Re-purposing, poetry and plagiarism

Since 2008 I have been aware that re-purposing is a key activity of connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs).  George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier explained what they meant by this in their introduction to Change 11 MOOC,  where they wrote:

We don’t want you simply to repeat what other people have said. We want you to create something of your own.

Remember that you are not starting from scratch. Nobody ever creates something from nothing. That’s why we call this section ‘repurpose’ instead of ‘create’.

In a paper that my colleagues Marion Waite, George Roberts, Elizabeth Lovegrove and I have had published this week, we have pointed out, as others have before us, the tensions between repurposing and plagiarism. It seems to be an intractable problem for Higher Education institutions wanting to go down the ‘MOOC with accreditation’ route.

A discussion in ModPo  this week about Dadaist poetry and with reference to Tristan Tzara’s instructions on how to make a Dadaist poem, is closely related to ideas around open educational resources, repurposing, creativity and plagiarism.

Tzara’s instructions

Take a newspaper. Take some scissors. Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem. Cut out the article. Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next take out each cutting one after the other. Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. The poem will resemble you. And there you are–an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Source: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5774

This video illustrates the idea for those who relate better to video than text.

Is a poem written in this way an example of repurposing, or plagiarism, or both?

As chance would have it, just in the past week there has been a ‘storm’ about plagiarism by two Australian poets.

Toby Fitch of the Guardian writes:

But in all the outrage, and the quibbling over how poets should footnote their poems, the very legitimate poetic practice called “collage” is being dragged through the proverbial mud. Other experimental practices have been implicated, too – homage, misquotation, mistranslation, and more.

and

…..  it would be a great shame if, in our rush to lynch a couple of plagiarists and their misguided ideas of “patchwork”, “sampling” and “remixing”, we forget to remember why poetry needs experimentation.

Looking around it seems that plagiarism has been a concern in poetry for a while. See this excellent article by Kenneth Goldsmith in The Chronicle Review back in 2011 –

It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s ‘Repurposing’.

It seems that the boundaries between plagiarism and repurposing, what is creativity and what is not, remain very blurred and a bit of a minefield. Did Tzara plagiarise the newspaper article he cut up? At what point does repurposing end and plagiarism begin?

Interestingly, plagiarism has been made much of in ModPo, although, if I remember correctly, the word was not used in discussion of Tristan Tzara’s instructions on how to make a Dadaist poem.

I wonder  – how many poets license their poetry under Creative Commons?  Of course for this to work, poets would need to publish in the open. Perhaps its ‘openness’ and all that entails that is the problem, rather than plagiarism.

Update 28-01-14

See also this video – Embrace the Remix

OER Issues at first hand

This week in Change Mooc  – I have particularly enjoyed reading Rory McGreal’s rant. It is interesting how a bit of passion can make a topic come alive.

 A short harangue by this week’s discussion leader: McGreal, R. (2009, October 21). Stop paying twice for education material: Online resources, open content make proprietary textbooks obsolete. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from http://auspace.athabascau.ca:8080/dspace/bitstream/2149/2324/1/rory_ed_journal-1.pdf

In parallel with the MOOC topic I have myself been involved in OER issues this week. I am working on a government-funded project with a team, which is tasked to develop some educational training packages for primary and secondary schools in England. The idea is that we will write new materials, but also review and update a wide range of existing archived resources, which have been produced by the same team for prior government-funded projects. We will then filter and select from this extensive archive the resources we need to create new training packages.

This is where the OER issues arise. The question is who owns these archived materials. Evidently there are millions of pounds worth of educational resources languishing in government archives, while the powers that be decide who can have access to them and whether they can be remixed and repurposed. My understanding is that this kind of archiving often happens when governments change. The funders of the project who attended the first team meeting told us that one education project had recently been taken to court for infringing copyright – a very costly mistake. So funders are nervous about OER issues, but at the same time didn’t appear to know anything about Creative Commons licenses. Fortunately one of our team is very knowledgeable about this.

As an aside I often wonder if the number of Flickr accounts with ‘all rights reserved’ is through choice or simply because people are not aware of the other options. I wasn’t aware of them myself until my MOOC friend and colleague Matthias Melcher asked me why I had all rights reserved on my Flickr site.

The issue of accreditation also came up in our project meeting. The training materials we develop will be used by education centres to deliver training for schools. Will the University, which has been funded to do this project, accredit this training – for example – by allowing the modules to carry 10 or 20 credits? Evidently this will take considerable time and effort to thrash out.

So it has been interesting to experience first hand the issues that Rory McGreal discussed this week. It seems that perhaps the biggest challenge is educating people about the issues and raising awareness.

See A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources (OER) and Guidelines for OER in Higher Education  for further information.