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Potential for Abuse April 5, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Unintended Consequences.
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absurdum   When a student came into my office today I had to tell her that I heard her speaking on our latest podcast (http://coeitf.blogspot.com). She raved about the speaker and how she shared such interesting research on assessing English Language Learners, but she stopped short when it sunk in that she could be heard speaking on the podcast. Her voice was incidental to the talk. The student was speaking about a program on behalf of the absent Emeritus Professor Yetta Goodman. She identified herself on the tape by name. Her cause for concern was that she did not even know someone was making a recording.

Many students use digital voice recorders to tape lectures with the unspoken, in most cases, understanding that the lectures supplemented note taking. This ethical equation changes when the student teacher relationship broadens outside the classroom. Recently a student recorded a teacher surreptitiously and submitted the recording to a radio talk show host to feed an online rant. In another situation, university students were encouraged to tape their professors in order to make the case that they were too far left of center.

From an educational perspective, there is a relationship between the student and the teacher. The teacher may sometimes say things that seem radical in order to stir debate. The problem is that taken out of context and heard without the visual cues or context of the classroom someone can render the words into something offensive or ridiculous. In rhetorical terms, the term for the technique is reductio ad absurdum, cutting up an argument or statement so small as to make it appear ridiculous and indefensible.

The concerns over taping are valid, but the potential for broadening the reach of the speakers’ words is powerful.  We will work on the process of getting release forms into the hands of speakers before they speak or immediately afterward. It is the least we should do.

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