Tag Archives: Creative Commons

From Mine to Ours

take me
use me
share me
i’m licensed
to be

those ideas
these words
the painted
scrawling blathering
moves us from
mine to ours.

i can feel it in you
just as you’re feeling
it in me:
nothing original
nothing new
nothing owned
everything free.

dancing derivatives
denizens of a developing
unattached and untethered
blurred and modified
copied and copied and copied.

a commons
in which we give and take
remix and build and create
and share and evolve.

and not for profit
call me an idealist
and I will call you one too.

take me
use me
share me
i’m licensed
and ready to be
made into you,
as i take you into me
and carve a we.

no monsanto
no pfizer
no property

this is buddha
this is marx
this is freedom
this is sharing
this is free

give credit where credit is due
then take the thing and add to it

this new thing,
the one that belongs to neither you or me
give it away and let a third voice sing it free.

i am creative commons licensed
everything i think
i feel and create
is there for you:
use it,
adapt it
share it.
give it away once you’re done with it,
tell people where you found it
don’t try to make money from it.

Last week, I got my favorite Creative Commons License (Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike) tattooed on my arm. I didn’t tattoo the symbols on my arm, because I think it is cute to cite photos I use for presentations. I tattooed the license on my arm because I see it as a badge of honor! Despite some of the criticism I have recently read,  I see the vision of Creative Commons:

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

as something bigger than just teaching kids how to use images they find on the Internet. I see The Commons cause as bigger than piracy and media use. I see Creative Commons as the building block of a new culture. A culture in which cooperation trumps competition. Where we understand the derivative nature of human intellectual and artistic growth and try to build new laws to deal with a world where Everything is a Remix.

I see Creative Commons as an alternative to the very concept of copyright, and not only in the field of digital media. I hope to inspire kids to see their ideas are extensions of generations of thinking. I hope to challenge the idea of intellectual property as something that can be owned. I want kids to see that they are a link in an infinite chain of ideas. I want kids to see that while companies can copyright genetic codes in food production or own powerful medicines, that perhaps they can create a world that would be better served with a culture that chooses to share and build upon ideas, rather than owning them. Perhaps we can create a culture beyond commercialism and profits, one were we strive for sustainability and evolution.

I know these ideas may seem romantic, idealistic and perhaps a bit naive. I was raised on Imagine and Blowing in the Wind. Did you expect anything less? So while like the UN, the actual power of CC may be limited,  I chose to tattoo the label on my arm because I value and love the idea of a shared commons. A place where the cultural and natural resources are accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

What are your thoughts on Creative Commons?



Community, Content and Commodity

I remeber being nervous and stingy and naive when I first joined Flickr nearly five years ago on February 3rd 2007. I knew little about networks or online sharing or photography or copy right or Creative Commons, or much of anything. I was, believe it or not, more self-obsessed than I am even now, and I felt that my ideas and my work and my photos were more valuable than they were. I had at the time sold a few photos at some coffee shop, and I remeber thinking, if I post them online then anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. I contemplated watermarks and other such silly things.

I am not sure what changed my thinking, but the shift was simple: I understood that the photos, like much of my work would be more valuable, would reach a wider audience, would have a richer life if they did not belong to me, and were set free–so to speak–to roam the Internet. Perhaps, through osmosis or early contact I began to understand and appreciate the concept of the commons.

I don’t think my work is anything special. I do not want to own it. I am not interested in commercial gains from what I share online. I have a salary. I am a teacher. Everything else is who I am online. I share my work, because it brings me in contact with amazing human beings and ideas. So since that day in 2007, I have posted nearly 2000 photos on Flickr. I have since learned about Creative Commons and licensing. It’s pretty straight forward:

You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

In short, it’s yours. Use it, do what you like with it, just don’t make money off of it, and please let people know where it came from. As simple as that sounds, Facebook and Instagram’s new terms of service are quite different. Sounds more like this:

We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

I have had a love/hate relationship (haven’t we all) for years now. I have written at length about the many times I have deleted my account. If reading pages and pages of ripes and excuses about Facebook is not your thing, here it is in short form:

I don’t like how sneaky Facebook is about the content I produce or what they might do with it. I don’t trust them. Who cares? You might be asking. Didn’t I just say that I am no longer attached to my work? The issue here is not the content per se, but the comodification of our communities, of our lives, of our experiences beyond our control.

