As a history teacher who spends a good deal of time teaching students research and writing skills, copyright, permission and citation, and appropriate usage are significant concerns for me. A lot of my tenth-graders begin my class in this basic situation: (1) They know that research can be tedious and good sources hard to find. (2) They know that plagiarism is a big “no-no.” (3) They are familiar enough with search engines and the internet to know that it’s really easy to find lots of information on almost anything, but with varying quality, veracity, and reliability, and have trouble discerning good from bad in these respects. (4) They know that I am an advisor to the Honor Council, and assume that I secretly enjoy engaging them in a game of “gotcha,” where I try to catch them for plagiarism using standards and expectations that they don’t fully understand and view largely as a nuisance.
Of course, that’s (#4) not the case. Instead, I spend what amounts to several days of class giving them a broad-ranging explanation of why copyright is necessary, where the idea came from and how it developed, how history research and research-based writing works, and why plagiarism is a legitimate concern rather than an annoying set of rules. Most of them gain some better understanding of all this, a few of them actually think it’s interesting, and a few tune out.
Technology innovation has reshaped the educational and research processes–I’d be surprised if any of my CCES students knew how to use a card catalog, and most will never need to use inter-library loan. The facility and ubiquity of internet resources for research have made the information-gathering process much easier. And, technologies have made creation of content so easy that I had students who completed an entire video project last year on their smart phones.
So, Creative Commons makes sense. Traditional copyright laws and standards were created for a time when proprietary rights were extremely important and the academic research process was built on incremental gains by a community of scholars (at least for history). While these traditional procedures and models are still important, the Creative Commons system allows the needed flexibility for digital content creators to both protect their work and name, and also share the content broadly and easily. I’m still getting familiar with the terminology and extent of permissions, but I like the concept a lot.
I’m still a “newbie” at having my students create content other than research papers. But I’m hoping to do this more in coming years, and expect that Creative Commons will be a relevant and useful tool on both the research and production ends. I’ve seen the CC logo all over the place, but for a lot of the materials that I and my students access–especially primary source materials–copyright and permission is not a huge deal, since older stuff tends to be free of copyright restrictions.
I think Creative Commons will also be helpful as I introduce and teach about research, copyright, plagiarism, etc., because the CC system’s different types of permissions explicitly spell out distinctions and “gray areas” that often puzzle students.