Is Internet Filtering In Schools Censorship?

This post was prompted from the following Tweet:

Twitter March 26, 2010: @mbteach RT @NMHS_Principal: A simple fix for Internet censorship in schools http://bit.ly/bjH5AQ

The article referenced above was based on an interview of Craig Cunningham, a professor at National-Louis University by the author, Mitch Wagner, entitled, “A Simple Fix for Internet Censorship in Schools”. The following are my thoughts on the article and especially the comments.

I can say that I am happy with most filtering as long as administrators and teachers have a way to access what they need when they need it and it has be previewed by the teacher. This allows individual communities to set their own boundaries on what they believe is acceptable for their children.

Schools and districts send a powerful messages to parents when they filter saying, “We are committed to taking care of your kids along the boundaries our community has set”. When I have something I want to show my students, I get it from home or I can use a code, given to me by my District that allows me to temporarily bypass the filter. The District keeps close tabs on what I am doing on their computers so no one need worry about what I might “slip in”. The truth is I like my job and wouldn’t want to jeopardize my position or reputation. A school district’s view is simple and I agree with it, students may be watching whatever they want on the Internet or on cable TV at home but we need to limit what we allow them to have access to in the school building. It’s the same reason why schools have rules and dress codes (some schools have dress codes, not mine, and I would like to see one). A child can say, do, wear, eat, drink or smoke some things at home because their parents are, presumably, OK with it but we limit these things in school. It’s not about censoring anyone or anything. It’s about setting boundaries and creating an atmosphere of safety and decorum in the school building that allows the community to function as a whole. I also think some teachers need boundaries set for them. Teachers who don’t like the rules and boundaries that your school has set for you should try to change it or change your job location. That’s why games have rules and towns have laws. We all need a baseline for behavior.

The truth is any 7th grader can tell you the “back door” access to any website in any district. I learned from my students. They know how to get what they want regardless of Internet filters. Read the rest of this entry »

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Classroom Management via the Internet & Intranet

My most advanced class has 22 students. This is their third or fourth year in a class with me. Most of them are friends outside my class, wicked smart, highly skilled musicians & composers and lightning fast with the technology. Many of them also have IEPs or 504 plans (Special Ed), are ADD, LD or have substance abuse, eating disorders or emotional or developmental concerns. A couple even have their very own parole officer! Many have GPAs above 3.5 and scored over 2000 on the SATs, even the ones with POs! Over 50% of them will be going to college, not trade schools, as Music Composition, Music Technology or Music Business majors and one third of them never studied music before they took my class. This particular collection of students is probably the most gifted and skilled class I have had in my thirteen years of teaching. There is a special kind of comfort and familiarity in an environment like this that can produce a little less “discipline” than I would normally tolerate in my classroom. I walk a fine balance of whom they have experienced me to be, who they think I am and who they want me to be. I occasionally need to remind them that I am thirty-plus years older than they are, have several degrees and certificates in music, education and technology, more experience performing, conducting and life than most will ever and I am still their teacher.

This is a very special group of kids and the classroom has a special kind of controlled chaos. Ok, sometimes, not so controlled. My biggest concern has to do with delivery of material and communication. Traditional lessons just don’t cut it in this environment. Mostly, they compose their own music. I do give them assignments but it’s really like pulling teeth to get it done with the same gusto they do their personal projects. Threaten them with a bad grade?  Not exactly my style and certainly not what many of them need. They’ll just go away, drop the class or really not care too much. I really need to get my points across in a completely different way than I do in my other classes. Enter the Internet and Intranet.

