Context for this Study
Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana is home to almost 20,000 students, of which more than 16,000 are undergraduates. The majority of those 16,000 students are required to take the two-course sequence of English composition courses. The Ball State University Writing Program was awarded the Writing Program Certificate of Excellence in 2007 by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Ball State University). As a Graduate Assistant instructor of first year composition in the writing program at Ball State University, where visual rhetoric is a required course instruction component, I focus heavily on the relationship between text and image in my teaching and assignments. Part of those assignments includes multimodal compositions. My use of multimodal compositions are not solely to meet my program requirements; they are used to incorporate the growing technologies our students will be expected to understand to engage audiences and be effective communicators in all aspects of their personal and professional careers. Throughout my instruction of multimodal compositions, despite the many positives, I have found myself focused on two major concerns and issues: assessment, which I have explored in another project, and the role of Fair Use and Copyright Law, which this project focuses on.
My knowledge of multimodal composing and technologies in the first year composition classroom was expanded in the spring of 2008, while I was already teaching, in a course taught by Dr. Grutsch-Mckinney, entitled Teaching with Technology. It was in this course that Fair Use and Copyright Law was expanded upon. Our class was visited by The Ball State University Copyright and Intellectual Copyright Office Manager Dr. Fritz Dolak. Dolak spoke to us about the background of Copyright Law and how Fair Use developed. He brought us through the rules of the law as stated by the United States Copyright Office and even provided us with a Fair Use checklist (provided for you in appendix 2) that breaks down the four factors of Fair Use that would enable us to make educated decisions about what constituted as fair use. Unfortunately, I found myself, as did many of my fellow colleagues, confused about the clarity of fair use. For instance, one of the factors of fair use refers to the amount of intellectually property being used, however there is not a specific quantity listed in the law. For example, as I have already stated, the law doesn’t say you can use 10% or 20% of copyrighted material explicitly. In fact, the exact words of the law state, “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole”(U.S. Copyright Office). I found myself asking How do I teach my students something that I have trouble understanding? Furthermore, How do I explain something to them that has no cut and dry rules for them to follow? As I thought more about the restrictions, limitations, and over all clarity of fair use and copyright law I began to think about the possible impacts these laws have on students. Does it hinder their creativity? Do they think about the law at all? Do they limit their options because of the law? Is the quality of their projects and learning affected by it? This research project sets out to find answers to these questions.
To answer these questions I designed a qualitative research study that enabled me to assess a group of students’ experiences with fair use and copyright law. I interviewed a current group of first year composition students after they had learned about copyright law and fair use and had completed an initial draft of their multimodal project. I then did a second interview after revisions to the project were done and the final project was completed. I received permission from a colleague to introduce my project in her English 103 composition course (the first in the two course composition sequence at Ball State) and solicit participants for my study. This class was working on a project in which they were required to make a multimodal response to the freshman common reader book for the university for 2008 entitled Field Noted from A Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert (assignment sheet provided in appendix 1). Before introducing the project to the class I had to seek permission and approval of my research project from the Ball State University Internal Review Board (IRB). Since I would be working with human subjects, IRB had to assess and approve my research plan, purpose, choice of research participants, any risks to these participants, and all research questions I would be asking these participants. Upon receiving IRB approval I was able to begin my study.
When I introduced the project in my colleague’s class I had an initial number of seventeen participants. I explained to the participants on my initial visit to the class that I was performing a research study on the role fair use and copyright law played in constructing multimodal compositions. I told them that I was interested in hearing about their experiences in creating their multimodal projects during a two-part interview, each of which would take about fifteen minutes. The seventeen that selected to participate in the study were provided with a consent letter which explained the project, what participation entailed, and any risks. It informed each participant that they would remain anonymous in all work resulting from the study and would be provided pseudonyms in place of their own names and that their final projects would be used in the study. Each participant set up an appointment to meet with me in my office at Ball State where the interviews would be conducted and audio recorded. The first interview focused on the following questions:
1. How many multimodal compositions (projects that combine image, audio, or text) have you created for high school or college classes?
2. What type of project are you creating for this multimodal assignment?
3. What is your plan, step-by-step, for creating this project?
4. Where are you finding materials such as images, audio, and text for your project?
5. How are you using these modes (images, audio, and text) in your project?
6. Have you run into any problems or complications with creating your project so far?
Upon conclusion of the first set of interviews my sample number was down to eleven due to some participants that had signed up but not come to the interview. The eleven then returned two weeks later, after completing the final project, for a second interview which lasted about fifteen minutes or less. The questions in the second interview focused on the following:
1. Describe your final project to me.
2. Did you have to make any adjustments to the initial plan you discussed with me in your first interview? If so, what?
3. Were you able to find all the images, audio, and text you required for your project?
4. Where you able to use all the images, audio, and text you wanted to for your final project?
5. How did you document the sources you used for your project?
6. Did you have to change your plan or project in any way due to limitations of fair use and copyright law?
Each of the eleven participants came to their second interview. However, after initial analysis of the interviews, where I looked for patterns that emerged amongst the students and information regarding students’ opinions and relationship with fair use and copyright law, I chose to focus on a sample of seven participants. It is this final sample of seven participants as well as an interview with the course instructor that I am basing this project on. I believed that a qualitative study in which I interviewed students currently working on multimodal projects would help me, as a scholar in the rhetoric and composition field, understand the role fair use and copyright law played in student composing in contrast to a quantitative study that may consist of a larger survey of students. I could have surveyed a large population of first year composition students however; I felt as though interviews would be more in depth and reflect actual student attitudes and experiences with fair use and copyright law.