Today I was involved in a group exploration/discussion around the topics of intellectual property, information literacy, copyright, ethical behavior and digital citizenship within the K-12 environment. As we discussed these terms, I was struck by the huge commonalities between all these terms. I envisioned them as big overlapping circles in a Venn diagram, and really, at the
intersection of all of these ideas is what we as educators are trying to instill in our students – respect. Respect for intellectual property, respect for their own ideas and the ideas of others. We are also trying to transmit skills to our students. The skills to enable learners to correctly give attribution as they go about their work and expect the same from others who are building upon their work.
These skills are vital in our increasingly complex world. I immediately thought of the goals and requirements necessary to belong to our participatory culture and the skills necessary to function within a thriving learning commons philosophy that emphasizes collaboration, co-creation, and knowledge building.
Jenkins (2006) discusses the changing landscape of ethics as they apply to a participatory culture, especially in light of our rapidly changing modes of communication:
One important goal of media education should be to encourage young people to become more reflective about the ethical choices they make as participants and communicators and the impact they have on others. We may, in the short run, have to accept that cyberspace’s ethical norms are in flux: we are taking part in a prolonged experiment in what happens when one lowers the barriers of entry into a communication landscape. For the present moment, asking and working through questions of ethical practices may be more valuable than the answers produced because the process will help everyone to recognize and articulate the different assumptions that guide their behavior. (p. 17)
Together for Learning (2010) expresses the importance of ethical skills in this way:
Society needs citizens who have respect for others and who understand their responsibilities in participating in a safe and lawful society. Issues such as plagiarism, privacy, intellectual property, copyright, bias, stereotyping and gender all require deep understanding, as well as reasoned acceptance or rejection. With today’s nearly unlimited amount of information available and vast amounts of unfettered content to be shared, these considerations have become even more sensitive and significant. (p. 29)
Get a bunch of educators together who span the spectrum from division one to post secondary and you won’t hear much argument that information seeking skills and responsible/ethical use of information are very important. However, what does cause some disagreement, in my experience, is the ‘who’ and the ‘when’. Who is responsible to teach these skills to students? When is the best time for it to happen? I have been part of too many discussions where the blame game starts and teachers of each division level turn and blame the ones that teach students at the level before them. Universities blame the high schools, high schools blame the middle schools, etc. I have very strong opinions on this topic. I believe that the blame must stop and the ownership begin. We are ALL responsible for modeling ethical behaviours to our students. We can begin at the start of school and build increasing rigor as students rise in grade levels. Am I suggesting that we teach APA formatting to our kindergarten students? Of course not. However, we can teach them that when we use things that are not ours, we must give credit. If we are asking our grade one students to find images of animals, we can send them to websites that provide photos with creative commons licenses and explain why we are doing this.
As I continue to think about this, the word that keeps popping into my mind is ‘intentionality’. The skills aren’t automatic or absorbed through osmosis. “Ethical behavior in the use of information must be taught. In this increasingly global world of information, students must be taught to seek diverse perspectives, gather and use information ethically, and use social tools responsibly and safely” (Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, 2007, p. 2). Simply put, we are trying to create habits of mind and a culture of ‘being’, right from day one. The ‘when’ quickly becomes an ‘always’. It needs to be embedded into every assignment in a ‘just in time’ manner. Teach the skills as they apply, not as a separate lesson at the beginning of a term. Model it for students in your exemplars and demonstrations. Embed it within assignment instructions and expectations. It does take a bit of extra time, especially at the beginning as we examine our practices and assignments and try to embed these skills. It does mean that we model the behavior ourselves, but it is vital! It is amazing to me how quickly students pick up these skills and start to monitor themselves and each other. The pay-offs are tremendous. As educators, we all have a role to play in demonstrating and helping advance a culture of ethical use of information.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF
Standards for the 21st century learner. (2007). Chicago: American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/ guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf
Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010). Toronto: Ontario School Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf