Steal Like An Artist

Everything is a remix. If you watch the series, you will know this to be true.  Are there any original ideas or are all ideas sparked by something that already exists, somewhere?  Science says we are all connected and if you watch this film, you might see new ways in which that is true – the arts and science bouncing off each other, creating theories and movements which mimic each other, disciplines evolving and co-existing together. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:

So where does that leave us? I would say in one of the most fortunate, creative, inspiring times in history.  The more I read about the topics we are covering in the course the more I think the motto should be “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  It covers everything!  With this in mind, fair and ethical use of ideas already “out there” comes down to knowing how to Steal Like An Artist: to be able to differentiate between good theft and bad theft:


Austin Kleon suggests that when we honor those who have created before us by studying their work in depth rather that dipping into their work for a minute, when we give credit to all those who have inspired us, when we draw inspiration for who we are and who we want to be from a wide pool of talent, when we transform ideas into something truly our own, and when we create what can genuinely be called a remix (as opposed to a rip off) we have done ourselves proud.

It should be no surprise that Austin is friends with Kirby Ferguson.  The two co-presented with each other at SXSW2012.  This is what an Austin/Kirby mash-up looks like via FueledByCoffee artist Craighton Berman:





The ‘takeaways’ from these notes that should be shared with students?

  • Rubbish In/Rubbish Out: You are what you let into your life
  • There is a ‘hierarchy’ of creativity: It is ok to start with copying as inspiration but don’t stop there and call it what it is – not your own.
  • Ask yourself: Would you be ok with meeting the original creator of the work you are claiming as your own?

Here’s an example of what I consider “Good Theft” (and I may be biased because I am the artist in question!).  I am a big fan of Seth Godin.  Love him.  When he wrote his manifesto on education, I devoured it.  In it, he challenges people to do something with his ideas, so in the spirt of Dr. Seuss and mirroring the monochromatic, square book that I associate with Austin Kleon, I penned my own version of Stop Stealing Dreams and called it Imagine A School.



My list of creators that inspired this book is long, I wanted to be unique AND part of something, and while I haven’t stood in an elevator with Seth Godin, I have stood in an auditorium with him and he didn’t punch me in the face but rather gave me a standing ovation on behalf of all teachers who are trying to make a difference.

We have to teach responsible use but at the same time we have to teach awesome curation skills, expose our students to quality ideas that inspire, connect them with people who are making a noise.  The more they are exposed to how to do it right and more importantly WHY they need to care about doing it right, I believe the richer we all will be.

And it can start young.  My second graders are able to find images via Google search that are licensed for non-commercial reuse with modification.  My fourth graders are adding links to Keynotes to reference their images.  There are tools that are making it even easier for people to make the right choices – because they are being made for them.  Apps like Haiku Deck and Adobe Voice use Creative Commons licensed images when you search for a photo within their app or icons from The Noun Project which are licensed for reuse.  All images are then cited in the credits of the presentation and options are given for you to add your own credits if you source images from elsewhere.

Why? Why go to all this bother of citing, referencing and giving credit?  Because otherwise we are devaluing ourselves and the original creators of the work and drawing everyone into a less civilised society. And we are all better than that, right?

Be nice; stop plundering and looting.  By Jessica Hagy of Indexed
Be nice; stop plundering and looting. By Jessica Hagy of Indexed

The 411 on Authentically Embedding Technology

This assignment/reflection has me stumped.  Instead of the 411, I feel like I need to be dialling 911 and screaming for help!  I have been racking my brain as to why this is so – the other blog posts have rolled out somewhat painlessly and “authentically embedding technology” is my new job as Learning Technology teacher, so what’s the hang up? Why do I feel like this reflection and I are stubbornly butting heads?

The more I think about it, all that comes to mind is the introduction to David Foster Wallace’s address to the graduating class of Kenyon College:


As Wallace says, “The most obvious realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and to talk about.”  That is how I feel a lot of the time about tech integration.

As a classroom teacher, I used technology a lot.  I would plan out my lessons by thinking ahead to how I would share student learning with my parents: What would my blog post say?  Why did we do this?  What was our purpose?  Thinking this way helped me focus my teaching. Posts were partially written before a lesson started (and sometimes deleted before an entirely new lesson began!).   At any given time you would find students using technology in my class:  making a video reflection, searching websites, sharing their thoughts through blogs, collaborating on google docs, reflecting and sharing via Socrative or Padlet, making stop-motion movies, interviewing people via Skype, creating timelines, adding books to their bookshelves… This was my “water”.

I liked trying new things and I wasn’t scared that the technology aspect wouldn’t work (don’t confuse this with me not being irritated when the technology aspect didn’t work – because sometimes it just isn’t going to!). It was exciting and engaging and my kids were learning about our unit but also a bunch of skills that could be applied to many things beyond that one lesson.

Now remove me from my fourth or fifth grade classroom and put me in the role of Learning Technologies teacher.  My job description reads:

Learning Technologies JD

No problem, right? Ahh….right. Except what I am finding is that we all inherently bring bias to the classroom to some extent.  And not all teachers are starting from the same point of willingness, ability, knowledge, or overall level of comfort with the integration of technology. I would even go so far to say that some teachers are yet to leap from the sidelines into the following cycle of collaboration:

Credit: Kim Cofino
Credit: Kim Cofino


It is not as if the standards are not clear. The standards for coaches are particularly interesting (and challenging!) for those of us in this role within our schools and give me a lot to think about as I tackle my job.

So again, what exactly is my hangup with the idea of authentically embedding technology into teaching? Ultimately I think it is the ‘moving target’ nature of technology integration.  How do we authentically embed technology in our curriculum when the technology itself,  is constantly evolving?

Hang out. Mess around. Geek out.

Essentially, just try stuff.  And don’t be afraid of it not working.

I posted on my own blog about teaching above the line.  And then I read this post that cries foul on the idea that integration be typical or linear – two things inquiries rarely are.

Ultimately, I just know that I need to keep learning, keep trying new things, keep communicating with my colleagues, and keep open to all the possibilities that abound when technology is utilised in the classroom.  This in itself is not a particularly satisfying conclusion for me.  I really do (secretly?) want a step-by-step guide to authentically embedding technology – some kind of machine where you drop in your units of work and out spits an integrated technology plan.

What I do know for sure is that it should not be the device doing the driving of the integration but the collective brains of my colleagues and my PLN and the willingness to collaborate, research, try, and commit to the process in order to unleash the possibilities.


Note: I tried finding the original source of this picture on Flickr but had no luck.  I did an Image Search and got loads of hits but none with anything other than the attribution on the side of the picture.