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Book Review

Copyright Clarity: How fair use supports digital learning by Renee Hobbs

Hobbs overview of copyright law, specifically as it pertains to education (primarily K-12 but also very applicable to higher ed), is incredibly helpful to understanding what instructors and students can do with digital media. Her inclusion of examples, examples that included the ‘can we digitally publish this’ were so helpful to all grade levels, with various levels of technology access.

This book can be a quick read. I’ve previously read Hobbs’ Digital and Media Literacy text so some of the text was carry-over from media literacy ideas, but there is a need to read both texts as the focus on copyright raises important questions to help students understand their freedom in copyright (hint: it’s not everything, but it’s pretty darn close). The quick read comes from the overlap in chapters 1 and 2 – these were fairly repetitive with so much “we’ll deal with this specifically in chapter 3 (or 4 depending on the concept)” that I breezed through the chapters in 30 minutes. Similarly, I spent little time with chapter 5 as it deals specifically with film. I use videogames more frequently in my work, and the required play of videogames shifts this conversation significantly so I didn’t find helpfulness. However, this is a really helpful chapter for other scholars and teachers.

The focus in this book is on the idea of transformativeness, attention to the creative process and how the original was was used, repurposed and reused as it relates to Fair Use. What I found most important from this are the questions that educators should be asking about their use of media – AND teaching to their students.

Hobbs wants educators to consider (paraphrased from page 48):

  1. Did their use (their = student/educator) ‘transform’ the work for a different purpose – or did it copy the original intent and value?
  2. Was the amount of the original material used appropriate given the copyrighted work and original use?

The goal with these questions is to highlight the necessary ambiguity in copyright law to allow intellectual sharing and protection – while also highlighting the important work education and assignments (therefore students) can and should do with cultural material.

There are several things happening here of incredible importance. The first, and Hobbs notes this in chapter 1, educators need to engage students with cultural materials. Students engage with culture everyday, mostly unconsciously, we are in an excellent position to help them consider the ways they engage culture, the ways the create (and can create) culture, the ways they need to be critical of their own cultural engagement.

Second, for this to work students need to think critically. I had a class in the Spring that struggled with critical engagement. They wanted the right answer – in a composition course. Then tried to write 5 paragraph essays for their final research essays. None of my examples resonated with this group – they continued to culturally turn off. I have ideas for using Twitter more effectively in future semesters to ask students to bring the culture for critical engagement. My only criticism for Hobbs would be – every example included shows things going so well. What happens when we have the off-teaching day where the critical engagement for the entire class isn’t there. For higher education educators one day can be such a huge portion of the curriculum. (The Digital and Social Media text had a few examples of things not working and on the fly decisions that went well – but sometimes even those on the fly don’t work, what then???? How do we reengage? a timeless pedagogy question I know!)

Finally, students have a lot freedom to use existing media (as long as they critically consider the use). We need to empower them to understand this! I love this concept – I will rely on this concept in future semester. But, I worry about the transfer of these skills. Do I think students who get it can successfully navigate these questions and consider Fair Use – absolutely. But from a book littered with examples of teachers setting strict boundaries on use due to their misunderstanding of Copyright law – what happens when I send my student out into the world and their Physics teacher considers their Fair Use of a Schrodinger Cat meme plagiarism? I understand this example is borrowing trouble (use of colloquial saying intentional) – but as I transition my composition syllabi to a more obvious Teaching for Transfer model, I’m stating the underlying goal as the transfer of understanding of writing (and digital media) practices. I want students to actively and consciously transfer good writing practices developed in my class. But what happens when good digital media practices are considered plagiarism?

Overall, I found much to enjoy with this text. As I began this review my intent was to focus on transformativeness. I see so much possibility for this in the composition classroom. But, as I began writing about this idea I also have so many questions. I look forward to exploring this further as I put together my composition syllabi for Fall semester.

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Book Review

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

One of the biggest struggles, as a reader of texts on digital and media literacy in classrooms, is finding a book that balances theory and practical classroom application of the theories. In an effort to avoid being prescriptive I’ve read too many texts that provided only theories and discussions of existing studies with no classroom application. I’ve read others with too little focus on the theory that influenced and supported the lesson plans. Unlike others works, Hobbs finds a great balance of theory and example lesson plans.

Underlying Hobbs discussion is the need to help students develop working theories of media and digital social tools, to strengthen their practices with these tools, and to develop their critical approaches to these spaces.  This focus matches my goals when using and discussing digital media tools.  Students need to learn to use the tools and avoid letting the tools use them – critical approaches to what students know and what they experience is so important for meaningful student engagement with the tools used.

In my advanced composition I require students to follow a social media user of their choice. The only recommendation I have for selecting a user and space is for students to not picking something too close to their heart – it can be difficult to analyze and critique your own fandoms. As I was finishing this book I received an email from a composition student thanking me for requiring students to critically engage with social media. Despite early skepticism with using social media – she appreciated the assignment and the chance to critically engage with a social media of her choice.

For this assignment at least, approaching social media to help students develop critical practices was a success. Developing assignments with Hobbs goal of developing more critically engaged students is possible! YAY!

While I’m updating my syllabi for my Summer and Fall classes I’m continuing to consider additional ways to develop more critical literacies practices. While we, as a class, brought in real-world examples early in the semester, we didn’t continue with this practice. I want to continue to support this practice in students and am consider ways of modifying my Twitter assignment to encourage (require) students to critically engage with news media in addition to the social media assignment. Both support critical reading and writing – the major goals of composition courses – and will allow for both academic and public genre writing.

Reading Hobbs book emphasized the importance of critical engagement with news media. While her book barely touches on videogames – my favorite media form – I really appreciated the mix of theory and practical application of digital and social media to support literacies development.

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Creativity in the Classroom

I often call my approach to “Game Days” or “Quest Days” gameful, sometimes gamification, sometimes game-like learning, occasionally problem based. At best, my pedagogy is a student-centered, and creatively gameful. So we’ll go with at best.

As I wrote the Game Day quests (my Videogames and Literacies course) and Quest Day quests (my Rhetoric Capstone) I revisited Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry for inspiration on inspiring creativity. That’s right, inspiration on inspiring creativity. What games do well is design systems with rewards, motivations, and choice that allow players (users/learners) to experience learning. Once players have enjoyed learning, they’ll enter levels where creativity matters. For example games in the Little Big Planet franchise and similar games allow a player to collect items that will aid a player in designing their own level – once the player has reached an appropriate level within the game as decided by the game designers. In games like Plants vs. Zombies 2 the player has access to a LIMITED number of plants to begin with, then as the player progresses they open plants. The game then emphasizes choice as each level allows a limited number of plant slots (let’s say 5) while the player probably has a large arsenal (6-50 for instance). In all these cases, the game helps the player level up, limiting many of their choices until they’ve reached a more advanced level in the game – with game elements and desire to make more choices helping to motivate the player.

Education and an individual course are not designed in this manner. Course-to-course learning is absolutely scaffolded, which in many ways game learning mirrors. But the restriction of choice is not very present as a motivational tool. So as I read through Barry’s Syllabus I was exploring ideas of inspiring inspiration as a way to academically mimic the choice scaffolding and motivation of games to design my gameful course day assignments. What this reminded me is that I may use game-based language with quest, levels, varying points, and bonus points – but what i’m adding back to the classroom in these early quests is inspiration to be creative and free-space to create choice. These are the new elements to my gameful assignments students struggle the most with as they are the most new element.

In Syllabus Barry experiments (across several semesters) with ways to activate showing thinking, from drawing circles, to drawing on notecards, to writing and drawing everything in composition notebooks for an entire semester. She explores, with her students, what ideas look like in physical form, what processes and thinking look like in physical form in composition notebooks.

So for these first two gameful days I’ve asked students to simply create. And I have a feeling tomorrow, when they’re asked in class to create this will be the panic moment. I don’t have the practice space that games do in this learning situation, I need my students to move to choice must faster than a game would allow. What I’m struggling with today, is this classroom gameful? At the college level, does this need to be the steep cliff for students to experience creatively learning? Is this inspiring inspiration?

One of my online grad students said it best – I’ve come to expect the unexpected in Dr P’s classes. I find that inspiring, so hopefully it inspires inspiration in my students tomorrow!

Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.

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