Copyright and plagiarism and the effective use of Internet resources are vital elements of creative assignments in schools. Access to digital versions of books, magazines, audio and video resources have changed the nature of what a student can do when constructing a school assignment.

It has been common practice to ask students to write about a famous person, for example. The writing part may actually be the focus of the assignment. The person being used isn’t the real focus. Typically students get to choose from a batch of people and then gather resources to learn what they need in order to begin writing the essay.

A teacher’s common practice has been the recommendation of resources, sending children to the school or town library to access encyclopedias, books, newspapers, etc. A rough draft frequently follows so the teacher can comment on style, grammar, spelling and such along with proper use of quotations with adequate citations. The final draft gets a grade.

The Internet has given teachers the task of adding online resources to the mix. That means each teacher must add some online/digital expectations to the assignment and rough draft evaluation. Teachers need to incorporate an honest discussion of fair use, copyright, remixing. The vetting of resources which was once passed off to librarians now must become part of a teacher’s routine. Teachers need to make very few assumptions. Some students will have their own computer/tablet/smartphone and good support at home. Some students will be better than others at search strategies. The assignment needs to become more broad so it can include a student sharing of those skills. Each school year, as student move ahead, the discussion needs to become more rich and nuanced like any other phase of helping studnts learn.

With that in mind, a discussion about and use of Open Educational Resources is important. Teachers need to have a good personal understanding of the digital issues involved. Plagiarism has long been part of the discussion. Now, when we talk about copyright compliance, it is not only valuable, but vital to highlight the distinction between restricted and open usage of all the easily accessible materials a student may want to incorporate in an assignment.

I would recommend you read and refer others to the article, “Teach kids about copyright: a list of resources from Creative Commons” by Jane Park. Develop your own skills to become as strong in resource selection as possible. Understand the alternatives yourself. That way you can be the best guide you can be for this year’s students and keep exploring to prepare for the next year and the next. In fact, you will be modelling the process for your students. Revealing your process may actually help them understand how you see that fabled goal, “life long learning.”


As a parent, I read Goodnight Moon written in 1947 by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd to my children several dozen times, at least. As a fan of science fiction, I read Dune written in 1965 by Frank Herbert a couple of times, though not to my children. They have since chosen to read it, or not, on their own. My son has read Goodnight Moon to his children. Whether they read Dune will also be left to them.

Along comes Goodnight Dune by Julia Lu. It isn’t in print, but it is on line: and I recommend you read it.


A quick search identifies the work as parody. That’s good. Parody is one of the exceptions to the otherwise strict interpretations of copyright, these days. Julia Lu was inspired by a set of parody childrens’ book covers at

Parody has been around a long time. Wikipedia describes it as “an imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialise an original work” but for me, Goodnight Dune honors both original works. It is a mashup of two important works. It isn’t to be taken too seriously, but it illustrates an important aspect of our common heritage, our cultural commons. The work made me smile, and then smile some more.

It is important to me that we have a cultural commons. I was a teacher for 36 years. My daily effort was to get my students to appreciate the best elements of our culture through reading, research, and recreation. I did not say “plagiarism” there. I said “recreation.” I believe the essence of education is getting students to learn how to be contributors to culture. One of the effective ways to do that is to help them not to parrot the works of others, but to do, for themselves, work that has been done before. Millions of children and adults have put corn seeds in beakers and watched them germinate, observing that the roots go down and the leaves grow up no matter what the orientation of the corn seed. Making that observation in person is an important step in scientific thinking. It is not enough to read the accounts of other observers. It is also not enough to do the experiment in isolation. The observations need to be linked to the physical effects of gravity on a bucket of water, the experience of trying to jump at a basketball hoop, etc.

We develop our understanding of the world by mashing together a large variety of experiences. We do it ourselves, but benefit from the guidance of thoughtful adults. Our culture is built on the achievements of the past, but is maintained and improved by the work of doing it ourselves.

