If you are excited about implementing technology in your classroom, you're not alone. There are so many great resources available to enhance your existing lessons. However, do you have the legal right to use them? Read on for some quick tips to navigate the legal issues and get technology into your classroom.
Just Because It's There Doesn't Mean You Can Use It
The most important thing to realize is that just because resources exist on the Internet doesn't mean anyone has the right to use them as they please. Media assets (photos, video, text pages, etc) belong to the creator and fall under copyright protection. That means you have to have the creator's permission to reuse the asset. This could be in the form of a license agreement, a disclaimer, or a posting on a common use site such as Wiki Commons. So, how do you know whether a resource is legally okay to use? That gets tricky. There are some special exceptions for classroom and educational use, but even those can become difficult to navigate. Here are a few pointers to help you navigate the legal waters of using technology in the classroom.
First, Check with Your District
These days, almost all school districts have a technology coordinator of some sort, or, at least, offer guidelines regarding technology usage in the classroom. Before planning anything, contact the office to make sure you understand the usage rules. Understanding the rules and the existing safeguards will save you a tremendous amount of time.
Most districts have rules regarding hardware usage, acceptable software, allowable sites, and quite possibly firewalls built into the school's network to limit access. Just because you can access the site at home doesn't mean you will have access to it on your school's network. Also, many districts have rules regarding the usage of popular sites like YouTube. Finding resources can be time consuming, so don't waste time looking at sites your district prohibits - know the guidelines before you begin. In addition, some districts establish subscriptions to education content sites. There may be a wealth of resources at your immediate disposal that don't require you to scour the Internet.
Don't Search Google Randomly
Determining legal usage can get very confusing when finding random resources online. The best way to determine if a source can be used legally is to simply avoid random searches. Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect asset and then realizing you can't use it. Just resist the temptation and avoid spending time doing random Google searches. Remember, just because limited or restricted usage isn't outlined on the website doesn't mean the asset isn't copyright protected; unless permission is detailed on the website, copyright rules apply.
Go to Trusted Sources
Begin compiling your go-to list for resources. Searching the Internet can consume hours of your week in a blink of an eye. Save time and frustration by creating a bookmarks folder of great content sites. Most teachers soon have a list of favorites that seem to work well for their teaching styles and classroom needs. Ask around - I'm sure you will get all sorts of recommendations. As I mentioned before, also make sure to talk to your district's curriculum advisor or technology advisor to see if your school or district has purchased subscriptions to any of the popular content resources. There are no legal concerns, ethical considerations, or approvals needed, and you know the sites will clear the network firewalls.
When looking for free, legally safe-use resources, here is a winning tip: think museums and government sites. Both types of websites are there to provide education and enrichment for the public. From the Smithsonian to the National Park Service, museum and government websites offer a wealth of images, texts, and even teacher-ready resources, such as lesson plans, unit studies, and assessments.
Be Willing to Pay
But sometimes, you just can't find what you need for free. The old adage 'you get what you pay for' sometimes holds true when it comes to classroom resources. Yes, you can find copyright-released assets for free, but busy, over-worked teachers' time is valuable, and sometimes it isn't quick or easy to find free resources. Subscription-based web resources range anywhere from a couple of dollars to several hundred for yearly classroom access, but there are great resources available in all budgets. Plus, subscription sites often mean no advertising, which can result in a safer and more predictable environment for your classroom and student use. Unfortunately, we all know teachers end up spending their own money on classroom supplies and resources, and with the arrival of technology in the classroom, some of that money might be well spent on digital resources. Having access to just one good subscription site might be all you need to augment your great list of free, legal resources.
A Few Good Sites to Get You Started...
To get your go-to resources list started (completely legal, of course!), here is just a small sample of some of the amazing technology resources loved and recommended by teachers:
- Smithsonian Education (an amazing, free resource)
- PBS Teachers (free teacher resources for all grades)
- Scholastic (a trusted resources for teachers and parents)
- Discovery Education (subscription services and parent resources)
- Read WriteThink (the previous Thinkfinity site sponsored by the Verizon Foundation)
- EdHelper (free teacher resources)
- Teachers First
- Brainpop (subscription service great for history and social studies)
- Raz-Kids (reasonably-priced subscription site with talking books for K-5)
- Reading A-Z (great subscription resource for printing leveled readers for entire class use)
- I Know That (subscription site great for at-home literacy practice)
- Edublogs (ideal for in-class blogging assignments)