Archive for November, 2010

Fair use

What is “fair use” and how might it impact your creation of content?

“Fair use” is a provision of copyright law that limits how much original material may be excerpted from any publication that has a copyright. This doctrine exists in order to prevent wholesale republication of published material created by others while allowing for limited reuse in certain appropriate circumstances.

The copyright principle of fair use is separate from the issue of plagiarism, which occurs when someone republishes an original work and fails to attribute the source while claiming it as one’s own work. Under fair use, an educator is free to use brief excerpts or summaries of copyrighted material so long as it is done as part of a lesson for students. The simple process of sharing a link to a public web site is not an issue for fair use, but quoting from or otherwise republishing any copyrighted content may be.

Fair use is also separate from the issue of attribution. Even if the educator acknowledges the source of the material, that does not protect him against being accused of misappropriating it.

In non-educational contexts, fair use remains open to some debate and has been the subject of lawsuits. For example, Google was sued by book publishers to prevent Google Books from publishing online the entire text of copyrighted books. As a result, only short excerpts, usually a small fraction of one page, may be displayed online to show where a search term has been located within a copyrighted book. In the music business, sampling, the process of using parts of existing music to create new compositions, has been successfully defended as “transformative” creativity, even though it includes pieces of other musicians’ creations.

For a thought-provoking commentary on the extent to which even some well-known works are derived from previous works, see “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem in Harper’s Magazine, February 2007. Lethem asserts that “substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.”

In creating content for educational use, an instructor is free to use direct quotations from others as long as it does not represent a large proportion of the original work. The U.S. Copyright Office has stated that courts have recognized as fair use “reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson.”

The key words in this description are “small part.” According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission.” So, whenever there may be a doubt about the permissible amount of reuse, the educator, scholar, or researcher should obtain permission from the original publisher.

For more information about fair use, see this page on the U.S. Copyright Office web site:

The Stanford University Libraries have a detailed explanation of fair use at:


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Video software

Movea has a PPT-to-video program:

Camtasia Studio does screen recording and video editing:

Both of these programs can be used to add video presentations to an online course web site.

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Creating podcasts


Video on creating podcasts, using Audacity and more:

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Anonymous texting

Joopz allows for texting without revealing the sender’s phone number. It can be used for group texting, that is, communicating with several people at the same time.

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Online collaboration offers free online meetings.

Also try

Either of these can be used for live synchronous sessions in which students gather at the same time with an instructor in a virtual meeting room.

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Elluminate Live!

If students in an online class are distributed across the continent or around the world, then synchronous discussion sessions may be problematic for some of them due to the time differences. The 24/7 nature of distance learning provides flexibility for students to contribute asynchronously, but that flexibility is lost for synchronous sessions.

The Blackboard course management system that holds my City Colleges of Chicago online courses has a statistics tool that shows that some students are accessing the course site at all hours, but between 2 and 7 a.m. there is a big drop-off in log-ins. For another course, the results could be quite different, depending on where the non-local students live. There may need to be some flexibility in scheduling synchronous sessions. If students are just one or two time zones away, then there is little need to adjust the synchronous schedule, but if they are on the other side of the world, a 3 a.m. session, however difficult to accomplish, might be advisable.

But it may be impossible to make the synchronous sessions convenient for all the students enrolled in an online class. This may be the case even for some students in the same time zone as the instructor because everyone has different work and sleep schedules. To conduct synchronous sessions at different times each week can help to attract long-distance participants, but it may be difficult for a busy faculty member who has a regular schedule of classes to accomplish this degree of variability.

Because some students may not be able to participate, I think synchronous sessions should be considered optional, though suggested, components of an online class. Perhaps a small amount of extra credit could be awarded to those students who do participate. The synchronous sessions should be recorded and quickly made available to the entire class so that those who were unable to participate can at least view the session.



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Virtual world

VenueGen at is an alternative to Second Life but it is best used as a synchronous live conference tool.

Videos about Second Life:

Either one can be used for live synchronous virtual classroom meetings.

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