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Learning.now is a weblog that explores how new technology and Internet culture affect how educators teach and children learn. It will offer a continuing look at how new technology such as wikis, blogs, vlogs, RSS, podcasts, social networking sites, and the always-on culture of the Internet are impacting teacher and students' lives both inside and out of the classroom.
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Will Schools Take Advantage of Online Political Video During the Election?

At the Personal Democracy Forum taking place today in New York City, participants are talking about open access to political videos online, particularly candidate statements and debate materials. The public is ready to utilize this treasure trove of civic educational materials. But are schools?

As some of you may know, I live a double life. Along with authoring this blog for PBS, I coordinate Web 2.0 strategy for National Public Radio. And it’s in that capacity I came to New York for the Personal Democracy Forum, a gathering of social media experts, political advisors and bloggers examining the impact of Web 2.0 on the political process. Given that this is going to be a busy day dedicated to all things related to Politics 2.0, I figured I’d have a hard time writing something for the blog today. But it didn’t take more than 15 minutes before participants began discussing the impact of the Internet and political content on our schools.

The conference opened with a speech by Lawrence Lessig, founder of the online copyright initiative Creative Commons. Lessig and others have been pushing really hard for mainstream media outlets to release any election-related materials online so that content can be shared and remixed by the public. Last month, MSNBC decided not to allow members of the public to share or remix video from the presidential debates they hosted, receiving criticism from many bloggers, who argued that sharing them is in the public interest.

One of the primary benefits of releasing political video materials is allowing the public to make political commentary of their own. Lessig played a video clip from The Daily Show showing Jon Stewart doing a fake interview with President Bush, done by stitching together various clips from the White House. He then showed some clips from YouTube in which everyday people had made their own political critiques using the same methods, showing that successful political critique isn’t limited to professional media producers.

Lessig then went on to discuss the potential impact on schools. “Just as we teach kids to write essays [on politics], we ought to have schools using digital media,” he said. In other words, students should have access to these political materials to make their own civic projects and critiques. Unfortunately, there are a couple of challenges here. First of all, you’ve got the fact that many schools block YouTube and other video sharing sites out of hand, regardless of content. This prevents students and teachers from gaining access to many of these political materials. One way around this, of course, would be to host this content in various places, such as on the news media websites that recorded the broadcasts in the first place, which hopefully aren’t going to be blocked. But there will be some political resources that will still require YouTube access. Most of the presidential candidates are releasing issues videos on YouTube, and Google president Eric Schmidt just announced that YouTube will actually host a video debate of the Democratic presidential candidates, and hopefully the Republicans as well. And then there are the countless mashups being done by the public, hosted by YouTube and elsewhere, worthy of classroom critique. These videos will be of clear educational benefit, yet as long as their host sites are blocked, the materials will get blocked as welll.

Lessig also commented on how copyright fears might scare away schools in some cases. Veteran blogger Jeff Jarvis mentioned to Lessig that Fox News told him that they would consider any use of their debate materials would be fair use, so Jarvis asked Lessig if bloggers and others should feel confident with this assessment.

Lessig expressed concern that claiming fair use isn’t good enough, since if anyone goes after you for using their content, you’ll get mired in litigation. Schools, in particular, are gunshy about the notion of fair use, and this would probably be the case when it comes to having students use political video materials for their own work. If schools think there’s “a cloud of copyright” hanging over them, Lessig explained, they won’t want their students remixing content. They don’t want to see themselves “on the wrong side of the copyright wars.”

So will the public have more access to debate materials? Absolutely. Not long after MSNBC prevented users from sharing their debate video, CNN announced they would let the public share and remix materials from their debates. NPR has also followed suit. Barack Obama has called on all media entities to allow use of their debate materials, and other candidates may soon do the same. In a matter of time, we’ll have a large body of materials capturing the presidential candidates’ views and perspectives. Countless Internet users will take advantage of these resources and engage each other in a type of civic debate that wasn’t possible prior to the advent of online video sharing. I just wonder, though, if schools will take advantage of this profound educational activity, or if they’ll sit this one out. -andy

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