March 6, 2008
Smile, your on a cell phone video
More and more we are hearing about it, seeing it on the news, and reading about it in blogs, newspapers, and our professional journals. Students, even very young ones, carry cell phones. And the very newest phones are equipped with many tools, particularly video cameras and internet access, which in my mind is a VERY powerful tool in a child’s hands. I hesitate to say it is a good thing or a bad thing, as channeled properly it can lead to greatness.
But when I read material like this, I worry. Anything an educator says taken out of context can be portrayed as something entirely different. Anything a student says taken out of context can be protrayed as something different. And I’m not referring to just moments captured on a cell phone’s video, as this statement can be applied to a written referral that are most teacher’s best ammunition in dealing with discipline issues.
I have always remembered that whatever is written on one of the school referral forms is considered a legal document, and as it is written, it would do the educator well to remember that it might be used as a legal document. When I have used these forms myself, I have always tried to make sure it was written without anger, bias, or emotion, but rather just written as a statement of facts. It is very difficult to write a referral in the heat of the moment and accomplish this.
But now bring video into the mix. This year alone I have seen first hand incidences where students are making videos at school using their phones. But the student handbook clearly states that:
…all phones must be “off” and put away, and if they are out they will be confiscated.
This statement is almost an acceptance on the school’s part that students have phones and to ban them completely is one rule that cannot be enforced. But now I wonder if we will revisit this statement. Should I set up my video camera and external drive somewhere in my teaching context to protect myself? This is a frightening thought indeed.
I am reminded though of a statement I said to students in my first formal class/orientation. In introducing myself to students at the beginning of school (b/c I’m new this year at my school) I brought in my iPod to use in a “get to know me” type activity. I shared with students what you could find, including songs, pictures, podcasts, and audiobooks. Some of my podcasts were video, and this opened a discussion on how to make videos. It was then that I realized many of my students clearly understood they had the ability right in their pocket to make a video and post it online. So I made sure to have this conversation with each class in orientation, stating with a witness (a classroom teacher or my library technical assistant) that I do not give anyone permission to make a video of me and post it without specific written permission from me. Did I cover myself? I don’t know.
Back to my wonder about taping my classes…is that legal? When doing National Board Certification, I had to have written consent forms from parents to make videos of my classes.
Does it matter? The seven videos on the Dangerously Irrelevant site yesterday certainly were not made with any kind of consent, and it is painfully obvious that the damage has been done, whether teachers or students were right or wrong. Scott wants to know–Should students be punished or applauded for filming and posting these?
If I had to say now, I would side with punishing them since I’m pretty sure a lot of the footage stems from a biased or one-sided point of view. The public is not being told the whole story here, which is how I began this post. And as long as school handbooks indicate that cell phones are not to be on and in service in the classroom, then it must stay punishable.
What good will come out of these videos I watched today? Each time I see my students after school with their cell phones snuggly fitted up against their ears, I will do a quick self reflection of my actions that day, and briefly wonder if I’ll be a YouTube one-hit wonder. Yet another filter to think through as I plan, choose my activities for instruction, or talk formally or informally with kids each day. I do realize the phones will not go away, which really makes me WANT to utilize surveillance in my instruction. It scares me to think I may have to justify my actions with video of my own, even if it is not legally gained. Can you say “conspiracy theory”?