Educators making copyright work for them

Lisette Kalshoven
Feb 9, 2016 · 6 min read

Written by Lisette Kalshoven (COMMUNIA, Kennisland) and Tijmen Schep (SETUP, Kennisland)

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Photo by Tijmen Schep, CC BY 4.0

In this series, we have already pointed out several areas where the rules of copyright do not mix very well with the practice of modern education: 5 outrageous things educators cannot do because of copyright , or why teachers are a stakeholder in the copyright debate , and why the possible lack of copyright in material can cause so much confusion. Today, we want to talk a bit more positively about ways that educators and students are leveraging alternative tools that sit within the copyright system (such as Creative Commons licenses) in a way that promotes creativity, collaborative creation, and a culture of sharing.

We will share three inspirational examples that showcase the potential of new technologies and flexible legal tools in 21st century education.

SETUP and the 3D-print-pen

SETUP Medialab is a Dutch non-profit aimed at a nuanced understanding of technological issues, often through (non-formal) education projects. They have always shared their work openly, both because they felt obliged to (as two-thirds of their funding is from public sources) and because they want their work to be shared and re-used freely.

Examples of their open creations are a beginners course on programming art, an ‘“open source party” with open music and open-source VJ-materials, all their funding proposals, a “subtlemob” (flashmob-meets-theater-meets-audiotour), and various bits of software and visual designs.

In 2015 SETUP started renting office space in the library of Utrecht, and doing so has led to a lot of new collaborations. One technology that shows a lot of potential for education is the “3D print pen”, a mix between a 3D printer and a glue gun: it uses molten plastic as ink, and allows the operator to create drawings that literally leave the page.

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Photo by Tijmen Schep, CC BY 4.0

The pen is relatively cheap to buy and use, yet has much of the same functionality as a 3D printer to produce plastic objects. SETUP asked various professionals to demonstrate the educational potential for teaching through use of their invention.

The videos from a first expert-roundtable (in Dutch) show many different educational possibilities: teaching dyslexic children to read by making words tangible, learning about architecture by building tall towers, displaying city data in physical formats, designing articulating toys, and turning mathematical shapes into jewellery.

To help children and educators explore the possibilities, SETUP released a small number of templates that help users manipulate the pen, and challenge them to construct more complex objects, such as these models of the Dom tower, Utrecht’s most famous landmark:

The project uses the Creative Commons Attribution license for the designs, which means that all users have to do under the license is mention that SETUP was one of the parties involved. You are free to make money from it, redistribute it, and modify it. Creating remixes from the original plans is made easy because the design source files are shared in addition to the ‘final’ PDFs.

SETUP is sharing these designs with anyone interested, with a specific hope that other libraries will join in and create and share similar designs and source files. Thus, the selection of educational material grows, allowing teachers to explore the vast potential of this particular technology, all while saving time and money.

CoderDojo’s Kata

A similar train of thought can be found at the international CoderDojo initiative. In cities all over the world volunteers teach children the basics of computer programming. Instead of making software for startups or businesses, children explore the expressive possibilities of programming: telling stories, displaying different types of creativity, and developing beautiful designs. These children instinctively understand that technology is more than a tool: it’s a language.

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Photo by Tijmen Schep, CC BY 4.0

For kids, learning through books can feel annoying and even illogical. And, as it is both complex and dynamic, instructional books on coding are often out-of-date before they hit the bookshelves. In most cases, these technical resources are not targeted for young learners. Through the open approach of CoderDojo, educators know they are introducing kids to programming in an interesting and accessible way.

Children want to experiment and ‘just do’. And why not? Many computer programmers started out by tinkering with electronics, cobbling code together, or deconstructing and then remixing other people’s code.

A large repository of educational lessons that fit this style can be found at The “Sushi cards” are a popular choice: these are bite-sized lessons that are printed out on A4 sheets of paper and then laminated. Of course many small lessons can be strung together to create bigger ones. But the bite-sized nature makes it easier to go into all kinds of different directions.

By sharing all the lessons and educational materials under the Creative Commons Attribution license, the CoderDojo community clearly communicates to other educators that they are free to re-use the content without having to ask permission each time the teacher wishes to use the content. By lowering the barriers to access and use of these educational materials, more children are able to begin learning how to code in ways that would not be possible using only traditional textbook resources.

The University of the Netherlands

We’ve already talked a bit about new open projects that are supporting formal and informal youth education. But what about adults and lifelong learners? We see that many educational resources and projects — such as MOOC’s and organisations like Khan Academy — provide useful tools and open source materials for these audiences as well. Khan Academy, for example, releases some of its lessons under an open license, but most of their videos are not so freely available. For example, materials might be free to access and view, but this does not necessarily include the permission to re-use or adapt the work, which might limit its value for educators.

One example of an organisation that has shown a dedication to openness is De Universiteit van Nederland, literally translated as “the University of the Netherlands”. They consider it wasteful that the best lecturers in The Netherlands are only available to a relatively small number of students. Through their recordings, now people outside of the university can also enjoy this expertise.

Each lecture is cut up into 15 minute portions around a particular topic. All of the lecture materials are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license, making it a great resource for both formal and informal learning. Any teacher that would like to cut together video content for her own class, or remix a complex lesson plan, is free to do so.

De Universiteit van Nederland records the sessions with a live audience in an Amsterdam nightclub, and these events often sell out even though the videos are published online soon after the in-person lectures. This shows that there’s a lot of interest in high-quality education — across a diverse range of subject areas.

We should make this easier

Copyright policy needs to make possible these innovative teaching and learning activities. Sadly, more often the existing copyright rules are a source of confusion, frustration, and threats of infringement. The question “Can I use this material for teaching?” should almost always be answered with a “yes”. Our copyright system should be adapted to meet our 21st century educational needs (and not the other way around). It should not be necessary for teachers to spend enormous amounts of time clearing copyright before they are able to utilize content in their lessons.

Whether by clearing existing rights, using already-available openly licensed materials, or creating learning resources from scratch, the examples above show that educators are beginning to overcome the barriers of copyright. Imagine if all educators — not just those on the cutting edge — were able to tap into these modern education and communication tools?

Want to know more about a suitable copyright exception for education in Europe? Please read our policy paper here.

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