Documentation Troubles, or Can I Just Link to It?

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Gardner_Apr05_220.jpgIt’s that point in the term when I try to convince students that they can’t just download and reuse images, videos, and audio clips wily-nilly, that there are permissions issues to consider and that attribution is important. It’s always a hard battle.

Longer explanations haven’t seemed to work. Too much information bores them, and they tune out. I shifted to sharing a streamlined version of the details. I explain that the point of documentation is to give credit to the author/maker and to show the audience where to find the original version.

I thought some humor might help, so I created the flowchart on the right. I explain that while the flowchart is a little reductive, it is generally accurate. We talk about scenarios that do and don’t work for the chart. We use the flowchart on the blog post Can I Use that Picture? The Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images, by Curtis Newbold, to decide what to cite and whether the use of the resource falls under fair use.

We also discuss how to cite various assets. Inevitably, when we come to the question of how to cite webpages, images, videos, and audio clips, someone asks, “Can I just link to it?” So I summon that Esurance commercial that explains, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” We talk about the fact that linking is useful, but you still need to indicate the author/maker, where the source came from, and when it was made. Part of the reason for my sassy flowchart is to point out how the citation for an image can be included in the image itself, as shown in the gray bar below the flowchart.

I share the Best Practices for Attribution from Creative Commons page, which works through sample citations for an image. What I like about the page is that it shows the differences between a range of citations, from ideal to incorrect, as well as how to manage situations where there are multiple sources and derivative works.

Still my activity isn't working the way that I would like. Usually, students are trying to figure out the citations for their work in the context of a larger project. Perhaps there is too much going on for them to think both about the content for their project and citations strategies that they are not used to. This week, I want to add something new.

We’ll still go over the basics as always, then I’ll arrange the class in groups, give them a random resource, and ask them to create a Best Practices for Permission and Attribution page for that kind of asset, using the Creative Commons page as a model. So for instance, one group might do a public domain photograph by a government photographer, another might do a clip from an oral history recording on the Library of Congress site, another would do a still from a Disney cartoon, and so forth. The pages from all the groups will form a class resource.

Will students find the activity deadly dull? Interesting? Will they get the idea that they can’t just take anything they want? I will let you know next week. Meanwhile, if you have some advice on how to help students understand documentation for multimodal project, please leave me a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.