I thought I had solved my Facebook problem. I decided to simply post updates to stay in touch with friends and family and never post any content. This was great especially when a young start-up names Instagram came to the neighborhood. Sure she was vague about ownership and licensing too, but she was sleek and sexy and look at all those filters! I could post my pics on Instagram and cross post to Facebook, without FB getting their hands on my content. Or so it seemed.

What was even better was the dynamic and organic community that was forming around photos on Instagram. It was perfect. I loved it. Until Facebook bought up my “favorite place online.” Like most people,  I knew they would ruin it, and it was only a matter of time. There are already countless articles about What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and Facebook’s Extensive Network of Worldwide Affiliates, but here is the heart of the matter:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.


We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

Now that doesn’t sound very nice. That doesn’t sound at all like the things I was saying at the top of this post. So… I am deleting my Instagram account, not because I am afraid the pictures I take of clouds and my dinner will end up in some commercial, but because I just don’t like how Facebook does business. I don’t want people doing business with what I love, with what I create and share openly. I invest a lot of time and energy and love into these communities. They are valuable to me and I hope to others, but it is clear that our communities are also valuable to companies like Facebook. They want to know where we eat, what we do, what we like etc… I for one am choosing not to give it to them for free.

The Internet and the communities we build on? In? Through it, belong to us, and we should be able to choose how and where they are shared and on what terms. For me, at this time Flickr and Creative Commons are the best choice. They have both been around, relatively unchanged for a while. I like that I pay for Flickr. When services are “free” they are most likely bleeding you dry from some place you might not see. I will pay my yearly $24.95 and I will use the beautiful new Flickr App to try and rebuild my community where I started.

As a tool it is not perfect. It is a bit slow and not as comfortable as Instgram, but isn’t change why we are all in this game? To be adaptable and fluid?

I know that it is scary to leave a community you have built and in which you feel comfortable. That is what Facebook is banking on. That you won’t leave, but if a community is valuable and truly connected, it should be connected beyond a single app or tool. Thee more time I spend online, the more I see that we cannot, should not invest too many of our eggs in single baskets. Especially the one basket that seems to be buying all the other baskets.

I know I will miss certain people and events and expereinces being away from Instagram, but hopefully the people I care about will find me and who knows I may meet someone new. What are you waiting for? Are you leaving too? Do you have similar reasons? Better ones? Are you staying? Am I over reacting? Let’s turn the comments into a dynamic conversation about community, content and commodity.


What It Might Be- Authentic Student Blogging

I started writing, blogging, whatever you want to call it nearly seven years ago. I started with some important questions,

What if we are English teachers and we talk all day about why writing is important and we want to prove that by actually doing it? What if we tell or students that writing helps us learn how to think? It helps us break down the world and recreate it in a way that makes sense to us? What if we believe that writing is the last form of communication, and that the freedom on the Internet and Blogging may help us connect with ideas we never knew possible? What if we believe in the honesty of the Blog as a venue to connect and share? What if we are tired of cynicism? Read more

I’m not sure if I’m closer to finding any answers, or if I have become lost or more deluded. Sometimes it feels like I have been spewing the same sermon for nearly a decade? Perhaps, but I still believe– I still believe in the power of Internet; this power of sharing. I still believe in fostering creativity, empowering students and creating spaces where they can shine and share and connect and grow.

The problem is that student blogs don’t always achieve this utopian wonderland of blissful connected learning. As a matter of fact, blogs often become dull, boring, dead spaces weighed down by the institutionalization of school environments.  Dumping grounds for forced reflections, glorified worksheets, and poor writing no one but the teacher reads– these potentially vibrant spaces are transformed into vacant shells of what they might have been. So how do we create authentic spaces for students to reach their potential? This is a question I have been trying to answer for seven years, but never more urgently than now, as I prepare for a webinar later this week and a presentation next month on this very topic. I hope this post helps me narrow my focus and gain some clarity for myself and for you.

As soon as I saw the potential for in blogging as a tool for myself, seven years ago, I began experimenting with student blogs. I began under the tutelage of Kim Cofino and since then I have worked with Edublog, WordPress and now Blogger in a variety of schools and platforms. But not until this year, have I felt so excited about where my classes are heading. Things seem to be happening. I am not sure what is happening exactly, or where we are headed, but something feels different this year. I don’t want to jinx it, because like a young sprout our program is still very tender and potentially susceptible to failure, but many people have been asking me what is different about this year.

