Technology in the Special Ed Classroom

At TCEA in Austin last week, I had the opportunity to present with one of my co-workers. She is an awesome educator in general, but her love for her students is obvious in her curriculum. She works very hard to tie in all types of technology to engage the students and make her job more efficient. 

Our presentation, “Web 2.0 in the Elementary Special Education Classroom,” focused on a number of technologies and procedures she uses and the process with which we do it. We had a nice crowd of about thirty for 8:00 in the morning. Morning sessions are tough, as we all know.  Thank you for those who crawled out of bed for the early sessions. We enjoyed the discussion.

One item that was brought up was copyright. My co-worker shared her next goal was to have her students read their books and record them for classroom use. Her books on tape are wearing down, to say the least.  One guest in the audience called her on it saying it was breaking copyright policies. Our discussion with her did not seem to change her mind. She felt that since she was a librarian she was obligated to let us know we were breaking the law.  Another audience member attempted to clarify for her that no monetary damages were being had to the book publishers and that they would not have anything to sue for. Besides, who would sue little kids reading stories while learning?

So, I did what every Texas teacher should do.  After the session ended, I called ATPE and asked for legal services.  I requested a copyright attorney, and after a minute or so on hold, I had the lawyer answering all of my copyright questions:

Question: If we record our students reading library books in the classroom for current and future use, are we breaking copyright law?
Answer: Abosolutely not. It is an acceptable practice. Why would that break copyright law? (I thought I as asking the questions here.)

Question: If I post said recordings of those students reading those books onto the website for parents to download them as podcasts to hear their children, am I breaking copyright law?
Answer: Absolutely not. If you are not selling them or altering them and selling them, there is no breach of copyright law. Again, they are acceptable educational uses of content.

Thank you very much.  I feel vindicated in our actions. I have my attorney supporting my position and our legitimate use of print materials and technology in our instructional purposes. I just wish I had had the time to call the attorney during the session to alleviate any of the concerns our audience member might have had.  Her belief came from a session she had attended.  Hmmm. A lesson learned for me here is that for legal advice, trust the attorney who specializes in your field and would cover your rear in court.  I would also suggest you not say, “I read it on Scott’s blog and it must be true.” Call your own representative that SPECIALIZES in your area of concern. I hope that clears up any confusion that might have arisen in the session conversation. We felt like we were correct in our position, and our attorney supports that position. 

Isn’t it nice to have that education attorney to lean on for advice?  For those not familiar with Texas and the associations to support educators, ATPE is the largest in our state. Texas does not allow collective bargaining, so spending a lot of money to join a union really is useless.  My dues are $130 a year, and I receive all the free legal advice and assistance that I might need in a situation like this. One 800 phone call and I am on the phone with one of the in-house, education-focused attorneys.  It is a nice feeling to have for times such as these. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I served on the board of directors of ATPE for four years, but I have been a member since 1997. This has no bearing on the response from the attorney, but my praise for them is warranted from my experience and I did not want my previous leadership with them to be hidden when reading my opinion.)

With all of that being said, below is the Keynote presentation on SlideShare and the MP3 recording (I edited out the lengthy copyright discussion/debate to eliminate further confusion). If you have any comments or questions about the presentation, please feel free to leave a comment here or email me. I can pass all special ed specific questions on to my co-worker.

Thanks again for the great turnout.  We enjoyed the conversation.

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Take Away the Hammer…

hammersWe were out camping one weekend when my son was four years old. The weather was rather nice on that trip so we took the tent. As any four year old would do, he found the hammer rather fun. To avoid having the hammer create more damage than I could fix, I traded him the hammer for my digital voice recorder (does not sound like an even swap, huh?). I shared with him the record and stop buttons and turned him loose for the next hour. He was pacing all over that campsite during that hour, but I was able to get the tent and other supplies set-up.

Later that evening, I plugged the recorder into my laptop to delete his recordings of the car radio and other unique noises he discovered. But through this process I came across his first literacy creation: the story.

It seems as though he became very engaged with the ability to record and hear himself. Following the model he has known since birth, he wanted to hear a story. My wife and I have read a book to him every night since birth (my wife started even before that). Since we were busy setting up camp, he created his own story, and I found it on the recorder. To me, it is a priceless piece of his academic and creative growth that I am extremely pleased to have archived. When I shared it with my wife, she was just as proud as I was, but neither of us were as proud as he. With our discussion of what was so great about it and how it sounded “really professional” and like a “real author,” he accepted my offer to add sounds to it so it sounded like the story CD’s he listened to.

I loaded the file into Garageband and sat him next to me. As the story played, he told me when to stop and what sounds to put where. He asked for scary music since it was a pirate story, after all. Then he requested waves and parrots (he got a rooster instead) and more.

As we wrapped it up for the evening, we reviewed the product. I tell you, sitting around the campfire with his story playing audibly reminded my wife and me of the scary stories we sat around telling when we were kids. But we never did it like this, and we were not four years old.

So listen and enjoy my son’s first digital story. And remember that a four year old did this. Don’t say your students or children are not capable of being creative. Sometimes you just need to take away the hammer and give them a more productive tool.

Download The Pirate Story by Christian Floyd