For the past three years, my students at ECU have created digital stories to remediate the standard narrative assignment for First Year Composition. They are encouraged to work at the intersection of images, sound (including a voice over), and alphabetic text to create a multi-modal composition that matters– to others and to themselves–and to share it broadly through social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Students often report this is one of the most powerful writing experiences they’ve had as they grapple with so many choices– both rhetorical and technological. In this project, they are called to learn new software tools such as Audacity, PicNic, iMovie and MovieMaker or to repurpose those technologies for an academic project. They are called to think through visual rhetorics of color and placement, typeface and size, cropping and panning; sonic rhetorics of volume and tempo, pitch and chords; narrative rhetorics of character and plot, scene and motif. They are called to think of themselves as digital writers with all the rights and responsibilities imbued thereunto.
One such digital writing responsibility that is repeatedly repudiated is that of abiding by the laws of copyright. While we read about copyright, discuss relevant provisions in class, and examine scenarios, students have grown quite comfortable breaking these laws as there has been little consequence for them in doing so. And as a teacher, I don’t have time to join the copyright police, but with real audiences on the World Wide Web, I often don’t have to.
Every semester, as I review digital story drafts, I ask, “Is that photo yours? Do you have permission to use it? How much did you sample that song? It plays for a while… You did calculate your fair use, right?”
“Yes, Ms. West-Puckett,” I hear, and I nod my head.
Then the deadline rolls around and zombified students walk into my class. They underestimate the time it takes to render a video and have it upload and prepare, but they are proud of what they’ve composed. “OMG. That was so much work,” they say, “I want you to see it!” So we prepare the big screen for a director’s cut screening. “You’re going to love that new Taylor Swift song I added in the intro,” they whisper to their classmates.
Then comes the ultimate blow. They stare incredulously into a black screen. Sad face. Copyright infringed. Late Assignment.
“What did I do wrong, Ms. West-Puckett?” the students ask. Frustrated, they start to panic. “How do I fix it? Am I going to fail?”
Then we start the real work of all writing tasks, digital or analogue– revision. We look back through the raw file and analyze the what, where, when, and why of copyright infringement. Much like justifications for plagiarism, students a) don’t think anyone will really notice if you used 38 instead of 28 seconds of that rocking song, b)meant to go back and find another picture with a creative commons designation but ran out of time, c) believed one of the common myths about copyright such as “if there’s no sign, it’s all mine”, etc., etc.
The links below are some of my go-to resources for working with First Year College students to explore these issues and help them become savvy digital composers and sensible digital citizens. From interactive flash tutorials with elementary graphics to the definitive US Library of Congress Site, these sources provide useful guides for students and teachers wondering how to navigate the rights and responsibilities of digital writing. Use them. And be prepared to re-use them when students are working to untangle the natural consequences of working in spaces where all of us are basic writers.