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 »

Webcasting: Streaming LIVE on the Internet

Last week was my first live broadcast over the Internet. I have been thinking about it for a while and doing a little research here and there. When I finalized plans with Grammy/Clio winning composer, Robin Batteau, to come to my school and give a master class on composition, I thought that would be a great time to dive into the world of live internet broadcasting.

I streamed audio and video through Ustream.tv. Ustream is a great site as it is, for the most part, “Rated G”. Ustream seems to really want to keep a lid on some of the nonsense and profanity that you’ll find on other video sites and they seem to be doing a good job so far. Then again, one person’s nonsense is another’s Nirvana. Yes, you can watch some teenager play Guitar Hero or catch a glimps of a raccoon as it comes into camera range when tempted by the bait that the broadcaster has left. But I have also seen a few very cool things on Ustream.tv. Need a few questions answered about problems on your computer? Check out PC-Addicts. They just sit there and answer your questions. They are very helpful and really seem to know their stuff. Tell Chris D I sent you. You can also catch other interesting things on Ustream. I just saw a live broadcast from a club Budapest and one of our very own music educators broadcasts on Ustream frequently enough, EdTechMusician.

I’ll be honest about the amount of time I spent in preparation. It was several hours a day for three weeks. First you have to research a site. It’s got to be OK for kids to go there (I can’t even get YouTube in the school building so I couldn’t possibly put video there). Watch the site. Learn the site. Get the downloads. Learn the software. Does it work in the school building? Do I have the interfaces I need? How’s the lighting? The audio? Oh, we can get it better than that! Change mics. Reposition and test again. Latency? Is that the feed or my setup? Is this thing all going to crash in 30 minutes? Is it recording while we are streaming and will it record everything? Can I get the remote desktop access to show the kids music as it plays? What part of the desktop? Check to resize and how it will look in that little 2” box. Oh yeah, I have a guest coming and I need to make sure I have everything for him, too!

I learned a few things broadcasting. First and foremost, Murphy’s Law applies. My broadcast was an hour and a half long. I think it was pretty great for the most part but it wasn’t without its hitches. Live is never the same as rehearsed and edited. It’s kind of like the difference between getting the band to run through a tune a few times before you perform or jamming with people you’ve never played with before in front of a live audience. It all depends on your skill, experience and comfort level in the environment. So, practice does make perfect.

You can check out my Ustream channel and see the video of the event at MusicEdTech:
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/musicedtech

All in all, it was an enormous amount of work and stress. Much more than I expected and well above and beyond what I need to do as an educator. Will I do this again? You bet! As a matter of fact, I’ll be streaming live and on location from a conference I am speaking in next week, Friday, April 25 & 26 in NYC. Stay tuned for more details…