Nihil Sub Sole Novum


60: How should we teach remixing, sampling, and forking (coding) to children? #LifeWideLearning16@MrChase

— Ben Wilkoff (@bhwilkoff) February 28, 2016

nihil sub sole novum

One of the best questions we can ask our students is simply, “What makes you think that?” This is akin to the question my grandmother will ask me from time to time. With a sly look in her eye (usually when I’ve accused her of something), she’ll reply, “Whatever gave you that idea?”

Pick whichever phrasing you like, but the soul of these questions is all we really need to help students understand the importance of interconnectedness in a remix, reuse culture. It took me a while to get used to thinking about the issue through this lens when I was doing the unforgiving work of teaching my students to cite their sources in more formal writing or as an editor working with novice journalists on their first stories.

Get close to any creative work about which you’re passionate and all the ideas and can begin to feel as though they are yours or that they are so clearly general knowledge that it would be foolish to explain. For this reason, when I finish a piece of writing or some other act of creation, I’ll step away for a bit and return to ask the question of each sentence, “Whatever gave me that idea?”

When the answer isn’t that the idea came from new contribution I brought to the ideas, it’s time for me to shout out my sources.

When Chris and I were finally wrapping up the book, this was certainly the case. We’ve both been writing and speaking about the ideas in each thesis for many years. Knowing we were about to put them out into the world in something as formal as a book, though, meant looking closely at each piece of our rhetorical architecture and asking, “Where do we need to point out the shoulders upon which we stand?”

It’s a bit strange to be typing these words. When it comes to fair use and open content, I’m likely as close to the liberal side of the spectrum as you’re likely to see. If you’ve used the work of another person and made that work more useful or uniquely different from its source, to my mind you now own at least a portion of that original work or idea.

At the same time, I know what it’s like to see something I’ve created travel through the world without ever pointing back to me as its source. It’s not a great feeling. While the Fair Use Doctrine has always felt quite formal and legalistic to me, it becomes much more personal when I see someone else get credit for my work and can only think, “Hey, that’s not fair.”

And this is the best way I can think of helping our students think about remixing, sampling, and coding in whatever the medium. If the answer to “What makes you think that?” lies somewhere in the work of others, it’s likely best to acknowledge that somewhere in your notes.

From Theory to Practice:

  • Have students think about the thing they’ve done of which they were the proudest. It could be a project completed for school, a winning shot in a game, or a supremely executed artistic performance. Then, ask them what it would feel like if all of a sudden, someone else – a stranger – was not only taking all the credit for the accomplishment, but the world was acting as though this was the truth. Rooting the conversation of giving credit where it’s due in a personal experience, can go miles to grounding the conversation.
  • Take students, faculty, administrators through the I used to think…, Now I think… activity to compare what has changed in their thinking as they move through assignments. Good questions here help people to consider how their outlooks have shifted over the course of creation of “new” ideas and artifacts of learning.

This post is part of a daily conversation between Ben Wilkoff and me. Each day Ben and I post a question to each other and then respond to one another. You can follow the questions and respond via Twitter at #LifeWideLearning16.

The wrong way to think about copyright in the classroom

Copyright license choice

“Keep in mind that in the whole long tradition of storytelling, from Greek myths through Shakespeare through King Arthur and Robin Hood, this whole notion that you can’t tell stories about certain characters because someone else owns them is a very modern one – and to my mind, a very strange one.” 
― Michael MontoureSlices

We might just be teaching copyright wrong. Even those who regularly talk to their students about the importance of fair use, citing sources, and linking to original content are still missing the big ideas. They are still looking at copyright from a consumption model.

Salt-worthy teachers are talking to students about things like Creative Commons and explaining what it means when a content creator claims a specific kind of copyright for a given piece of work.

The boat we too often miss, though, is asking kids how they want to license the things they create. As the quality of what students can do with the tools in their hands increases, students are making things that have worth standalong projects or increased remixing and hacking potential.

