Being trolled by Twentieth Century Fox

"You're tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls."

“You’re tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might remember some posts a while back about creating a digital textbook for my Film classes. I made one, it was beautiful, but it (maybe, possibly, kinda, sorta) ran afoul of copyright and intellectual property law. So I contacted every film studio to ask for help. Save for one studio and Charlie Chaplin’s estate, they responded as follows:

  • Hahahahahahahaha no. No. NO. Hahahaha.
  • Hmm. No. No, no, no, no. Nope. Well, actua– no, still no.
  • Who are you? Leave us alone.
  • Use whatever you like! $5000 per second of footage. You said you’re a school teacher, right? So you guys have plenty of dough.

So I took everything cool out of my book. I didn’t even take the one cool studio up on their offer for fear that some trademark goon would be patrolling the iBookstore looking for my one grainy still of Spider Man. It still kills me. I had this one section with side by side comparisons of the Odessa Steps sequence in the Battleship Potemkin and Psycho’s shower scene, and this other– sorry. No sense crying over spilled milk.

I had moved on from the whole affair when I got an email from an employee of Twentieth Century Fox who shall remain nameless, since I’m not sure if they have exclusive rights to print and use her name. Might get sued.

I was going to publish my entire exchange with the copyright trolls at Twentieth Century Fox, but then I realized that they would probably send studio agents crashing through our office windows as DMCA takedown notices rained down from the sky. So instead, let me post an opinion piece:

Don’t be such jerks.

I wrote you specifically because I am trying to clear every sample (so to speak) in my digital film textbook. I wrote you to ask about establishing protocols that would allow educators to license material for limited periods at little or no cost. I wrote you because I thought you might be interested in making the lives of thousands of educators better, and making the resources we create for students more engaging. And in the process expose tens of thousands of students in my iTunes U film course (or just the hundreds who pass through my class) to your amazing library of genre- and era-defining films.

I thought you might be interested in providing entree into the rich worlds of film analysis and production, especially since your studio is behind classics like The Sound of Music, The French Connection, FIght Club, Alien, and hundreds more, many of which my students will be studying. My students will also be learning how to promote a film; I can’t imagine what harm would come if they were allowed to study a press kit from a major studio. Can you?

Please don't arrest me.

They see me trollin’ teachers…I’m tryin’ ta catch them when they writin’ dirty…”

So maybe you’re a reader thinking, “These places exist to make money. Why would they care about education? Why do they have to help you? You’re the jerk!” I have two responses:

  1. Maybe, but I’m a righteously angry jerk now.
  2. Fox like most studios has an entire division devoted to licensing clips. Offering a simple short-term license for education professionals would be relatively simple (and in fact one studio made this offer; more on them in a subsequent post). Either way, there’s no need to send me a vaguely threatening form letter as a follow-up to the $5000 per unit offer (or whatever it was).

So there ends the dream. If you think you have special rights as a teacher, you’re mostly wrong. Last time I wrote an entry like this, someone popped up in the comments to say, “You’re suffering from copyright confusion! We do have rights!” The next day, Edublogs’ 1.45 million teacher blogs were taken offline due to ONE SINGLE DMCA NOTICE. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect object lesson.

This is just another reminder that new laws and regulations continue to chip away at the rights we’ve always assumed we had as teachers. The right to use outside sources in our instructional material, the right to distribute course packs and teacher-created resources, and the right to expose our students to the world beyond the classroom through mediated and unmediated activities are being taken away from us in the interest of enormous, rich corporations protecting assets that are in no way threatened by educational use.


Retiring the Road Show

Snake oil labelWhen you speak at enough conferences, you become extremely wary of repeating yourself. The first time you give a presentation, the material feels fresh and invigorating; by the tenth time, you feel like a guy trying to sell cough medicine. It becomes a spiel. So last year, I figured I could keep things fresher by developing a consistent aesthetic and slidedeck masters, then changing the content for every speech. It worked out pretty well, but even then I found myself bored with the look after two or three speeches. And as I began presenting at online conferences and national events, I realized that I was dealing with the stand-up comedian’s conundrum: the bigger the audience and the better the reaction, the more likely it is that you’ll never be able to use that material again. So when my picture of hipsters was followed by a picture of Vinny Barbarino as a means of explaining where I’m located in Brooklyn got a big laugh at EdmodoCon 2012, that was pretty much it: the joke was repeated on Twitter, the people attending EdmodoCon are likely to attend other conferences, and I was out two pretty good slides.  By my third presentation of the school year (back in November), I felt like the whole thing needed some tweaking. And I also realized that I’m not a comedian and don’t even need to have funny asides ready, which made the entire presentation process a lot easier.