We need to encourage students to recreate, to combine, to “parody” the world they see around themselves. It isn’t enough to “cover” the materials in the textbook. It isn’t enough to prepare for the common core state standards and the standardized tests. Learners need the supportive environment of experimentation and mashup and parody to prepare themselves to be real contributors to the culture of today and tomorrow.

Goodnight moon. Goodnight Dune.

Big Buck Bunny is free! He has escaped being assigned to “The Vault” where so many of his type have been locked away behind the formidable firewalls of their corporate masters.

Enjoy this short celebration of his freedom to expression.
[Click that triangular arrowhead covering one of his handsome cheeks to start the show.]

Speak out. SOPA protests were a good beginning. It is time to tell the legislators of this planet that the copyright laws are not benefiting the citizens (unless their personhood is incorporated). Let copyright monopoly expire in time for our children to enjoy more of the work now trapped in “The Vault.”

TechDirt published an article which discusses the increasing restrictions of copyright done with law changes, which in some cases are putting works already in the public domain, back under copyright restrictions.

To contrast that, the article pointed out the work of others, notably Wikimedia Commons and Flickr which have made created the conditions for and promoted Creative Commons licensing of images.

I’m in the middle of a P2PU course examining the methods of using and remixing Open Education Resources (OER). OER depends on the availability of liberally licensed materials. Making a lesson targeted at a particular grade level involves rewriting text, accumulating images, finding audio and video resources, etc. Teachers do this kind of thing naturally. Teachers are professionals at sharing. Sharing is the primary job of a teacher. What OER provides is a way to go beyond the stale textbooks that the district purchased which are often many years old. OER gives the creative teacher a legal way to make activity packets and worksheets which incorporate up-to-date materials.

OER isn’t on most educators’ radar screens, though.

Maybe some have heard about all the open courseware like the college level courses offered online by MIT, Stanford, and others. But these materials aren’t geared toward third graders or middle school students, maybe not even advanced high school children.

Maybe a few have had students read current events from newspapers or have appropriated materials from YouTube to show in class, but to date, not many have actually participated in the creation of OER materials.

Why should OER for K-12 happen?

Teachers know how to share. OER makes it legal. By contrast, if a teacher takes that current events news story and makes copies of it, the best they can hope for is a “fair use” exception to copyright. Educators can make timely use of such material. The problem happens when the teacher decides to include the same stuff in a second semester, or the next year. That set of copies distributed to a new, later set of students has a far less clear fair use exception to the copyright rules.

What will make teachers, particularly at the K-12 level, embrace OER?


Play is emulation, copying. It is natural for kids. Teach emulation. Teach copying. Teach attribution. End the cycle of plagiarism. Teach copyright through the lens of common culture.

Children copy routinely. I don’t just mean they copy from encyclopedia articles for class. I mean, they copy the behavior of others. They copy the clothes their friends wear. They copy the swear words they’ve heard their parents use. They smoke because it is “cool.” Cool is simply a term that says “I’ll do that, too, because that other dude does it.”

You should try to write so everyone will want to copy what you’ve said.

Get pdf of page: (US Letter size poster)

It is natural to want to emulate our heroes. We crave to have at least their style.

I followed a Twitter link to this article by a teacher:
I recommend that every educator read it and think about the issue seriously.

“After school got out, I had to zip across the street to the public library. While I was there, I figured I’d ask some of the questions my kids had about copyright to the librarians. While they couldn’t provide much for answers besides “It’s education so you should be good to go,” they were extremely impressed that I’m digging into copyright with my kids and not just pretending like it doesn’t exist. Besides just feeling like it’s hard to “teach” my kids about copyright because I don’t know much about it and there seems to be so much gray involved, I hadn’t thought about how I would be doing them a disservice by ignoring it altogether.