This post is meant to highlight some of what we have been doing and why it seems to be working. The following ideas are not ranked by importance and may not even be fully thought out or accurate. This list is that I came up with as I brainstormed the reason why we are finding success this year.

We Are A Team On The Same Page

I chose the word we, when I referred to some of the things we are doing intentionally. I have been on teams before, all wonderful in their own ways, but this is the first time in a long that I am in a group of teachers who are not only passionate about online sharing, digital citizenship, blogging, but skilled and well-versed as well. What’s more we understand that we, as a school, are at the early stages, at least when it comes to blogging, so we are not encumbered by system-wide guidelines or restrictions. We are free to experiment and let the dog loose on the leash so to speak. Furthermore, our skills and expertise are spread out across the school. Some of my most successful bloggers have had exposure to many of the ideas and values surrounding blogging earlier in their schooling. They were taught things like Creative Commons, design principles, and online etiquette by Keri-Lee and Louise in our Junior School.  When they get to us, they are well versed in the basics. I cannot overstate how important this early exposure is for students, if you want them feeling comfortable sharing online.

Here in the middle school, I feel blessed to work closely with Paula, as we begin to lead the vanguard forward. It is crucial to have a few peers with whom you can exchange ideas. We also have Ian, who is new to blogging, but along with his enthusiasm brings a critical eye to help make sure we are blogging for the right reasons. I have spent so much time being the only person on a team trying to change minds and convince others of the value of blogging. It is so important to have a few team members who get it and are ready to push the possibilities. We also have an amazing librarian resource in Katie who helps us both on and off line create a literate and text rich world. . Add to this mix a tech coach who is not only on board, but can make things happens with the higher ups, and one who allows you the freedom to run, unafraid that you might trip up once in a while, for that we have Jeff! Finally we have an administration who trusts us and  is steered by the excitement and potential of blogging and not held back by the fear or anxiety. I could go on and on, (Sorry if I forgot anyone)  but staffing and like-minded teams really help.

It is difficult to succeed when you are the lone voice in the wilderness. A supportive vertically spread-out team and a supportive administration are key components to a successful student blogging initiative.

Personal Experience

I get blogging. I know how to do it. I understand the purpose of commenting. I know the value of RSS and can set up 22 feeds in reader with my eyes closed. I understand design. In short, I have been doing this for a while. At any given time I am administrating four to five blogs at a time. This experience comes with time.  It is difficult to build organic student blogging environments, if you don’t have at least a few people on your team with this experience. I am not saying you can’t do amazing things when you are just starting out, but it takes time to get to a point where the small hiccups do not become major obstacle to your success. It takes time and practice to to gain this invaluable experience.

The best way to mentor others is to do yourself. If you want to create a student blogging environment you HAVE TO blog yourself. Write, read, immerse yourself in the blogosphere and play. The fact that you are here is a great first step, now join the conversations. Leave a comment, get involved. Your students will not blog successfully if you yourself do not blog!

Expectations vs Possibilities

Don’t start with what a blog must be or what it can’t be, but focus on what it might be. Give students freedom at first, let them drift and open up and build faith and trust. Don’t even mention the word portfolio. Instead exploit their natural tendency to share in other social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I explain to my kids that a blog is just a deeper version of what they already do. Teach them to take time in explaining why they share photos or video clips.

Blogging is about trust. Trust takes time. Students must feel safe to become vulnerable and open up. This trust is not built online, but in your classroom, when you are together, as a group, face-to-face. It is built through effective classroom discussions at the table and understanding the power of commenting and conversations. It is building offline spaces that are fun and creative and open to new ideas and projects. It is built by  sharing as much of yourself with your students as you can. Share your music, your ideas, and texts that move you. Share your contacts and friends and model what you teach. Use your network to show the power of networks. Before you know it your students will be writing about all kinds of things:

Home– a poem by Myra
Blogging is Like Minecraft– by Kaymin
Illustrations– by Wendy
Japanese History– by Keito
F1 Fever– by Ananya
Focus Africa– by Max
Slam Poetry and another one on Imagination – by Aditi M
What Am I Doing With My Life– by Aditi P.
Basketball– by Glen
Music is My Life– by India
Sharks– by Pavitra
Mad Dogs (Book Review)- by Shashu
Food Questions– by Rohan

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them. Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it. Wait until they find a voice, find an audience, and become involved in the conversations around ideas, before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning. 