Then I started thinking about copyright law. I can’t just use any pictures I find on the internet if I plan on sharing these slideshows; in fact, I shouldn’t even be showing students’ faces without a release. Come to think of it, that snippet of MGMT’s “Kids” playing under the video segment isn’t really “mine” to use. So I recorded some original music for accompaniment, took my own photos, learned some Photoshop and got to blurring faces, and banned Google from my presentation-making workflow. I would adapt the content to suit my resources, rather than the other way around.

Finally, I took a look at my actual slides and I thought three things: words, words, words. Some slides had five statistics and a citation, or a picture next to a text box of equal size with the title bold and heavy stretching across the top of the whole mess. What on earth did I want the viewer to focus on? The eye is drawn to the picture, but the title has the most relative weight, meaning the text box is probably going to be ignored completely. So after my fourth presentation, I scrapped some of the deck and went back to square 1 (well, maybe square 2 or 3). By the end of January, I had a solid if occasionally bland presentation (I had a Homer Simpson joke and image in my presentation despite the fact that I neither watch The Simpsons nor know anything about Homer beyond that he says “D’oh!”. The recollection still causes me great pain) that I was changing up on a monthly basis. Now, the entire deck, masters and all, is being relegated to secondary storage (if I were in the Mafia, “sent to Dropbox” would be my go-to murder euphemism; if I send something there, it’s because I truly don’t need it anymore, and it ain’t coming back) as I shift to creating an entirely new presentation for every speech this year.

If you’re an active speaker, I would love you to share presentation tips with me. What works for you? What have been some of your greatest speaking triumphs? Feel free to also include disasters. If you do, I’ll share my story of being attacked by librarians.

ADE 2013: Mind blown.

Apple Distinguished Educators logo

I don’t high five. Ironically, unironically, for charity, for fun…it’s just not something I enjoy doing. So when I ran up the staircase to the second floor of the AT&T Conference Center into human walls of outstretched hands, I didn’t know what to do. As I was sort of thrust along this path, I found my arms being pulled up and, next thing I knew, I was high fiving. Good, hard high fives. High fives with some muscle behind them. I was assimilating. There’s nothing less convincing than a fanboy denying his passion.

I don’t want to go into great detail about the 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute for a few reasons: first and foremost, I don’t want to spoil any of the experience for the class of 2015, 2017, or beyond, and I don’t know how much is repeated from Institute to Institute. Secondly, Apple’s representatives asked us to keep quite a bit of what we saw and heard to ourselves for competitive reasons. Finally, telling you that I was able to speak one-on-one with FCPX’s product manager, the iBooks Author team, and members of the Apple design team sounds nice, but the experiences don’t translate well. It wasn’t about access or approval or even feeling a part of what Apple does; it was about solving problems, making things better, and becoming a part of the machinery that improves student experiences, especially as they relate to technology.


I will provide a general overview: it’s like Disney World for teacher-nerds. The days are packed with workshops and learning activities while the evenings tended to be driven by social and collective experiences. Every single workshop was valuable for me. I dove deep into FCPX, mastered iTunes U and iBooks Author, learned some of the magic behind iAd Producer, studied photography under Bill Frakes’ and Laura Heald’s tutelage, and improved my Keynote, GarageBand, iMovie, and Photoshop skills. The group activities were generally fun and occasionally illuminating, but I won’t be spoiling any surprises here.


So because I’m not going to write about projects, workshops, or special events (though I can reveal that I tried to start a rumor that Coldplay was going to play a set for us on the last night, but no one bit…ADEs are smart), I’m going to discuss people. I’ve never met more impressive people in one place. I can’t even begin to list the brilliant people I met, so…well, I guess I could. Why can’t I list some of the brilliant people I met?


@ajmanx, @jcorripo – Tony and John delivered two incredible FCPX workshops. I accidentally found myself in the beginner session, but maybe not that surprisingly, I was still able to pick a few things up. So of course I signed up for session 2, which was equally edifying.


@kajkibak – First kid I met at summer camp. Arriving at the Institute is a little intimidating (how intimidating? I went and bought cigarettes so I would have a reason to go outside), since a lot of people know each other from earlier institutes or other events. I didn’t know anyone. And I hate making introductions with all my heart and soul, so once I started talking to Kaj, I was more or less finished for the day. I don’t think we saw each other again until the last night, which made it even more like the summer camp experience.