Today really convinced me that I need to trudge on. Besides these two projects this quarter, we’re going to hit research really hard fourth quarter. I think by then, the kids will really be ready to embrace creator rights. My goal is for them to choose their own CC licenses for whatever it is they create.”

As a teacher, embrace copying, encourage emulation and attribution. Demonstrate to students that plagiarism isn’t the same thing as celebrating our culture through emulation.

Teachers, you are the path to success for your students, or you are the blockade against which they will beat their heads. Show your students how open sharing is good. Honorable collaboration and seeking advice should be what you present. Be honest. You don’t need to know all the answers, so be willing to admit “I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

Then when you have the answer, credit the source.

If you create worksheets, study guides, classroom directions, any teaching tool, openly publish it with a liberal license. Creative Commons provides several. Let your students know you are doing it. Let the parents know you are doing it. Let your students learn to value their culture. Maybe some of them will copy what you do.

I’m a collector of Internet links. My bookmarks file is big. The first time I access it each day, there is a noticeable delay. Today, I thought it might interest some of you to learn about some of the things that I look at. In many cases, I wish I’d written the articles because I agree with the content, while sometimes I don’t like what I’ve read. I’ll try to keep the links I mention at least marginally related to the open source world.

Here we go:

Copyright laws are weird.

Archiving old music may be illegal! Primary sources in sound are illegal to use.

Academic research requires access to journals which usually are available only at libraries of research-oriented institutions. Does that even make sense in the Internet-connected world?

Every day, NASA gives us a photo and a clear, short article with many links to background about the topic of the photo. This is a wonderful resource for students and teachers.

I love words. I look them up in dictionaries. I want to use them correctly and I’ve found knowing about the word history helps make that happen. “Etymology” is the word which describes word histories. I regularly use the Online Etymology Dictionary to get a quick sense of a word’s history.

I recently read a blog entry about students getting good information when a teacher says, “Go look it up.”

The post author has a dictionary web site. While looking around the site, I took a quick glance at the terms of service. The license for the dictionary content included this phrase,

You will not use, copy, adapt, modify, prepare derivative works based upon, distribute, …

This limitation seems at least odd, and probably is downright silly. Nobody owns the words of a dictionary nor does the dictionary own their meanings. How can a dictionary publisher rationally oppose reuse of the words? The words’ value is only determined when someone does derivative remixing. Absolutely NO LOSS to the publisher occurs when the words are used.

I think I understand that the site owners want control over the specific display of the words, but clearly, the words and their meanings are MINE as much as theirs. YOU AND I have the right to use the words and meanings whenever and wherever we want.

Published dictionaries all seem to take unreasonable control over the content of their work. In each case, the words derive from language usage which is a “common good.” Those words have simply been collected by the editors and publishers of the dictionary from the expressions of others. The definitions compile a sense of usage by authors and “the public” from which the meaning derives. Dictionary publishers, editors, etc. cannot possibly, with any clear logic, claim to own the copyright of the words or their definitions, and yet, and they do. Amazing.

Below is a selection of the terms of service/use applied at several online dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster: “All rights reserved. No part of the work embodied in Merriam-Webster’s pages on the World Wide Web and covered by the copyrights hereon may be reproduced or copied in any form or by any means” “You will not modify, publish, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale, create derivative works, or in any way exploit, any of the content, in whole or in part, found on the Site.”

Cambridge University Press – “Material contained in this website may not otherwise be copied, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without our prior written consent. In particular it must not be reproduced or exploited for commercial gain. All other rights are reserved and users must seek our permission before making any other use of material contained in this website”

Wordnik: “You will not use, copy, adapt, modify, prepare derivative works based upon, distribute, license, sell, transfer, publicly display, publicly perform, transmit, stream, broadcast or otherwise exploit the Site, Services or Content, except as expressly permitted in these Terms of Service. No licenses or rights are granted to you by implication or otherwise under any intellectual property rights owned or controlled by Wordnik or its licensors, except for the licenses and rights expressly granted in these Terms of Service.