This section of the tutorial…

I’m finishing up my compliance modules for the year. Yes, I’m delinquent on getting them done. But in my defense I’m one of those odd balls that actually likes to sit through the modules and study them for instructional design elements, assessment choices in online learning, and evaluate their overall effectiveness as a tool to help learners comply with needed legislation and/or guidelines.

It comes as news to no one that most online compliance modules are terribly designed instructional tools. Failure to connect what’s about to be presented to a viewer’s pre-existing knowledge base, a lack of small checks for understanding throughout the modules, and brief multiple choice quizzes at the end of a module barely scratch the surface of whether the viewer has truly internalized the material. But I get it; they’re compliance modules. We view them every year, so they become rote no matter how engaging they might be. The desire to be efficient and honor the time of employees who must complete the modules is important, so more actively engaged learning and understanding of compliance issues typically takes place through the year in face to face meetings, conversations, and situations. In short, I get why compliance modules are the way they are, and I don’t begrudge having to go through them; I do learn a little bit more each year; or rather, I gain a deeper sense of understanding when viewing modules given better context and experiences.

For example, I recently had an email exchange about the use of materials under copyright through the fair use exemptions for educational purposes with my district’s Technology Director and the teacher of our High School’s Digital Media course. There was some confusion and a bit of apprehension about what type of media the teacher and students could “legally” download from YouTube. Is it legal to download music protected by copyright laws? Is it permissible to then use that music, or video, in student projects? What if the projects are just for educational purposes to be used in class, and not broadcast out through social media or reposted back to YouTube?

The academic response typically revolves around some guiding document or set of parameters that prescribes certain lengths of audio, video, and text as permissible (no more than 30 seconds of an audio clip protected by copyright, or no more than 20% of a greater body of written work, etc.). The truth is, most of the guidelines are rubbish. They are attempts to place easily digestible rules and guidelines in front of individuals to create a sense of safety and understanding about what is permissible. While I appreciate the honest and good natured intention behind those efforts (I myself created and disseminated guidelines of that nature earlier in my career), the truth is that it’s all a huge legal grey area; YouTubers will often use large portions of songs protected by copyright for comedic or dramatic effect in their videos; remixers and artists cover entire songs on SoundCloud, and some individuals make a good living streaming video game play throughs on Twitch. We are living in an age in which any prescribed guidelines or rules for strict copyright adherence are negated almost instantly by the next “viral hit” that turns a teenager into an internet celebrity.

I digress; the point I’m trying to make is that the line between copyright infringement and fair use has never been thinner or more blurred than it is now. Given a subject in which tutorials can be obsolete the moment they’ve been created, the copyright and fair use compliance modules I’ve just had to sit through at least do a good job of presenting circumstances; scenarios in which copyright infringement might be an actual bonafide reality. Creating photocopies of an entire workbook for a class without having permission from the publisher….yeah, that’s a violation. Using a video or music clip in your classroom or project to illustrate a learning objective….probably not a violation of copyright. In fact, the compliance module even spells out a lot of flexibility that educators have with fair use exemptions to copyright law; permission of transmission of the entirety of many literary and musical works, as well as “reasonable” and limited amounts of other works is all spelled out in the tutorial. That helps empower the teacher to be more thoughtful and flexible in what he or she wants to bring into the classroom, or wants students to be able to manipulate.

I don’t think I would have been as willing to say this earlier in my career, but thanks to DS106 and being an administrator that helps craft guidelines and policies around the fair use of digital media, I’ve developed a greater understanding and appreciation for trusting others to make sound decisions in their teaching environments.

P.S. I’m not sure if there’s a good reflection here or not; I’ve been out of the blogging game for awhile. But it’s just some thoughts I had rattling around my head that needed to come out 🙂