Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watching that Old School of Red Herrings Swim By

The tech naysayers are once again in season, so it's time grant some Red Herring fishing licenses. Let's hook three more "issues" that are supposed to stop change in its tracks:

"How Can We Be Sure Students Won't Violate Copyright?" This one cracks me up, because I find that some of my teaching colleagues have developed selective sensitivity to copyright. I have a friend who adamantly opposes music sharing ("I buy CDs to support the artist"), yet she photocopies vast volumes of copyrighted academic articles. Since they are for her students, that's ok by her code of copyright. Another friend was fussing to me about possible copyright violations as his students posted media to their wikis. When I questioned him about his own classroom practices, he assured me that the VHS movies he recorded over the years (and still loves dearly to use in class) are OK because they are used for educational purposes. Hmn.

One way to avoid this issue altogether is to urge students to select from the millions and millions of photos, slides, audio files and videos licensed under Creative Commons. You might also encourage them to license their own creations as such. If you are unfamiliar with Creative Commons, click this video link for a brief overview. (I'll be blogging about some great CC sites for audio, next week). Copyright law lags far behind the realities digital technology. In the mean time, the CC provides a convenient way to avoid cognitive dissonance over copyright.

"We still must teach [fill in the blank] because the students will need it in college." This objection is always raised whenever I rail against the traditional "research paper" (see Hyperlink Heaven). But college prep cannot be played as a universal trump card against innovation. Consider a comment posted to my last blog. The author is a senior at the University of Michigan, and recently completed an internship with the New York Times:

At Michigan, the computer labs are constantly being upgraded with the latest software. I'm not saying the technology environment here is perfect, but other students and I have really benefited from professors forcing us to use these tools in projects. In one of my classes, for instance, my professor makes us blog. It's a good exercise for students looking to write for the new web.The fact that we can use a lot of expensive software programs for free (i.e. Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, etc.) also lets students experiment with these new tools.

We would be remiss if we failed to give students training in traditional conventions of academia, but we can't focus solely on showing students the old tricks that please tenured professors (who may be among the last hold outs against change). I think we have to give basic web literacy a much higher priority.

"Students Need to Learn the Basics" When I hear any variation on this assertion, I think, "Well, yeah, your point?" I can grant this point but still insist that we recognize that methods for accessing information and generating communication have changed so convulsively in recent years that a new set of basics is called for in addition to the traditional tool set. The curriculum needs to make way for these skills. What exactly they are is an important question. Fellow ADE, Tom Woodard, offers a very insightful reflection on this very issue in "....Old Skills, New Applications....".

After reading the above, one might reasonably ask where we can find the time to teach the new stuff. This question leads us logically to a greater point: It's time to rethink how school time is structured. Certainly, how and where people work has changed significantly by technology. Correspondingly, how and where we are all learning is shifting at a terrific rate. Yet we somehow assume that tradition schedules and subjects will accommodate this shift. If we wish to create optimal learning experiences for our students we have to reimagine the school day. I'm ready when you are.

Whew! It felt good to get these last two blogs out of my system. I'm looking forward to going in a different direction with my four part "Faculty Lounge" series, starting Thursday.

As always, your comments are valued.

There are now over 100 millions Creative Commons photos on Flickr. The "Red Herring" photo on this page was licensed under CC and chosen from 'No Matter" Project.


aml said...

Mr. Baker, your imagination is better than mine, so after "Faculty Lounge" (I'm curious about that), maybe you can get more concrete about what you think the school day should look like.

Larry Baker said...

Thanks Ann, responding to your comments often me clarify my thoughts. You've definitely spurred another blog topic!

Tom said...

The copyright thing always blows me away. Why in the world is the teacher suddenly so concerned with the bottom line of some media company?

Strange stuff. The scariest being when it becomes personalized. This person is now the defender of copyright and will get very angry when questioned (especially when they don't know all that much about copyright and are spouting the FBI warnings from the intros to movies).

Larry Baker said...

The Framers gave Congress authority over copyright and patent to promote creativity and invention. Ironic that it would now be used to stifle it.

There is poetic justice that these media giants who have lobbied Congress to extend and protect copyright have been run off the road by changing technology. Again I say, "Up with CC!".

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