Thing 10 (Week 5): Get Creative with Creative Commons

Relax. This is an easy, but incredibly significant one.
photo by Franz Patzig
photo by Franz Patzig


Fair use guidelines enable teachers and students to use copyrighted materials within the classroom for direct educational purposes. But fair use seems restrictive and can be confusing. All of those images found via Google search and pasted into that Oscar-worthy slide presentation cannot legally be shared back out on the Web, even with proper citation, because citation does not equal permission. As educators, it is our responsibility to teach students about the ethics of content gathering and use, whether for a research paper or a digital storytelling project.

(Do not despair -- we actually have broader fair use rights than many of us may realize -- we just have to understand some important guidelines. Legitimate fair use of media can be determined by criteria such as "transformativeness" and benefit to society -- see my "note about 'traditional' copyright" below for a phenomenal resource that can help educators de-mystify copyright as it pertains to media literacy education).

Now, where was I? Oh, yes...

One of the hallmarks of Web 2.0 is the creation and sharing of user-created content, and tools like Flickr, YouTube, Scribd, Jamendo,, Slideshare (and dozens of others) make uploading, sharing and obtaining digitized content a snap. But with the free exchange of content comes the responsibility of determining how it is shared, how it may be used, and how to properly credit the author or creator.

Enter Creative Commons: the best thing to happen to Copyright since, well, ever...

"Share, Remix, Reuse — Legally"

"Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to . You can use CC to change your copyright terms from 'All Rights Reserved' to 'Some Rights Reserved.'" You set the level of rights by selecting from a combination of restrictions that range from very open Attribution (credit my work and use it how you want) to the more restrictive Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (credit my work, don't make money from it and don't change it). More details: About the Licenses

Creative Commons entered into being in December 2002. Currently, there are billions of photos, books (including textbooks), songs, poems, artworks, videos, lectures and other media shared on the web under Creative Commons licenses, including this course. "K12 Learning 2.0" is an example of how you can take a piece of information or a product (in this case, the original Learning 2.0 course for Public Libraries) and 'remix' and expand it to fit your needs, giving attribution to the original author.

The Open Education Movement

One of the most exciting developments in Web 2.0/Creative Commons culture is the OER Commons -- a site where users can find and contribute to the collection of thousands of Open Educational Resources. Some of the most highly-rated content in the OER Commons comes from the MIT Open Courseware (OCW) project -- an online repository of free lecture notes, exams, and other resources (including, increasingly, audio and video) from more than 2000 courses spanning MIT's entire curriculum, including a special subsection of called Highlights for High School. A related development is Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative, which aims to "combine open, high-quality courses, continuous feedback, and research to improve learning and transform higher education. And then there's the edX consortium, founded by Harvard and MIT, partnering with Berkeley and about two dozen other universities, to "bring the best of higher education to students around the world" via MOOCs and interactive online classes. Another open project worth exploring is CK-12 Flexbooks -- a growing collection of open textbooks that works to reduce the cost of textbooks for students and schools, and to provide flexible content that allows teachers to curate the content they need from multiple sources, instead of being "stuck" with a single linear textbook.

In Week 8, we will explore iTunesU, a collection of over 500,000 free lectures, films and other content from universities, museums and institutions... all inspired by the Open Education/Creative Commons movement.

Cool, huh?


Creative Commons is an amazing evolution in copyright, but it does not magically erase the need for proper citation, and ethical use. Neither does it solve our confusion about "traditional" copyright, which still applies to most works or art and intellectual property. What to do, what to do? Well, I am glad you asked.

In 2008, the Media Education Lab at Temple University partnered with a number of expert groups to develop a Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Media Education, which "helps educators gain confidence about their rights to use copyrighted materials in developing students' critical thinking and communication skills." EVERY educator should read this guide, share it with colleagues and practice applying these guidelines thoughtfully with their students. These resources not only diminish copyright confusion, but provide educators and students with tools to help them fully exercise their fair use rights. The site provides case studies and teaching resources, too.
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Discovery Exercise

Watch the two animations below to learn about the history and basic concepts behind Creative Commons.

Get Creative (6:37)

Big, pretty, non-Youtube version here:

Wanna Work Together? (3:00)

Non-Youtube version here:

Check out the OER Commons and/or some of the related Creative Commons Open Education Projects(including the ones listed above) and see what you find. Write a brief blog post sharing something you found and reflecting on how you think Creative Commons and Open Education may affect (or has already affected) you and your students as learners and as consumers and creators of content. Be sure to include "Thing 10" in your post title.

Some prompts:
  • How do you think the Open Education movement has changed/will change education?
  • Have you heard about MOOCs? Participated in a MOOC? What do you think about their potential for quality learning experiences?
  • Do you every use any "open" resources to support your own or students' learning?
  • Do you think CC will impact the way students learn and create projects? How?
  • What is your responsibility as an educator in teaching students about copyright and fair use?
  • Do you use digital images, audio or video clips from the web (or other media sources) in your teaching (or professional practice)?
  • Are you confident in your "fair use" of those materials? In your students' "fair use?"
  • Do you ever share original or "borrowed" content (photos, documents, videos, lesson plans, etc) on the web?
  • Who owns your teaching materials?