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Daniele Rossi

Playground vs Classroom

Kids play on playgrounds. They take risks out there– jumping off monkey bars, going down slides on tummies. They bully each other and form friendships. They get dirty. They have fun. They learn to stand in cues or get in fights. They learn not to go up the slide. It is not always easy being out there, but they  stretch and learn and grow. Kids need playgrounds. Sometimes these spaces are supervised. Sometimes they are not.

I see social networks as digital playgrounds. Our students are out there. They are playing and experimenting. They are learning social norms: bullying and forming communities. They are sharing with positive and negative results. Sometimes these spaces are supervised. Most often they are not.  Just as we need  “real world” playgrounds,  we need these online spaces as well. Kids need to have places where they socialize and learn without supervision. They need to jump off the monkey bars and figure things out on their own.

But they also need a classroom space to unpack and articulate their playground lessons. I see the blog as this space. While they play on cyber-playgrounds like Tumblr and Facebook, they need a middle ground to process what they do. I try and convince my students that they need a space of their own to explore their thinking and get constructive feed back from the community we are trying to build. We all play with our own friends out in the playground, sometimes crossing paths, but we meet in the classroom. We share, expand and really open up on blogs.

Students need to understand that there is value in an online space where they can have some structure in order to learn how others socialize online. A place they can practice lessons on digital citizenship and build community. They need to understand the role of the blog before they are asked (forced) to share. I find this playground and classroom model is a good way to get my head around it.

Space of our Own

Student understanding of the why of blogging is vital to successful student blogs. They will often think that blogs are just another school chore they must complete to appease the teacher. Another hoop to jump through. Another place to dump homework. I mentioned earlier that we did not start with portfolios or reflections or anything mandatory  this year. Instead we are selling the kids on the values I have mentioned above. We are  trying to build an understanding of the value of constructing an honest and  authentic digital footprint. I think Jeff P.  said,

We visit other places online, but a blog is your home where you invite people on your terms. You decorate and entertain and store yours stuff there. You live there. Without a blog you are cyber-homeless, simply wondering or couch surfing.

I love this image. We have found that helping students understand the homely feel of a blog has been invaluable. We encourage kids to share and find their voice and to house it on their blog–a place they hopefully feel comfortable.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by herefordcat

There you have it. I am by no means an expert, but experience has taught me some lessons that I have shared with you. I am not sure where our blogs will go this year, but things are happening and we are excited. I just hope we don’t over-think them. I feel like they are young saplings at this time, I just hope we don’t over water them.

What have you done to create authentic student blogs or online spaces? What questions do you have? Let’s start a conversation and see here it goes. See you in the comments.

If you are interested in this topic, please join us this week at , Authentic Student Blogging: Empowering Student Voice in the Social Media Age. I could not be more honored and humbled to be presenting with Alec, Jim, Bud, Melanie, Alan and Howard. I am thrilled to be involved in this event with my heroes and mentors. You want experts? I am sure they will have a lot to say on this topic. See you there.


Copy Wrong

I have an hour to write this post and I am pissed. Can I say that on the Interwebz? Let me warn you, that although I often advocate for measured tempered writing, this post is rooted in anger and frustration. I am not sure exactly who the recipient of my rage is, but I know that EMI music and Youtube will take the brunt of my attack. I am also unhappy with the overall concept of copyright, ownership culture, capitalism in general, and the need for our society to commodify every aspect of life to the point of ruining it.

Stop. Breathe. Context.

Over the last ten weeks, my grade ten students have been working hard watching, dissecting and analyzing the film The Wall by Pink Floyd. We have watched the film, listened to the songs, and examined the lyrics. We have discussed the metaphor of walls, the role of artists in the face of authoritative bodies in society, as well several other themes. For their final product, the students have taken the lessons learned in terms of  symbolism and film techniques used by Alan Parker from the 1982 film and applied them to their own videos. Some students have chosen to sing the songs themselves, but most opted to use the existing songs because of the time crunch. They worked hard and created  amazing videos. Short films with depth, sophistication and beautiful cinematography.

In an effort to share the work with as big of an audience as possible, we created this page and posted their videos to Youtube. Within hours some of the videos were blocked in certain countries, because of the copy-righted songs owned by EMI.

“You used copy-righted music on youtube and are now surprised that it has been blocked. That seems silly.”

That is what you are thinking right? Let me explain why I am frustrated with this process.

1. Firstly, I am annoyed by the irregularity and chaos of the screening process. There are thousands of copy-righted videos on Youtube that play without any warnings or blocks year round. There are several copies of the very songs that we have used on Youtube right now! They play without any problems, while our student films are blocked. If you are going to block copy-righted material then block it all.

