Open licenses, open learning
PETER LETH, PEDAGOGICAL CONSULTANT, LÆR IT AND EDUCATIONAL ADVISOR, CREATIVE COMMONS DENMARK
If you want to know what the benefits of free access to digitised cultural heritage are, Peter can tell you. With many years of teaching in the Danish public school on his back, he knows the need for trustworthy educational materials of high quality. What’s more, he knows about the students’ online behaviours. When they search for knowledge it is crucial to their learning that they can get their hands dirty, working actively and creatively with the materials they find. Sharing, sampling, and remixing are keys to durable learning. These are the future users of cultural heritage.
The school must promote a lust for learning, understanding, and general literacy. Any school today is full of curious tinkerers who are all digital natives. So what happens when we make our cultural heritage fully accessible via open licences? What happens if we do not? These are important questions for me as a teacher, parent, and citizen.
In recent years, it has become increasingly common to employ a digital strategy that involves the use of open licences; Statens Museum for Kunst is one example of this approach. This creates a range of fantastic new opportunities for teaching and for putting our cultural heritage into play for new generations.
Accessibility is not just about having a work shown on a website. If simply seeing or watching something was enough to learn and become educated, we would long ago have eaten our packed lunch at home and simply sent students links to their daily “play” button. However, learning is an active process where the student generates understanding and important communication through various forms of self-expression. It is crucial that information and knowledge can be copied, reproduced in answers, processed, remixed, and used in new ways. Learning depends on access to knowledge. Of course it is impossible to share actual, physical works of art, but in a digitised world, sharing becomes entirely troublefree – for a digital copy will never affect the original it sprang from. A Creative Commons Attribution license – as employed by e.g. Statens Museum for Kunst – allows for such genuine accessibility and makes it possible for everyone to gain deeper insights into the SMK collections.*1
An everyday dilemma in schools: Tinkering is stigmatised
The school encourages a desire to learn and act. It encourages dedication, co-operation, lively communication, and free thinking, all of this combined with factual knowledge and competence development. This is described in detail in Danish legislation and the public school’s curricula. The school wants to see and support creative, imaginative youngsters who evolve and learn how to interact with the world. But the school becomes conflicted with itself and its surroundings if it embroils itself and its students in criminal activities. And in fact it will do so every time it hosts an activity where you need to work with information and knowledge that is protected by copyright law. And yet the students’ desire to learn prompts them to use digital tools to process, remediate, and reproduce content in various ways.
There is a conflict here: We have purchased computers for our schools, formulated laws about active tinkerers, and established a school system where IT is integrated into every subject. But at the same time, we may have overlooked the simple fact that our knowledge is no longer distributed via photocopiers. We must, at a very basic level, ensure that the content we process can in fact be legally processed in order to facilitate teaching that is both legal and informative. For schools can only teach the information and knowledge that others will share with us – otherwise the teaching itself will make criminals of us all. That dilemma will force schools to omit, against their will, certain content – for example because of rules set up to protect our shared cultural heritage.
Open content on SkoleTube
On SkoleTube*2 we have launched a number of initiatives to make it easier for users to learn legally. Given that more than 500,000 Danish students and teachers use SkoleTube, it makes sense to help – and encourage – schools to focus on this sore spot, and we note that many schools have begun teaching students and teachers about open content and Creative Commons licenses.
The film workshop MovieCut is one of the tools on SkoleTube that helps make it easier to be legit rather than illegal. Here, users can access CC licensed images from Flickr and songs from Jamendo and the media collection Skolearkivet – an archive that includes 150 works from SMK that we have uploaded complete with metadata from SMK.*3 The different media are instantly available, and users do not need to spend precious time finding and uploading dubious content themselves. Once the students have completed their task, the software will automatically insert end credits that list the authors of any works used from Flickr, Jamendo, and Skolearkivet. This takes care of the practicalities concerning the use of content created by others. Students see how sources should be listed together with content, and simultaneously the students send a clear signal to the world; a “thank you” demonstrating that they respect copyright terms and appreciate open licenses.
In short, you can find professional content presented in a user-friendly manner that also teaches students how to navigate the Internet safely and legally without compromising the scope or quality of content you can work with. Familiarity with the rules of copyright law is a fundamental premise for even beginning to talk about media didactics and proper conduct in the digital realm.
Hope for the future
Even though more than 500 million works are available under a Creative Commons license today, it is still important to ask: If not everything is available, then who will teach us about the inaccessible? If we cannot tamper with everything, who will ensure that the untouchable will nevertheless be touched upon?
Put simply, the wide open world which the Creative Commons licenses have helped make more visible and user-friendly in terms of the relationship between rights owners and users is mainly a product of a European and Northern American youth culture. We have seen that in recent years, e.g. when a biologist from Randers in Denmark was the first to provide us with free access to two Danish archaeological national treasures – the Golden Horns and the Sun Chariot – when a Dutch tourist gave us Roskilde Cathedral, a German tourist gave us the Jelling stones, and where part of our knowledge comes from private amateurs who enjoy what they see and enjoy sharing it. Flickr still shows a world without poverty, slums, pollution, or oppression – but just a few pictures can change this image of the world. Contributing to the world we share is simple, and this means that we must all understand and use the Internet as a tool that promotes a creative community. According to the open content available on the Internet right now, Denmark has very little presence in the world, but it would not take much to change that. We can all make a difference if we want.
For the sake of culture and history, we should strive to make complete access the norm, thereby ensuring that shared knowledge can also be used for learning, development, and personal growth in the future.
History is remembered when it is told.
*2 “SchoolTube” – a platform where students and teachers can upload and share video and media productions in a safe environment, as well as access a range of media editing tools. Visit www.skoletube.dk (Danish only)
*3 See examples at sharecare.skoleblogs.dk. Here you can also find materials, lectures, etc. See SMK’s open materials used in media productions, learn more about Creative Commons, and read the invitation for co-operation with GLAM institutions on SkoleTube.