that it is not hard and fast legal advice, so please do not hold the video creators, participants, or this blogger responsible for future decisions you may make regarding copyright and fair use. It does shed some much needed light, though, on a subject that is not purely black and white. I hope you find it as informative as I did!

Copyright is a topic I revisit from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in other posts on this topic, please click here.

Copyright symbol graphic used with permission from

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas to My Readers & Followers!

To my blog readers and Twitter and Facebook followers, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Thank you for being part of my learning community by reading and responding to my thoughts and sharing your thoughts and resources with me all through the year. Through our online interactions, we have the opportunity to exchange gifts of learning every day.

On the day when the birth of a Savior is celebrated, I hope your hearts are full of joy and you are near to the people you love. And if this day finds you in difficult circumstances, I pray faith and the love shared so freely that first Christmas will comfort and strengthen you.

Jesus was born in much simpler times, yet his story has transcended the centuries. It needs no updating, but I still admire the creativity of the video below which modernizes the Christmas story with some digital tools. I hope you have a couple of minutes to enjoy it as you celebrate this day. God's blessings to you and yours!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Your Future Self May Thank You: Tidy Up Your Online Presence Over the Holidays

Courtesy of
The holiday season is often a period of looking backwards and forwards at the same time. We reflect on the happenings and learnings of the twelve months that are coming to a close while anticipating what may come our way in the new year ahead. As a practical outworking of this reflection and anticipation, I encourage you to set aside some time to tidy up your online presence. And perhaps even encourage others around you to do the same.

A couple of things got me to thinking about this as a worthwhile endeavor for the holidays, when most of us in the education world on are a break and can devote some time to the project.

Educators Under a Social Media Microscope

Courtesy of
Social media and its uses are fascinating to me, and as a result I often read stories of how educators making controversial choices in their use of social media put their jobs in jeopardy. The moral turpitude clause in our contracts leaves us more vulnerable than many other professions. The story of Ashley Payne is particularly concerning to me, because unless there are untold details, it seems she lost her teaching job as a result of posting a picture of herself holding (not even drinking) an alcoholic beverage and taking part in a trivia contest that had a profanity in its title. Most concerning was the fact that this young woman had fairly tight "friends only" privacy settings on her Facebook account; someone copied this information from her profile and anonymously submitted it to her principal. She had taken the precautions educators are continuously counseled to take, and it still wasn't enough.

Ashley's story began in 2009. As recently as October 2011, Ashley is still in court trying to get back her job or monetary compensation.

I read of Ashley's story through two ISTE articles, which are well worth reading for educators concerned with protecting their jobs as much as possible in times when teaching positions are becoming more scarce due to cuts in funding at the federal and state levels. You'll see in these articles that issues with teacher online conduct are not unique to K-12, but have affected professors in higher education as well.

Facebook Timeline Makes Our Online History More Accessible Than Ever

At about the same time I was reading of Ashley Payne, I became more aware of Facebook's new profile layout called Timeline. After glancing at articles about it over the past few months, I decided to give it a try on my personal profile. I realized quickly that this new layout for Facebook profile pages makes everything you or anyone else has ever posted on your Facebook wall/profile infinitely more available than it ever has been before. The information has always been there, but if you were really digging into someone's Facebook past, you had to scroll endlessly to get to it. Now, if someone has activated their timeline, I can just click on 2008, then March, and see exactly what they were documenting online at that time in their lives. It's extremely simple.

I can see some Facebook users thinking this is no big deal. The ones who stay educated on privacy settings have nothing to worry about, right? How quickly we forget the lesson of Ashley Payne, who had her profile set to private, and had information leaked from it anyway.

While I've aimed most of this information at educators who need to take extra precautions in the social media realm, what about teens who have posted without care and without paying attention to privacy settings for several years? Or friended people whom they don't really know in person? How might their future educations and careers be affected by their profiles being much easier for others to scour?

Fortunately, with a little education, you can clean up your Facebook Timeline before it goes public. And it will go public for everyone eventually. A quick search of Facebook help reveals that folks can opt in early, or simply wait until Facebook decides to move you to the Timeline setup.

I would encourage you to opt in now, while you have some time to go back through and hide or delete posts you don't want your friends or anyone else to see. And if there are others in your life who use Facebook, help them do the same. When you activate your timeline voluntarily, you have seven days where you can see it and work on it before anyone else sees it. Why not take that time now, instead of waiting until you are forced into it?

Activating your Timeline now is a perfect opportunity to tidy up anything that was perhaps posted in haste or which could be misconstrued or misused by others.When you first activate your Timeline, Facebook steps you through a little tour of all of its components. This article, Your Guide to the New Facebook Timeline Privacy Settings, is also an excellent resource which details all of the changes to the privacy settings that come with Timeline and also shows you how to delete and hide content from the Timeline. It is very thorough and includes screen shots. Another good article: Prep for Facebook's Timeline Layout: 6 Must-Do Privacy Tweaks.

If you are in a position to talk with your own children or other young people about their Facebook presence, Polishing the Student's Image on Facebook Timeline provides good ideas for how to give context to the importance of cleaning up your online image. My favorite quote from the article:
Know your brand. Everything you post online says something about you. Ensure that is a message you want to convey.