2. There is no recourse or avenue for us to address our grievance. Who do we contact if we want to claim that the use of this material was  for educational reasons and protected under the Fair Use clause? (Looks like I may owe Youtube an apology, thanks to Fair Use Tube.org I may have found a way to dispute the copyright claim and it looks like my videos have been freed?)

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

A few seconds later it appears that the block has been removed. All my videos still say that third party content has been matched, but no block and no points against my account.

Back to rant…What does it say about a “free” web that Emi and Youtube can simply pick and choose what we are allowed to post. It has been an eye-opening experience to literally run into the wall of ownership and copy-right law. We like to think that the Internet is an open, democratic, free space, but the reality is that it is not. Your average user cannot post what they want, when or where we want. We are confined by what the owners of the spaces and materials tell us is okay.  Really, we have little freedom. I am left asking how do we learn where to carve our own spaces online. I suppose we could post these videos on our own servers, but then we lose the ability to share widely, embed on the web etc…

3. I am irked by the notion that a corporation can own and restrict how we use art. We are not trying to use this material to make money or in any other commercial way. We are simply enjoying the process of derivative art creation,  inspired by songs we love. Why does EMI get to choose what happens to the music once it has been produced? I am not happy with the notion that everything can be copy-righted and owned. These giant companies do not give us the option of even asking to use their material. Let’s say I want to ask them to use this work, where do I start? Can I fill out a form on youtube? Their website? It is as if they have gathered all their toys and said no one else can play with them. If you don’t it- tough! More importantly, does the artist have any say in this process?

We are in the midst of a highly charged, market driven, hyper-capitalistic world where every thing we do, hear, see, create is owned by someone.  Sure we can teach kids about copy-right and creative commons, but what about questioning the very notion of copy-right. How do we teach kids to be critical of who owns what and what that means to each of us in a globalized world? This has been a great teachable moment, because we are forced to look at ownership and use, beyond sticking it to the man and finding some way to sneak onto Youtube, but rather we are forced to ask why does EMI get to choose what happens to this art? (If they do have a choice, why are they not using this) The idea of ephemeral, creative, artistic ideas floating about the internet are not possible if there is a wall telling us what we can and cannot use.

We are not sure what we are going to do. We need to talk about it as a class. Perhaps move the videos to Vimeo and hope for more slack regulation there. Maybe we write to EMI and Youtube and get caught in the maze of bureaucracy. Nothing quite so radicalizing as banging your head against some mad buggers wall. This is, after all, a small school project dealing with media ownership, but what happens when we start talking about Monsanto and their battles with farmers over seed patents? Medicines? Ideas? Where does the ownership and profiting stop?

I know I don’t have any answers. I don’t think that was my point. I needed to vent and perhaps ask to  hear your thoughts and gather some resources. What do you think about what I have said? How can we teach kids to be fair and ethical in a system that seems stacked in favor of the people who own what they experience.

Since sharing this post, I have been given some great resources. The first is RIP- A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor. It comes with a complete .pdf teaching guide. I was also reminded of the great series- Everything is a Remix created by Kirby Ferguson. Watch the first one here and see the rest….well here and here.


Images Tell Stories

I am on an image kick lately, but here is what happened in my class today. It was powerful:

The grade sevens have been doing some research about Afghanistan for our upcoming book, Boy Overboard. We spoke in class today about the power of imagery to tell a story. We spoke about how giving a Pecha Kucha is not about delivering information, like a traditional report about food, currency, and population, but rather we want to strike a chord, make the viewers feel something. It is about emotions and forcing the viewer to think.

Here is an example. One student insisted on showing a flag. He wanted to use this:

We talked about whether or not this image was alive. Or whether it inspired emotions, told a story. The answer was a resounding no!

We searched on Flickr for some CC images and found these:

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by United States Marine Corps Official Page

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Abhishek’s Photo Essays

One student still wanted to just add the words Afghanistan Flag as the text. We agreed that we could only have three words. I told him to do some research and find out what the colors in the flag mean. We found out that the black is for occupation by foreigners, the red for the blood of the freedom fighters, and the green for Islam. The student decided to simply add the words Occupation, Blood, Islam.

We talked a bit about design, colors, and composition and came up with this:

I think this tells a much more interesting story than this:

Now we will work on what we will say for twenty seconds over the slide!