Copyright? More like copyWRONG, amirite?

My copyright-infringing masterpiece

Not so fast, E.T.

I designed a BEAUTIFUL etext for my junior and senior film classes via iBooks Author. It opened with a snippet from Raging Bull’s fight montage. The cover featured E.T. and Eliot flying past the full moon, an iconic image from one of America’s most beloved films. A slideshow of stills from Rosemary’s Baby walked students through different shooting angles, just a few clicks away from Citizen Kane and mise-en-scene, my favorite section of the piece. It was a text filled with sight and sound, the type of book students in my day couldn’t have ever imagined would exist. Immersive, interactive, filled with quizzes and clickable images…I really felt like I had accomplished something. I showed it to a few people over the summer and the response was uniformly positive. It was, I decided, the beginning of a brave new era.

I was painfully incorrect in that assessment. If anything, recent developments like the DMCA and TEACH Act have hamstrung educators in entirely new and awful ways, and we should be fighting back.

I’ve always lobbied under the delusion that my teaching materials were protected under the fair use provision of United States copyright law. And they were, more or less, until the horrendous TEACH Act was put into place in 2002 to strip mine not only our classroom materials, but out ability to grow and change with the times. Think you can make a handout with the Mona Lisa on it? Not according to the TEACH Act, which allows teachers to use material only as a part of mediated classroom activities, meaning you’re either in the room or, in a distance learning environment, on the digital stage lecturing. Want to include a still image of Douglas Fairbanks in your ebook? No you don’t, at least not if you want to stay out of copyright hell. At least you can show clips from his films, right? Well, kind of, but not really. You can show “reasonable and limited” portions of his work. What does that even mean? NO ONE KNOWS.

You can use photocopies of an interesting op-Ed in the New York Times, but only if it’s spontaneous. So if you plan your lessons out more than two hours in advance, you’re out of luck. Better start writing your own op-eds. The TEACH Act goes so far as to restrict converting material from analog to digital. So if you’ve ever scanned a document for class distribution, watch out: the Federales may be at your door. My favorite provision is the one that tells schools how far they need to go to protect major corporations’ rights:
“The institution must implement some technological measures to ensure compliance with these policies, beyond merely assigning a password. Ensuring compliance through technological means may include user and location authentication through Internet Protocol (IP) checking, content timeouts, print-disabling, cut and paste disabling, etc.”

Got all that? You MIGHT be able to use a grainy still picture from the set of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, provided you hire James Bond and Q to run your network security.

You might think this isn’t relevant for you, since many teachers are not creating digital resources quite yet, but I strenuously disagree. Yes, much of the TEACH Act is geared towards distance learning, but for those of us attempting to flip classrooms and create compelling digital resources for kids, it cuts us off at the knees. The TEACH Act expressly forbids making digital course packs, reserve materials, etc., that use copyrighted material. Which leaves you praying fair use will protect you, which is probably won’t, given the utterly subjective nature of the four fair use criteria. One of the criteria is how your work affects the market for the work you’re “borrowing” from. Well, I have absolutely no idea if my twenty second Raging Bull clip will bankrupt United Artists, but an argument could be made that my textbook’s use of the clip makes subsequent licensing less valuable, especially if they are selling licenses to massive textbook producers like Pearson or Houghton Mifflin.

So how do I find out? I get sued! That’s the only way to find out if your operating within the strictures of fair use. And, lest you think I’m just a lazy teacher looking to steal material, I contacted two of the pre-eminent minds in education law and neither could tell me how far fair use would extend. I also contacted a number of major studios. Of course they all tripped over themselves to assist an educator and expose their best work to a new generation.

I’m kidding, they either said no outright or asked for thousands of dollars. Except for one man…Charlie Chaplin(‘s estate). One of my favorite actors of all time(‘s estate) is allowing me to use two pictures of my choosing, and I genuinely appreciate it. I also think it’s an excellent way to give a new generation of students access to material they otherwise might never see. Why don’t the major studios agree?


My EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

Judging by the response via Twitter, email, and of course Edmodo, I feel like my presentation at EdmodoCon 2012 went over pretty well. I talked fast because I had a lot to say, but ultimately I think it was a good representation of where one-to-one deployments and cloud classrooms are going.

