Copyright vs. Creation in the Digital Age

A frequent comment I hear from teachers in technology-rich classrooms is that technology makes  plagiarism so much easier for their students. While it is true that technology provides a whole galaxy of easily copy-and-pastable material available to students, it’s even more true that we have a responsibility to teach students why this practice is wrong .

Though the consequences for plagiarism in elementary, middle, and high school are relatively mild, these same actions can have much more serious implications later in life. So, how can we teach students to respect copyright laws and to be lifelong good digital citizens?


A great way to start is by helping students find places they can go for media they can use without violating copyright. Students can search for images using websites like Photos for Class, which not only provides students with age appropriate, free to use images, but automatically adds a citation to each image as well. Likewise, the YouTube Audio Library allows students to download free and appropriately licensed songs and sound effects to use in their video projects.

The websites above are great places to start, but we want our students to be creators, not just consumers. Remember that students have in their hands a device that is capable of creating a wide variety of media. Students can use district-provided apps like Notability to create their own images and diagrams, apps like iMovie, Clips, and Explain Everything to make their own videos, and apps like GarageBand to create their own songs and sound effects. And of course, every iPad includes a camera and basic editing software so that students can take their own photos and make them look professional.

 And let’s face it – it is much easier for teachers to gauge understanding by looking at an image a student created by themselves, especially if students are required to also explain in words what the image depicts. Take the diagram of the cell membrane above for example. This student-created  image by Jewel T, illustrates the structure and the function of cell membranes.  By creating her own diagram (which included a written caption not depicted here), Jewel was able to demonstrate how much she personally understands about this important biological structure. Research tells us that application of this kind can lead to deeper understanding and better retention of knowledge in the long term. So encourage your child to be creators of their own media, and help them to be better digital citizens, and better students, by doing so.

By Sam Holloway

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