I recently got a Facebook page. I have been staying away from Facebook because I really do like my teaching license and was afraid that something could go wrong and I would be in one of those Tweeted newspaper articles about a teacher who did something someone thought was bad on Facebook and ….  Not for me.  Then, reality settles in. Facebook is the most widely used communication tool on the planet. Period. So my Facebook page is as closed as I can make it and I warn my students about trying to “friend” me. Although 18 is the legal age in Connecticut, my age requirement is 21. It’s pretty simple for me, if you are old enough to have a legal drink with me, we can discuss being “friends”.  Until then, don’t even think about it. I simply tell them that if Read the rest of this entry »

NJMEA/TI:ME 2010 – No Passport Required!

The Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) National Conference is at the NJMEA Conference in New Brunswick, NJ February 18 – 20, 2010. That’s right, New Jersey and for all of us New Yorkers, there is still no passport required to get to New Jersey!

I’ll be making two presentations this year. One will be Teaching Music Through Composition With Technology: Beginning Lessons That Work and the other will be a performance by a group of my students, nanoBands: Live Performance And Demonstration By Greenwich High School Students Sponsored by SoundTree.  The band’s name is “Total Kaoss” and they will be performing on hand-held devices including Korg’s Kaossilator.

A  pdf file of NJMEA and TI:ME offerings at the conference can be downloaded here: TI:MEconfinfo

For more information about the NJMEA Conference, go to their conference website:

http://www.njmea.org/conference/

For more information about TI:ME, please visit their website:

http://www.ti-me.org/

Don’t forget to visit the CT Chapter website:

http://www.ti-me.org/CT/

Teaching Basic Audio Through Podcasting: Part 1, The Speech Project

Podcasting is a great way to introduce students to the basics of recording, editing and mixing audio. By the time my students get to podcasting, year 2 or 3 of my class, they have had a lot of experience composing and mixing MIDI sequences created in GarageBand and Logic. Recording, editing and processing audio is a whole new ball game. I break it down into a few projects that teach the basics of everything they need to know about audio before they produce their own podcast.

The Speech Project introduces students to prerecorded audio and how to edit, process and mix audio for clarity with music underscoring. Basically, the assignment is to incorporate one or more prerecorded speeches into self-composed music. The music needs to be appropriate to the speech or the point of the piece. They cannot use the speech in its entirety so they need to make selections and edit the audio files. I distribute a few dozen pre-selected speeches as aiff audio files via our Mac Network shared folders. The speeches cover a wide array of topics including politics, early sound recordings, poets reading selections of their works, baseball, the moon landing, space travel and Civil Rights era speeches. Students listen to them via iTunes and can then import the ones they want into Logic. The assignment is very open-ended and allows students a great deal of leeway and creativity. Students can underscore parts of the speech, combine different speeches, use snippets of the speech rhythmically, any combination or any other means they can think of. The results are amazing as students often transform the original intentions of the words into a new idea they create in the piece and highlight their new creation with music.

Additionally, students now need to learn about plug-ins. Compression, EQ and Noise Reduction are just a few of the basic processing tools needed to clarify the audio so it can be heard over the music without pushing the volume. Students can then explore effects such as Reverb and Delay. How about using a Guitar Amp Simulator on the spoken word? They are only limited by their imagination and the amount of RAM on their computer!

Next time, The Commercial Project: An Introduction to Recording Audio.

A technical note: It is best to have the highest quality audio files, aiff or wav, for students to edit and manipulate as opposed to MP3. When you load an MP3 into an audio editing program, it will automatically convert it into aiff or wav. That means it will extrapolate the missing information in the MP3 and fill it in according to the conversion algorithm. You might as well start with the best source file you can rather than leave it to the program to “fill in the blanks”.

A legal note: You can use these speeches for educational purposes but be careful if you want to use them in a podcast. They may not be public domain.

Sources for speeches:

  • I went to the local library and borrowed a collection of speeches on CD/DVD. I could choose the ones I wanted to distribute to my students and download them in the highest quality audio format.
  • http://bclacademicaudio.blogspot.com/ This is the Bloomfield College (NJ) Library’s blog for audio & video files that may be considered “academic” in nature: lectures; readings; literature; and, discussions.
  • http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ A database of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two.