Digital Citizenship – Part Two


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So, last week I wrote about Internet Safety. This week, let’s tackle intellectual property, copyright, plagiarism and…..bibliographies! Did you know that every new idea, drawing, song, photo, invention or turn of phrase is someone’s intellectual property and as such, can be copyrighted and should not be used by others, without express permission by the author/creator. Simple, right? As if! There are people with law degrees who study nothing but IP based law and they still can’t agree on all of this. And to muddy the water more, Canadian copyright law changed a few years ago and now contains guidelines for “fair dealing” of copyrighted material in educational settings. And I haven’t even mentioned Creative Commons yet! Is your mind spinning?

So, as a busy teacher who has no time to study law (as fascinating as that might be), how do I teach my students how to navigate plagiarism, copyright and intellectual property in a digital age when almost every thing ever said, sung, painted, invented or thought of can be found by googling!?

Like everything else, start small! Primary students generally have a very strong sense of right and wrong as well as ownership. They are happy to do show and tell sharing, but as for “actual” sharing? Not so much! It comes as no surprise that toddlers very quickly learn the word “me”, “my” and “mine”! You can capitalize on this! Let them know that stories, pictures, drawings and the things they find on the internet and in books belong to the people who create them and we can borrow them, as long as we remember to say that’s what we’ve done. I’ve seen many primary teachers do this by saying things like “Our Starry Nights – Paintings Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh” or “If You Give A Mouse Stories Inspired by Laura Numeroff”. And if your little learners are using digital tools to showcase their learning, then at the end of the iMovie or BookCreator project have them do something as simple as add the following disclaimer: “Project by So and So, Images and Facts from the Internet.”

In the intermediate grades, students’ understanding of ownership becomes more nuanced and their use of digital tool becomes more sophisticated. I tend to break these grades down into Grades 4 / 5 and Grades 6 / 7.

For Grades 4 and 5, you can use terms like “citing sources” and “bibliography” – although unless you actually explain why we do these things they will be meaningless. With these students, we’re not trying to create a perfect MLA formatted bibliography. We’re trying to teach them the skills that will lead to that and why it is important to cite your sources. So, to me, a great bibliography would be a list somewhere on the project that shows what websites were used (show them how to find the url), what images they used (again, the url) and a list of books with the name of the book as well as the author(s) and Illustrator(s). It’s relatively simple, but it is a step we should be insisting on. It’s important.

In Grade 6 and 7, I like to introduce a proper MLA bibliography. And since I teach in a digital environment, I show them how to do so using the free version of NoodleTools. (There are other online bibliography sites out there, like EastBib and BibMe – I’ve just gotten used to NoodleTools!). The first time I have them use NoodleTools, it’s for practice. After that, they know that any project they are doing will require a proper bibliography. And to their future high school teachers….you’re welcome! Here is the assignment I use with my students when I introduce NoodleTools – just remember to cite me as the source!

For all intermediate grades, you need to teach students to avoid the dreaded “copy and paste”, for obvious reasons. Most teachers tell students to “use your own words”, which sounds great but in reality, unless you have taught them how to do that, it can be very hard for them. A better way to handle this is to go old-school! Do the research online but record the facts with paper and pencil. Use templates like venn diagrams, t-charts and mind maps to help them write down what they find in an organized way and teach them to just write “the facts ma’am, just the facts” – not whole sentences or paragraphs! Then they can go back to their device and write their own, new work with notes from the paper.

Still have some “copy-pasters”? Show the class how easily you can “catch” them. Copy and paste a line from an “anonymous” project (usually a previous student’s work, names removed) into the Google search bar and show them that if they have “copy-pasted” the result will come up, word for word, usually in the first or second search result. I am always amazed that kids think I can’t figure this out! Oh yeah, don’t forget to have a conversation about the whys here…why we don’t copy-paste, why it’s wrong, why people get in trouble for it.

With intermediate copy-paste offenders, my response is not “AUTOMATIC FAIL!!!” I want them to learn from their mistake so the first time they do it I generally give them a chance to re-do the work. The second time I often call in parents. A third offense usually gets a zero mark.

Finally, whether you choose to use the guidelines outlined in this post or go with something else, please do make sure that you are having these discussions with your students and teaching them about ownership and intellectual property. It’s an important part of their participation and citizenship in our digital world!


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