Tag Archives: online

Me vs Me

I am planning projects for the year to come, and as part of a unit on Digital Citizenship I am trying to get students to think about the way they project (or create identities) for themselves. I will be asking them to compare their identity within their own family to their identity online. This is what I call “Me vs Me” (a nod to the old Mad comic “Spy vs Spy“), and students will be asked to create a visual representation of these two facets of themselves. To make it clear what I mean I put together the following example work…I hope no one takes it seriously:

Thanks to Bbpics on Wikimedia Commons for the image of the model.

Margaret Gould Stewart: How YouTube Thinks About Copyright

http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_stewart_how_youtube…

Copyright is an area of immense interest for me: I cannot say exactly why, but I think it is to do with the interplay of creativity, reward and culture. I mostly think of copyright as being a battle between the content creators and content users, with each trying to find the best deal for themselves. Lawmakers, swayed by one side or the other, pass legislation to maintain a balance of some kind (currently far too much in favour of the creators). And technology provides a landscape which is constantly changing, requiring all players to exert effort to maintain equilibrium for themselves and the system as a whole. At the core of copyright is the issue of our culture, and specifically how we create, transmit and enjoy its artifacts (such as music, video and books).

Of late, we have seen many attempts by content creators (recording artists, move directors) and their representatives (MPAA, RIAA) to block technological developments that they see as harmful to their interests. This often leads to a strong perceived delineation between bad/evil/greedy creators and poor/choiceless consumers. In many instances this delineation seems to be fair and accurate, for example when Paramount attempted to claim copyright over someone’s footage of the public filming of movie.

However, every so often we catch a glimpse of developments that are distinctly more subtle in their effort to create benefit for all. My standard examples of these instances are Creative Commons and the Open Source movement. Having watched this fascinating video, I think I might now have a third example. The video deals with YouTube’s automated efforts to allow content creators to have control over their content in such a way that uses economic incentives to encourage them to permit remix and reuse. This softly-softly approach seems to be a great way to get big corporations interested in the power of participatory culture, whilst allowing them to maintain ownership over their content.

From an information technology perspective, the video provides great insights into the way that YouTube uses technology to process, analise and make decisions upon huge numbers of videos. It also illustrates many interesting points regarding information processes, and shows that systems are not just composed of technology, but also consist of people, policies and data. I think many students will definitely be interested to see what happens behind the scenes on the world’s most popular video sharing platform.

I am certainly interested to learn more about YouTube’s efforts in this area, and would love to see this system fulfill its potential to empower individuals to create culture rather than simply consume it. As to whether or not it will, who knows, but given Google’s long history of pushing the envelope when it comes to copyright, it just might.

Comics

I love comics, and am often amazed not only by how funny they can be, but also how much can be learned from them. Growing up I was a regular reader of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side and Mad Magazine. As I grew older I began to appreciate the intelligence and sophistication of Dilbert and XKCD. From this reading I developed my own sense of humour. More than this, however, I learned to question and reflect on the world around me, to understand that different situations could be understood in different ways and that I was not alone in my feelings and views on the world and its inhabitants.

Whilst many children love comics, too many teachers and parents dismiss them as childish distractions from serious reading and learning. If you are of this opinion, I ask you to read this short strip and see if it changes your perspective on this issue. Whilst reading comics can be beneficial in the ways described above, creating comics provides an even richer opportunity for learning. Consider some of the following ways in which comic creation can be used in the classroom:

  • Discovering the joy and power of remixing and mashing up the work of others.
  • Drafting stories before writing.
  • Encouraging creativity and self expression.
  • Character development to extend understanding of texts.
  • Learning about graphic design and layout.
  • Learning about persuasion.
  • Honing online research skills.
  • Learning computing skills.
  • Developing an understanding of issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright.
  • Digital storytelling.
  • Summarising complex ideas.
  • Putting events into chronological order.
  • Learning about visual literacy, social conventions and suggestion in the media.

Interestingly, these ideas apply to almost all subjects. If you are teacher, stop for a minute and consider the multitude of ways in which this could be applied to the subjects you teach. Certainly within both of my subjects (ICT and ESL) I can see plenty of scope for applying these approaches. In fact, in terms of promoting multiliteracies, I can think of few more powerful tools.

Computer technology provides us with some great tools for quickly and easily creating comics. These technologies afford one great advantage to users: they lower the barrier to creating great work because they do not require traditional artistic abilities, such as drawing. The following are four pieces of software that can be used to empower students:

  • Comic Life is the premier comic creation software in terms of ease-of-use and pure joy. It focuses on arranging existing images and applying effects to them. It is desktop software, and runs on Windows and Mac OS. Unfortunately, payment is required, although it is very reasonable, especially when purchasing in bulk. The 30-day trial is completely free and unrestricted, so this is a great place to start.
  • Comiqs is an online alternative to Comic Life, with comparable functionality: it seems extremely promising, but is in beta and currently seems to have some bugs. Hopefully these will be ironed out in the near future. The service is free, and there is no need to install any software onto your computer.
  • Pixton is an extremely flexible online comic creator. Unlike Comic Life and Comiqs, which are primarily concerned with working on existing images, Pixton allows users to create and edit their own comic characters. This is a great tool that is worth some serious exploration, and whilst it does seem a little tricky to use, it does provide a huge range of flexibility. Pixton is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.
  • BitStrips works along the same lines as Pixton, but is somewhat easier to use. That said, you do not get quite as much flexibility in terms of creating and manipulating your creations, although the results can be just as good. I would recommend this for use with younger students. As with Pixton, it is free for individual users, but there is also a paid educational version with enhanced tools for teachers.

Having sung the virtues of comic creation, I will end with a cautionary note: as with any tool, it is essential not to overuse this approach. Whilst kids will love the novelty and freedom that these activities can bring, if they do it every year in every subject they will very soon lose interest.

If you adopt any of these ideas in your classroom, please feel free to send over some student work, which I will gladly post on this page.

BibMe: Fast & Easy Bibliography Maker

http://www.bibme.org/

Whilst citing references is certainly a vital part of academic research, it is also very tedious. By helping to create and format references according to a given system (e.g. Harvard, APA, etc), BibMe makes this task a lot easier. Simply search for the item you need to cite and select it for addition to your reference list. If the system cannot find the item, just enter the details by hand, letting the system format it for you. Select your desired style and simply copy and paste into your document.

Whilst there are other systems that do more (such as integrating into your word processor), BibMe cannot be beaten in terms of balancing functionality with ease of use.