@reshanrichards – The man behind @explainevrything also plays bass, studies math, and gives thoughtful, funny presentations. He’s the equivalent of a jock in the land of ADEs, captain of the digital football team, but also one of the nicest people I encountered during the week.


@digitalroberto – Robert was in my PLN and provided me with project direction when I had none. My whole PLN was great: @mrhooker, @darthmacgoogle, @principaljrich, and @ipoddess were all smart, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful.


@misterkling – We met late into the trip, but that didn’t stop us from getting out of the compound with Carl Hooker and others. Kris was the only person who seemed to have no trouble following every instruction in the Advanced Keynote seminar, which impressed me to no end.


@shoewee – John and I are basically trying to carve out the same career in different parts of the country, so our time talking was really helpful for me. He also shared great wisdom with me: get the individual room upgrade. #nexttime


@stacecarter – Calm, funny, and patient. A good influence on us and always a pleasure to talk to.


@cordym – I’m not an energy guy, and there are times when I tense up in the face of high energy people. But Michelle was high energy in the best possible way: she had a good word for everyone, a great story of how she’s working through the challenges in her deployment, and a convivial approach to everything we did.


Other ADEs you should follow/talk to this year: @aquiamigo, @rebeccawildman, @shaylamsb, @dwmalone, @weberswords, @techchef4u, @whittmister, @_luisfperez, and anyone hashtagging #ADE2013, really.


Last word: they gave us all iPhone 8s, which won’t be released to the general public until 2015. They run iOS 9 (though you can also dual-boot into Android Fried Twinkie Burger). But I shouldn’t even be telling you that.

Collecting hoodies in the summertime

"I'm Mike D and I'm back from the dead / chillin' at the beach down in Club Med"

“In the water, see it swimming…”

When I get overwhelmed, I stare at the grains of sand rather than the beach. It’s much easier for me to psychologically digest one week in California than it is to manage eight-ten speaking engagements, a bunch of trips, four long flights, and four drives of four hours or more. This is an accounting of all. that. sand.

I plan on expanding each bullet into a full post between September and October, but I wanted to provide an overview of my craziest season. If you’re interested in education consulting or speaking, I think this is a pretty accurate representation of an active summer.

Some schools/districts and developers have asked not to be named, so I will be as vague as necessary.

  • Cupertino, CA. Visiting the mothership was amazing, and while I can’t say a whole lot about why I was there or what we were doing, I can say that it’s a worthwhile trip for any fanboy. I was fortunate enough to meet members of Apple’s incredible Education team as well as the leadership, and I remain impressed by the folks running the show there. As a small stakeholder, I feel like we are in good hands.

Also, I got an awesome hoodie.

  • New York. I spoke to teachers and leaders from a Brooklyn schools conglomerate and elicited a spirited response, much of which centered on my insistence that teaching penmanship is a waste of time. While there were some very receptive participants, the experience reminded me how difficult it can be to get educators to reconsider their values.

TL;dr Let me know when one of your students gets a penmanship scholarship.

I did not receive a hoodie of any kind.

  • Austin, TX. I’m glad I’ve visited Austin before, because the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and it left little time for sightseeing or other frivolity. My saving grace was having a good friend in the area who picked me up every night around 10pm and deposited me on the steps a few hours later. ADE 2013 was better than I could have hoped, and that includes the high-five line and other stuff that freaked me out. I spent a week being photographed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Frakes, listening to Nancy Duarte speak about effective storytelling, and working with the most talented educators I’ve ever met. If you ever get a chance to hire an ADE, do it. I feel proud to have hung around some of the best educators in the world.

No hoodie was provided, but I did get a nice t-shirt and an ADE polo I can wear to work like a boss.

  • San Mateo, CA. I landed at JFK, dropped my bags home, and drove myself to LaGuardia for my flight to California and EdmodoCon 2013. Aside from the travel (which was booked for me and resulted in nearly 22 total hours of travel time for a round trip that takes about 13 under normal circumstances), it was also a fantastic experience. There were 25,000 educators signed up for EdmodoCon, and while you’re probably not speaking to all of them at once, it’s fair to assume several thousand people are watching you as you present your content. I thought that might be intimidating, but it turned out to be kind of nice. And it helped me concretize my ideas for Mission 1:1, which you’ll soon be hearing more about. The best part of the experience was the people. Edmodo’s braintrust is filled with smart, motivated people, and I really enjoyed spending time with my co-presenters. One question: WHERE WERE THE OTHER GUYS? I was the only male presenter! On the one hand, I liked the fact that I stood out; on the other, I felt like my gender was woefully underrepresented. SEND IN BETTER SUBMISSIONS NEXT YEAR, FELLAS.

