Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Can We Expect Our Students to Cite Sources if We Don't?

A couple weeks ago I was doing an EdTech workshop with some 4th grade teachers and the topic of teaching kids to cite sources came up. How should we do this at the 4th grade level? How should we do this at any grade level?

While it is important to have explicit instruction in how to cite sources, I'm convinced that we have to model this. All. The. Time. This will make it a "normal" part of kids' culture--an expectation that they have to give credit for the work of others.

Thank you, someecards.com for
allowing me create things like this...
And--honestly, teacher--you can't in good conscience admonish your students to cite sources without also doing so yourself!


Let's be real about this: we are busy people. Most of the time we want to do the right thing, but we are in a rush and figure, "what harm can it do?"

It's not that skipping citing one source is the end of the world. But a pattern of not citing your sources is a terrible model for your students. Getting yourself in the habit can be a great chance to point it out to your students later when you are teaching them (and requiring them) to cite sources themselves.

Let's just focus on one example as a for-instance: using graphics appropriately.

Admit it: when we need a graphic, how often don't we just go a-googling, find the first image that works, and slap it on the sheet or PowerPoint or SMARTNotebook or whatever? Do you take the time to ensure we have permission to use the graphic? Do you give credit to the source?

We need to get away from this "I found it on Google...I can just use it...right?" mentality that so many of us (me too...) often use. Someone created that image. It's their intellectual property. We may have permission to use it, but most of the time we probably don't...or at least we don't really know...and so we just use it and hope that it all ends up okay.

Time to own this one, teachers. No excuses. There are great graphics available for free that you actually have been granted permission to use. That's what Creative Commons Licensing is all about. If you're paying attention, you've seen these little strings of letters under graphics or video clips online. They look like: [CC BY-SA 2.0] or [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0] or something of the like. What those strings of letters mean is that whomever created the graphic (or video or audio file or whatever the intellectual property under consideration) has given up some of their rights to the intellectual property. They are still asking for credit to be given to them as the person who originally created the work, but they are giving permission for that work to be used without fear of breaking copyright law.

So get in the habit, teacher! Use Creative Commons licensed works instead of just grabbing them from anyplace on the web and hoping you are covered by fair use.

Here's how you can do it:
  1. Search for the media you need at search.creativecommons.org. There are multiple databases you can search here, including searching for licensed materials via Google Images. And nothing against Google Images, but I actually recommend Flickr and Wikimedia Commons as first choices when you search via Creative Commons. (Just personal preference here.)
  2. Download the image or copy the link.
  3. Take note of the Creative Commons license information. (On Flickr, you can do this by right-clicking on the image to see what the permissions are.) What permissions are you granted for using this image? (Not sure what those strings of letters mean? See the infographic below for explanation.)
  4. Embed the image in your document (or link to it if it's on the web.)
  5. Properly code the image for the license you are using.
That's it. Now you know you're using images you actually have the permission to use! No excuses: if you are going to use images on your blog, on a test, in a SMARTNotebook...wherever you're going to use them, be sure you are giving the person who took the time to create the work the credit he or she deserves.

Practicing what I preach...let's cite this graphic appropriately:
Image by Med Kharbach [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]


  1. Great Reminder for all of us... what a change from 35 years ago...we had to draw our own graphics/illustrations...(to be run off on the 'spirit machine' as we lovingly called it)

    1. Oooo...and those copies from the 'spirit machine' smelled so good... ;-)

      Thanks for the feedback, Grace!

  2. Actually, I do try to always cite my sources (not that I think any of them ever notice) and I teach my students about creative commons.

    1. Awesome! I'm glad to hear it. I'm feeling like we are probably in the minority, however. It takes that extra step to do it, but I think it's so important. We just have to get into the habit. :-)