With that said, here it is for your perusal. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments or via email, twitter, etc.

EdmodoCon 2012 presentation

Kill your library

Paper is simply not a long-term storage solution

Bye bye, school library.

Yesterday, I gave a presentation at EdmodoCon 2012, a global web education conference, about becoming a one-to-one computing classroom or school. It went pretty well until the Q&A, at which point someone asked me a question about funding these grand, expensive initiatives, and I was forced to go off script (always a mistake!). Judging by a few of the emails I got, I touched a nerve with my statement that we don’t need librarians anymore. If anything, this post doubles down on that assertion, but I want to explain why I feel this way, and how I think killing your library will help you go 1:1.

Let’s start by stating the obvious. Computers are to libraries what mp3s are to CDs. Your school simply won’t need a librarian or library for long after you hand out iPads, laptops, or netbooks, and the money you save can be pumped directly into your mobile computing deployment. I don’t want to see anyone out of a job, but I also don’t want schools with extremely limited resources to apportion them in a less than optimal way. So understand that I’m not anti-librarian; I’m just pro-2012. The skills and talents of librarians need to become part of the toolbox of every teacher. In essence, all educators are librarians now because we have to curate information and sources, and help students analyze and qualitatively assess data. And if we’re all librarians…

Getting started
Let’s assume your school is fortunate enough to have a full time librarian making between 30-50k a year. By eliminating that expenditure, you just bought between 75 and 100 iPads or (cheap) laptops. If you buy refurbished from the Apple store, you can get up to 125 iPads for 50k. That’s certainly the beginning of a deployment. And if you launch with a one grade or several-class pilot program, 125 should be enough to get the ball rolling. If it’s not, it’s time to take a look at the library and computer labs themselves.

There’s no need for a fully loaded computer lab in a K-12 one-to-one school. At the college level, students are working with specialty programs and processor-crunching applications that require standalone systems. But the majority of what K-12 students do can be done on an iPad for a fraction of the cost. In the event that there is some major computing task that does require heavy duty machinery, you might want to develop a relationship with a local college and use their lab on special field days, or outfit your school with a handful (ten to fifteen) of standalone PCs that allow more RAM-intensive programs to run without error.

The money
So let’s crunch some sample numbers: a typical PC monitor and tower lease will cost around a hundred bucks a machine for a term of three years. If you need a hundred machines, you’ve just dropped $80,000 for three years worth of PCs, and you’ve stuck them in a lab environment that by its nature limits the devices’ classroom applications.

You can lease iPads for somewhere between 400 and 500 bucks a machine, depending on vendor, length of relationship, etc. So let’s assume you need a hundred machines at five hundred dollars each. Good news: you just saved 30k. Celebrate by picking up 75 more refurbished iPad 2s with your extra money, and now you’ve got 200 iPads. Just like that. And you haven’t spent an additional penny.

The space
Now let’s look at the library itself. If you’re lucky enough to be in a school with an expansive physical library, I’m envious. Now start figuring out what you’re going to do with the space when the students are all carrying virtual libraries in their backpacks at all times. I spent my summer doing scholarly research on one-to-one deployments, and I stepped foot in a library exactly once (and I read over fifty studies and articles). There is little the physical library has to offer today’s student.

Maybe you rent it out, maybe you repurpose it, but whatever you do, STOP throwing money at an outdated, outmoded concept. Most schools spend hundreds to thousands of dollars maintaining a library. Divert that money to databases like JStor, LexisNexis, and Academic Search Premier and you will simultaneously cut the cost and raised the quality of your school’s library, whether it be a mix of virtual and physical or is exclusively virtual.

Reshaping education will not be without casualties. The key is adaptation; sometimes, our skills age poorly (I can still write raw HTML with the best of them, but I stopped keeping up around 1997…I know of what I speak) and we have to choose a new muscle to develop.

I think we can learn a lot from librarians, but unfortunately most schools and districts can’t afford to have it all. Supporting a full library, librarian, and mobile devices for every student probably isn’t feasible for the majority of public and private schools in the States. And if something has to give at this point, it can’t be the technology.