A hoodie was involved, along with two t-shirts. This was a real boon for my wardrobe, though my wife quickly absconded with the hooded sweatshirt.

  • Upstate NY. Work disguised as vacation. My wife and I rented a little house near the town center and I spent a day working with a group of local educators on potential non-iPad 1:1 deployments. After the first twenty minutes (“Are you SURE you don’t want to use iPads? Totally sure? 100%? I mean, let’s not be rash!”), I switched tacks and began exploring the potential for their Chromebook initiative. I’m happy to report that I get it. I get how obnoxious it is to be told by outsiders that THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY to go 1:1. I understand that lecturing people about how I did it isn’t always as helpful as finding a way for them to do it. Not every school has $490 per student to pony up, and some barely have the money to cover a few new routers. I think web-based OSes are recipes for disaster for a number of reasons, but it’s hard to dissuade people from buying them. There’s no denying that Chromebooks are a great value, but I would argue that they work as one small element of a tech-progressive environment, not as central components. Does that mean that a school with a limited budget shouldn’t consider them for a one-to-one deployment? Of course not. I just wonder how things will go in economically disadvantaged districts where home wifi isn’t common.

And battery life is going to be an issue.

No hoodie was also an issue.

– Rhode Island. Can’t say much other than I was at the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen. Holy cow. Just amazing.

Hoodie status will remain unconfirmed.

  • Bethlehem, PA. One of the most energizing experiences of my summer was working with a charter school in Bethlehem. I enjoyed my time with the tech director and principal so much that I hope to continue working with them in some capacity, and not just because it required a short drive rather than an eight hour flight. Any time I work with visionary educators and administrators, I feel simultaneously invigorated and grateful. Meeting the team and becoming acquainted with their goals made me feel like a teammate rather than consultant. And I liked what I got to see of the area. It turns out I judge every city on how much it reminds me of Brooklyn, so parts of PA do really well on that admittedly limited scale.

No hoodie. I didn’t see any hoodies available though, to be fair.

  • Burlington, VT. What a great city! I worked with a great school and learned a lot about how the city and state education systems work. I was most impressed by the diversity of local schools compared to some of the surrounding areas. I worked with people I immediately liked, and the team assembled by the tech director was talented beyond my expectations. I especially enjoyed that I got to spend time with the IT staff and the Instructional Tech staff because it reflected the strengths of their model.

Let’s face it: great results are to be expected when you have one or two hundred kids and devices to deal with. Scaling up and dealing with one or two THOUSAND students is exponentially more difficult and requires more prep and a larger staff. A good starting point is hiring instructional tech and information tech staff members who can work together towards common goals. Several schools in Vermont have done just that, and to great effect.

No hoodie, but other local goodies.

This is what I learned over the course of the summer: our schools are in excellent hands. All we ever hear about are the screw-ups and the slimeballs, but the truth is, the quality of teachers and administrators has never been better. We’re more educated, standards for hiring are more stringent than ever, and school boards and even elected officials are embracing the importance of technology even if they aren’t totally sure WHY they’re doing so quite yet. Whether those things are good or bad is up to individual interpretation, but I can affirm that there are some incredibly smart, talented people working in our schools. The teams I worked with were all working incredibly hard towards admirable goals. And while I didn’t agree with everything every developer, school, or organization I worked with did, I do appreciate the processes that led to their decisions. I encountered no super-villians, no cackling menaces to sound education policy. There will always be a few misguided souls out there, but they come around because they have to, and we embrace them because it’s our duty. And they are in the minority. So while things here are far from perfect, rest assured that there are good people working towards the best possible outcomes for our kids (and some pretty nice hoodies for us).

Edmodo Addendum

I forgot to make two points in my Edmodo post, but I don’t have the energy or inclination to keep the relationship motif going, so this will be straight forward:

Addendum 1: I don’t understand Edmodo’s district options. In fact I’m pretty sure Edmodo recently removed my ability to manage my school.

Addendum 2: Many teachers work for more than one school, but Edmodo doesn’t allow that as a possibility, so I have two distinct accounts for college and high school classes. This wouldn’t be a problem if higher ed class pages had different skin or layout options, but that isn’t the case.

I feel better now.