Creative What? Educating Teens on the Value of Online Creative Content

REDMOND, Wash. — March 18, 2010 — The last thing on most teens’ minds as they surf the Internet is intellectual property rights (IPR). But by offering junior-high and high-school teachers a free, interactive curriculum on the subject, Microsoft hopes to help the next generation of digital citizens gain an appreciation for the value of online creative content.

In an audio interview (see sidebar), Delaine Zody, a teacher at Fresno High School in Fresno, Calif., and students Devonte Martin and Dariuss Rodriguez (at the keyboard) talk about the Digital Citizenship and Creative Content curriculum.

There’s some basis for thinking that education will help. In May 2009, IDC released its sixth annual global software piracy study. It noted that one of the primary forces that reduced piracy in many countries was education (Source: IDC Study sponsored by Business Software Alliance, “Sixth Annual BSA-IDC Global Software 08 Piracy Study,” May 2009).

Launched in 2008, the Digital Citizenship and Creative Content curriculum includes a host of resources for teachers including lesson plans, suggested activities, downloadable materials and tests they can administer to their students at the start and completion of the program.

The program emphasizes experiential learning — participation rather than memorization — and uses real-life examples of creative content typically encountered by young people on the Internet, including music, videos, software, games and images. In one activity, students create their own digital property in the form of a ring tone, which they can post on a sharing site Microsoft created for the purpose ( In another, students stage a mock trial of a copyright infringement case.

Says Delaine Zody, a teacher at Fresno High School in Fresno, Calif., “I think the interactivity of the Digital Citizenship and Creative Content curriculum was more effective in making my students stop and think about this issue than I could be by just lecturing them.”

When Zody found students in her sophomore marketing class downloading copyrighted digital images, videos, music and other creative content without permission to create brochures, posters and advertisements for class assignments, she tried explaining to them that they can’t use content such as an image of Mickey Mouse or Madonna’s music without asking for permission and then crediting the person who created it. But she admits that her explanations weren’t terribly effective, and students continued to use copyrighted content inappropriately. “Their attitude was, ‘If the information is there, I should be able to utilize it,’” says Zody.

“When I learned about the curriculum, I thought it was very creatively done,” she adds. “I liked that it is a flexible curriculum and I could pick and choose the components I wanted to use. It encourages teachers to adapt it and add to it as they see fit.”

Zody’s class reviewed the curriculum’s case studies, looked into how to obtain permission to use others’ creative content, created their own video and radio public service announcements (PSAs), and took part in a mock trial.

“It was a huge hit with my kids,” Zody says. “The lesson hit home. Students learned that if you use somebody else’s work, you have to give credit for it.”

Her opinion was verified when Zody used the baseline and post-unit assessments to measure changes in her students’ knowledge about creative rights issues. Their average scores improved by nearly 30 percent.

Devonte Martin and Dariuss Rodriguez, two of Zody’s students, back up those results anecdotally. “Going in, we really had no idea what intellectual property was,” says Martin. “I never gave any thought to the music I downloaded. But by doing our projects, we came to understand what online intellectual property is all about. Now I realize that this stuff is somebody’s property that they probably have a copyright on, and I can’t just take it.”

The curriculum consists of four units, each of which plays off a creative-rights scenario presented through a case study and project-oriented activities. The units are independent and don’t need to be taught in order. And the activities within each unit align to multiple high-school disciplines, including journalism, economics and social studies, to name just a few, so it can be a natural adjunct to topics already being taught.

Digital Citizenship and Creative Content aligns with standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the Center for Civic Education, and the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE).

Sherri Erickson, global manager of the Genuine Software Initiative for Microsoft, is responsible for the educational program. Erickson says she is encouraged by the curriculum’s rate of adoption both in the U.S. and internationally, as well as the number of positive responses the program has received.

More than nine out of 10 teachers who have tried the curriculum say they would recommend it to their peers. And though it is not possible to determine how many teachers have taught the curriculum in their classrooms, it is known that in the two years the program has been offered, educators have downloaded nearly 24,000 curriculum units. “The number of downloads has exceeded our original expectations,” Erickson says.

Thirty U.S. states already require high schools to teach digital citizenship. “We see an opportunity to work with academic organizations in the other 20 states to add digital citizenship to their required curricula,” says Erickson.

The curriculum has also been translated into several languages, and is now offered in countries as varied as China and Lebanon.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of the program is that it puts students in the shoes of content creators. “It actually makes you more creative,” says Rodriguez, “because you have to come up with your own unique content. And the cool thing is that then other people start coming to you for permission to use what you created. We did a PSA video at the end of the project called ‘Cop That,’ which is our slang for copying something off the Internet. When you start creating your own content, you develop a mutual respect for other creators.”

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