If this is true, and the stuff that’s coming out of classrooms is high-quality, we owe it to our kids to ask them who they want to be as content producers and how they want the rest of the world to access their work.

For students blithely torrenting movies and other content from the web, the conversation can become quite different when asked if they want to freely release something they’ve spent time and energy creating. Do they want credit for their work? Do they want compensation?

Perhaps we are mum on this topic because we are worried about hte complicated possibilities of opening up the choices and opportunities that could arise if students start thinking about how they own their work.

Student A releases a report into the public domain. Student B realizes they can pull entire swaths of that report without being legally compelled to cite the source material. What, now, constitutes cheating? Plagiarism? Intellectual property?

This question and others like it are all the ways we should be introducing and learning copyright with our students. It’s ineffective and out-of-touch to teach only a consumption model of copyright. It ignores the productive, creative, prodigious work being done in our classrooms.

What kind of publishing do students want to perpetuate? How do they want to release their work into the wild? What is the difference between the access they want to provide others to their work and what access they expect to the work of others. Above all else, why?

Could you do this? Making music tell a story

The Gist:

  • Students in my Storytelling class are now working with music.
  • What we’re doing isn’t explicitly stated in the state standards.
  • No part of me believes this project isn’t helping them to be better readers, writers and thinkers.

The Whole Story:

Looking at the syllabus for my Storytelling class, I noticed I’d planned for poetry to follow our short story unit. Taking the temperature of the students, I decided a course adjustment was in order.

Instead of poetry, we’re working with music-without words.

To start things out, I needed to stand their expectations on their ears.

Everything was to be cleared from their desks. I distributed blank paper.  Crayons, colored pencils and markers laid sprawled on a central table.

“I’m going to play 10 stories for you,” I said, “You need to draw or write the story as you see fit. You’ll have 30 seconds between each story to finish before we move on.”

Papers were folded, coloring utensils collected and chairs situated just so.

I pressed play.

“Kyrie” from Mozart’s Requiem wafted from the speakers.

“I’ll let you know when there’s one minute left of each story,” I said.

They started drawing and writing the stories they heard.

When all was done, we’d listened to:

“Kyrie” from Mozart’s Requiem

“Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copeland

The theme from the 60s BBC show The Avengers

Verdi’s “Grand March” from Aida

“Heart String” by Earl Klugh

“Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

The tango from Scent of a Woman

Apotheosis’ take on Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna”

The theme from The Rock by Hanz Zimmer

The theme from Pirates of the Carribean, also by Hanz Zimmer

Thirty seconds after the last story, I told the class the story of riding in the back of my mom’s Nissan Pulsar when I was in first grade and we lived in Kentucky. When we’d drive back to Illinois in the middle of the night for holidays, each song that was in heavy rotation on whatever light rock station she was listening to was burned into my memory.

I played “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears and explained, for me, that song was about being 7 and riding from Kentucky to Illinois more than it could ever be about John Hughes’ 16 Candles.

Then came the assignment. They’re to re-tell the stories they wrote after the first day of class as a non-vocal musical track. They may compose something original or remix and mash up other tracks.

The only allowable vocals are unintelligible words like Orff’s Latin lyrics in “O Fortuna” or something along the lines of a doo-wop riff.

I’m excited to hear what they create. My hope is this assignment will stretch their thinking. I’ve tried it, it’s tricky.

Nowhere in the Pennsylvania English Curriculum does it direct students to be this kind of writers. Nowhere does it ask them to read texts as music. For that matter, the draft of the Common Core Standards doesn’t include anything like this.

I could massage a few of the standards into place, but either the assignment or the standard would end up inauthentic.

That said, I have no doubt what my students will be doing is a valid, challenging, authentic form of consumption and creation. They’re reading, writing and thinking in a way no test could measure or equal.

It’s going to be difficult, messy, frustrating and beautiful.

I can’t wait to hear what they create.