As information technologies continue to grow at an exponential rate, the amount of educational material created on this campus and campuses around the world is expected to follow that trend. At Illinois State, we’ve been putting a lot of effort into adapting our old teaching material for the web, from scanning old handouts to the .pdf format to converting old VHS tapes to a digital format such as Flash or .mp4. We’ve spent even more time creating new material for this same purpose, producing hours and hours of new audio, video, and text, and all of it available to anybody with an internet connection. That is, within reason: Materials posted to Blackboard (or other courseware products) are only available to those with permission, typically a handful of students. However, post that same material to iTunes U at Illinois State University, or to a university web page, or your blog at ISU, and those materials become available to billions.
For those of us at CTLT, our jobs would become incredibly difficult if not for publicly available materials. As part of our jobs is providing support for any number of software applications (and the thousands of potential functions of these applications), we frequently get asked questions that we either don’t have a ready answer for, or know the answer but don’t have any instrument available to explain it other than our voices. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of speech. However, having a web page or handout available for commonly asked questions sure makes our lives easier, and being able to go out to the World Wide Web for answers absent from the tips of our tongues is literally invaluable. Professors grading essays might rue the day it was created, but Wikipedia truly is a marvel. It is the result of 100 million hours of work and one of the shining examples of what can be accomplished by an collaborative effort. It pales in comparison to what can and is being accomplished by the collaborative effort known as the World Wide Web, that massive info-dump that so rarely lets us down when we need a little bit of education ourselves.
Being a better collaborator with our educational materials is something I’ve been particularly interested in lately. When I can, I try to point out to educators that what we create for our Blackboard courses and online content locations can usually be made available to a wider audience simply and with only a few extra minutes of our time.
If you create a PowerPoint video about the The Prisoner’s Dilemma and upload it to Blackboard for the benefit of your students, making that same video available through iTunes, a quick blog post, your departmental web page, and/or even YouTube takes a fraction of the time it took to produce it. From that minimal amount of effort, you not only make that material much more available, but more findable, better preserved for the future, and (if done well) recognizable as a good source of education. You also, of course, become a better collaborator. (And if you have misgivings about the complexity of doing this, we at CTLT are only too happy to help.)
Sometimes I find materials on the web I’d like to use as a handout but am unsure of the (copyright) legality of doing so, as it’s rare that the author of the material explicitly states its permissible uses. My choices at this point are to not use it, use it anyway and make sure to attribute the author and URL address where I found it, or try and contact the author for permission. None of these are ideal situations.
A resource well-known to artists (especially musicians), but not (apparently) to educators, is Creative Commons. It’s something I might blog about again.
Creative Commons “provide[s] free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.” **
Setting up copyright permissions for your work really is a simple (and legal, and free) process, and if more of us used this service, the world would be an easier place to educate in.
More information of how they work with Education here: Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources.