Travel with us this episode to the Italian village of Capriglia (close to Pisa, see map), for a conversation with mathematician, computer scientist, teacher, Creative Commons expert Jonathan Poritz.

From his start in education in New Jersey, Jonathan has been a student or taught out over twelve education institutions across four time zones of North America (most recently at Colorado State University, Pueblo) plus more experience in places like Switzerland. He describes the path that lead him most recently to Italy, where is is consulting on several projects and getting connected to the Open Education networks in Italy.

Listen in as we cross topics such as the mathematics (and his pain factor) of textbook costs, Maria Agnesi’s 18th century Calculus text, teaching the Creative Commons Certificate, the importance of flexing our fair use rights, which of the two cults of Pythagoras he favors, and some critical comments of the buzz word “Artificial Intelligence”.

Jonathan Poritz and Alan Levine in the OEG Voices podccast studio.

Web Sites Links and Quotes for Episode 42

I love teaching statistics during election a year because there’s so much statistics in front of the students all the time.

Jonathan Poritz

… calculus has been around for a long time. The first calculus textbook you could lay claim to was written hundreds of years ago by a woman by the name of Maria Agnesi, actually an Italian woman, who wrote what sort of is one of the first textbooks about calculus. And what I teach is not all that different for what Agnesi wrote.

Jonathan Poritz
Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana di Maria Gaetana Agnesi milanese dell'Accademia delle Scienze di Bologna. Tomo 1. - In Milano : nella Regia-ducal corte,
Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana from Wikimedia Commons shared into the public domain

My parents helped me pay for college and maybe someone of a middle class family would be spending more money on healthcare today than they were when I was a young person. And so the families would be able to pay less to help their young people support get an education. So I was just trying to find a way to explain this to people. I would say textbooks are expensive. They say, “Yeah sure, of course they’re expensive.” And I’d say, “Well they’re more expensive now.” And they’d say, “Yeah sure. That’s inflation.” I was like, “No, it’s not just inflation. Let me show you this graph is quantifies exactly how much more than inflation it was.”

Jonathan Poritz

And I’ve been to went to a couple of presentations about [fair use] and I think they talk about how it’s only a defense, fair use, it’s not a positive, it’s a way you can defend yourself. But come on, use it or lose it. Because if we don’t keep using it, we’ll lose practice and courts will be shyer about letting people get away with it and we should keep using it … And people tend to be very risk averse.


And one of the things that I as an author find or someone who shares is, to think, I want my stuff to be usable on Mars, damn it. I want it to usable as widely as possible. And so I don’t know what Martian copyright law is like, but maybe don’t have fair use. And so that just goes to your point. Your point is that we should, when you use fair use, put a little footnote that says I’m using this by fair use and here’s like, here’s just the three word, one sentence description of why I think fair use applies in the situation.

Jonathan Poritz

And I feel like what bothers me about the discussion about artificial intelligence is –I’m not saying that there’s not marvellous new technology–but it’s not artificial. It’s not intelligent. It pushes everyone’s buttons. They think, “Oh my god, the robots are going to take over the world or something.” I was pushing this for a while with a group working group within the Creative Comments organization, let’s just abolish the use of the phrase artificial intelligence and just call it large statistical model.


I think that giving credit to an AI, is like Ansel Adams giving credit to his camera for the copyright for his photography, or Norman Rockwell giving credit to his brush. It’s a tool , a pretty impressive tool, but just a tool

Jonathan Poritz

I think it’s a really interesting question and much smarter people than I and more creative people and people with their eyes on the philosophy of the law should answer those questions about how much creativity, and you mentioning typing in a phrase and then an image appears, is that worthy of … But I’m interested in the consequences for education. The idea that, I don’t think people have talked about it, someone submitting artistic images as schoolwork. But what about these text generating AI statistical models, submitting those as your paper. And my answer to that is, doesn’t that drive us to change the kind of education we do? We should write and probably in a good direction. I mean, I’m not a writing instructor, I don’t know how this would play out in writing, but the similar in mathematics education, we have a lot because of the economics of, and contingent labor and so on, a lot of people use these on automatic online homework systems. That’s considered a problem in the OER movement because there aren’t as many free ones as we would like.

Jonathan Poritz

Future Guest Suggestion

A new feature of OEG Voices is we ask guests like Jonathan to suggest other voices we should bring to you. His suggestions include:

  • Cory Doctorow
  • Neil Butcher
  • Paola Corti
  • Alek Tarkowski
  • Catherine Cronin

And look! We have an editable post in OEG Connect where you can add suggestions to this list.

Stay tuned to OEG Voices to “hear” maybe these voices. Or suggest others via our OEG Connect discussion space.

Our open licensed music for this episode is from the Free Music Archive, a track called Imagery Intelligence by Nul Tiel Records licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The introduction created with the OEG Voices Mixer features voices of our guest as well as Gino F, Lori-Beth L, Paul S, Charlie F, Rajiv J, Shinta H, Alex E, Judith S, Andy L, Lena P, Lorna C, and Verna R (learn how to add your voice to the mix).