Why Creative Commons?

I recently tweeted about the copyright rules for a resources site which charges for membership.

I’d like to take this chance to clarify – as I already have done to several of the editors of the site – that this was not intended as a specific criticism of them, but of the industry standard which makes distributing, sharing and finding resources so difficult. I’ve blogged about this before, but this seems like a good opportunity to explain how I aim to get my resources ‘out there’ using Creative Commons Licences, and to share a possible future approach – albeit a utopian one.

EDIT: I’ve swapped a couple of very good-natured emails with people at the site, and promised I’d add a couple more facts. Firstly pdf versions of resources, where relevant, are free to all users after registration. It’s only for interactive or editable versions that a paid membership (individual or school) is needed. Royalties are paid based on number of resources, not popularity, with the remainder of income going to pay for the editing and curation costs associated. An exclusive licence is needed (ie you can’t upload your material if it’s on any other site), and it still means searching is done within a walled garden.

(I’d also like to make it clear that I don’t make a financial profit from this site. It’s a fairly cheap hobby in terms of cash, but not in time. If anyone wants to say thank you, they can buy me a coffee, or I can put a link to an Amazon wishlist if you’re feeling generous.)

CC-BY-NC-SA

You may have seen the above letters on my resources, or the logo which does the same job. If so I’ve tried to make sure there’s a link back to the human-readable explanation of the full legal licence. Basically, it means you’re welcome – indeed invited! – to use my resources, as they are or after editing (CC), as long as you don’t make a profit out of it (NC). That’s a bit of a grey area, as teachers technically get paid to teach, but I think most people would understand that if you changed a few words and sold it on, I’d be annoyed. You’re also supposed to credit me (BY), simply by including the links I build in is fine, and if you make something share it (SA) with the same kind of licence, or at least expectation.

cc-by-nc-sa

It’s a legal statement and, I suppose, a philosophical viewpoint. I like sharing. I’m in the process of going through all my resources, adding the code where needed, and trying to make sure I’ve not accidentally used images that aren’t CC-registered. From a community-spirited point of view, I’d like to think people are using my resources to make their teaching lives easier. And selfishly, it gives me a huge ego-boost when I find out someone is. 🙂

Utopia

Loads of teachers share loads of resources, often without expecting anything back. (Although comments are appreciated, I promise.) The following is recycled from a proposal I put together a while back. It wasn’t picked up, but I still think the idea has some potential. It certainly explains why I think sites like TeachIt Science are perhaps not as useful as they could be, in an ideal world.

There are some fantastic materials – worksheets, videos, presentations, activities of all kinds – available on the web, much of it free. TES and the more recent GuardianTeachers site work in effectively the same way, although much of the material is produced by individual teachers. There are many others, but each works as its own walled garden. Current sites use one of two business models; paid membership, or based around the advertising revenue, which in turn depends on the number of people visiting the site. Either way, the problem isn’t a lack of resources. It’s finding what already exists.

At the moment, if a teacher is to find what they are looking for (or more importantly, what they weren’t looking for but would be really useful) they have to trawl an awful lot of sites. The biggest issue is that each time a new resource site is set up it tries to replace what already exists. As is often the case, XKCD has something useful to say:

xkcd-standards

For producers of content – in many cases working teachers – it means yet another place to upload our material. There is a fairly limited market (although I suppose the percentage of teachers looking online for resources is increasing) so the sites are competing for a fairly static number of
‘customers’. Why should we as teachers take time uploading our resources to commercial sites, which then make a profit from what we have done?

Teachers don’t just need a library; they need a catalogue.

An associated issue, and very noticeable with some of the sites, is that the balance between crowdsourcing and curation isn’t right. Some accept everything and curation only happens by looking at popularity scores. Others commission a small amount of material which they check rigorously and end up being a very niche operation, because the costs of this are unavoidable. For consumers, it takes so long to look in all the possible places that they end up spending as much time as it would have taken to create their own. The web is about sharing ideas, not restricting resources to one group, even if it is free to access.

Commercial sites such as the TES don’t want to routinely send users to their competitors. Google can’t usefully find this sort of content quickly as professional judgement is needed to assess quality. To be effective, a directory needs to reference a wide range of content, use good keywords so it’s searchable (by type of resource, age group, qualification etc), and be graded usefully by quality – not just by users’ star ratings. Fortunately, crowdsourcing and curation could be applied in a much more effective way so teachers can peer review each other’s work.

Crowdsourcing:

  1. Produce a checklist to describe and assess teaching resources. Part of this would be defined fields based on obvious criteria (type of resource, age group etc). Make this checklist – effectively a ‘markscheme’ – public, and adjust it based on comments from the eventual users.
  2. Issue an open invitation for submission of URLs to a GoogleDocs form. Each submission would require relevant keywords from set fields to describe the resource. For example an exam checklist might be tagged with 14-16, AQA, Physics, exams, pdf, CC-BY-NC-SA etc.
  3. Set a deadline, either in time or when a certain number of submissions have been received, and publicise the project as widely as possible.

Curation:

  1. Find a half-dozen subject specialist teachers who are happy to spend a weekend together. Pay them overtime. Provide accommodation and food. Lock them in a meeting room with good ‘net access and lots of coffee. Have a computer technician who can troubleshoot as they review every link, scoring them according to the agreed criteria.
  2. Moderate a random sample of each teacher’s reviews. Ask them to suggest any useful changes to the checklist/markscheme. Every rating is based on teacher judgement.
  3. If you can convince a national teaching body to fund it, make the directory free to all users. The cost would be tiny compared to many projects with less impact. If not, cover the costs with a small fee for access to the directory. I’d happily pay a few quid a year if I knew it would save me time – one login, then all the resources linked (not hosted) from one place. I wonder how many teachers woud feel the same?

This is a high impact approach with a minimal cost.

By balancing crowdsourcing (where individual teachers do a small amount of work by submitting a favourite resource) and curation (where the time commitment means it needs to be paid properly) the strengths of both are acknowledged. The process is focussed on teachers using their professional judgement and being rewarded for it, not consultants who no longer use the resources in a classroom. Teachers would feel ownership in the process and so get more out of the product.

If, of course, it ever happens. Consider this idea to be simple Creative Commons – CC-BY – do what you want. Please. I’d love to see this happen.