Remember Your Other Digital Footprints, Too

Courtesy of
Facebook is a common location for us, but there is also YouTube, Flickr, Twitter - the list of where we display our digital selves is endless. Unlike footprints in the snow or sand, online footprints do not disappear with a change in external conditions. They must be cultivated by their owners.

While you are tidying up your online presence, don't forget to visit some of those places where you, or others, have been contributing to your online image. In today's world, your online image equals your image as a person, so make sure it is representing you the way in the way you want to be seen and in a light that will open doors of opportunity for you in the future.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Gift of Kind Words

Used With Permission from
A Lesson from my Classroom Years

When I was a newish 6th Grade language arts teacher, I learned about a Christmas time activity from a veteran teacher down the hall, and I incorporated it into my classroom every December after that. We would take a break from the normal class routine one day and bust out the markers and white construction paper. Each student would decorate the construction paper with a "bow" drawn in green marker, as if it were the top of a present. They also drew a "tag" on the "present" which said "To: Their Name". They could be as creative as they wanted as long as they left at least 3/4 of the paper blank.

After the "presents" were decorated, I took them up, and then I described to the students that we were all going to give each other a gift this Christmas season - a gift of kind words. We were going to pass the presents around the room, and in red marker on each present, each of us was going to write something kind about the person to whom the present belonged. And sign it. In our discussion of this activity, I acknowledged that not everyone in our class was best friends, that in fact in some cases there might be someone who rubs you the wrong way most of the time. In spite of that, it is still possible to say something nice about anyone, even if the kind thing you say is there is a particular shirt that person wears that you think is really cool.

Then, I put on Christmas music, and we passed the "presents" around. There was a "present" in the mix with my name on it, too, and I participated in writing on everyone else's papers.

Was I nervous each time I did this? Yes, especially the first year. I worried for those odd personalities in my class - the ones who, let's face it, are difficult for peers (and sometimes teachers) to like. What kind things would their classmates find to say to them? Would they be able to rise to the occasion and find something kind to say about each of their classmates, the vast majority of whom they didn't get along with much of the time?

When the "presents" traveled all the way around the room, I took them up. Their owners would not see them until our Christmas party at the end of the semester. The bell would ring, the room would empty, and I would sit down to read every comment on every "present". And every year, I would need a tissue box beside me. There was always a Christmas miracle - from somewhere deep inside my students pulled out the most insightful things about each other. I learned wonderful things about my students I didn't know even after  a semester with them. I learned great lessons in kindness from those 11 and 12 year old children every year.

But the best part was yet to come. The day that the students got to see their own presents. In the early years we were in an elementary school, so I would get their papers laminated and set them out as place mats for the party. When we moved to middle school, parties were gone, but I still waited until the last day before break before giving them their presents. Then, I gave them time to read.

The looks on their faces as they took in all of the good things their classmates said about them were priceless! I was reminded once again that we can never give people enough encouragement. All too often we only receive feedback when improvement is needed. We don't get to spontaneously hear about the good things we do or say or are. (I wonder how many of those kids kept those "presents" through the years?)

A Lesson from Today

I came to love the yearly Gift of Kind Words activity in my classroom, and it's one of the things I miss most in the years since I've become an instructional technologist with no classroom assignment. But I was recently reminded of the continued importance I need to place on giving kind words and encouragement to others, and not just at the time of year when gift-giving is on everyone's mind.

I was visiting one of our high school campuses a couple of weeks ago to install desktop video conferencing software and teach a couple of folks how to use it. As I was leaving, I decided to stop by the library and let the librarian know that I was really enjoying the Facebook page she had created to get students connected to what was going on the the library as well as literacy related activities like lunch time book discussion groups and the Austin Teen Book Festival.

This educator is in her first year as a librarian, having just come out of the classroom, and during our conversation, she thanked me for taking the time to chat with her. She alluded to the fact that she's trying to do the right things. It got me to thinking that being a librarian is a lot like being an instructional technologist, in that you are often one of the few in your position in a district, and almost always the only one on your campus. Sometimes it's hard to find folks to bounce ideas off of, and it's sadly rare that someone seeks you out to give you unsolicited positive feedback on something you are doing. In five minutes of my time as I was making my way out of the building, I was able to give this new librarian's professional confidence a little boost. Seeing that was a gift to me as well.

Ongoing Efforts

When our campus technologists copy me on emails which give me insight into what they are doing on their campus, I try to email them back to thank them for what they are doing and give them encouragement. Depending on what other projects are going on, I don't get back to them as often as I wish. I am reminded, though, as I reflect on my classroom activity of years ago, my recent encounter with a new-to-her-position librarian, and my own experience in receiving some face-to-face compliments this summer (which I wrote about in a previous post), that receiving in-person, personal feedback for the things we are doing well or the qualities people admire in us is nourishment for the soul.

In an age where technology increasingly connects us while often decreasing the "need" for in-person interactions, I'm going to increase my efforts to make in-person connections for the purpose of positive feedback and encouragement. The magic of giving kind words to others is that it winds up providing a gift to both the receiver and the giver. A personal experience like that is worth the effort for all parties involved.

How about you? Who in your sphere of professional or personal influence needs to hear some great things about themselves today? Make an effort to share with them, face-to-face if at all possible. You'll be glad you did!