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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Copyright 2000 Roger N. Meyer

     A parent on another list asked:

     "Can anyone provide me with specific tips about equipment that is appropriate, and any other tips about creating a useful tape?"

     I replied:

     Use a full size cassette recorder, not one of those handy dandy microcassette machines. Use a recorder that operates on AC power, even though it may have batteries. Then go out and buy a good condenser microphone. They are ludicrously cheap. These are microphones that use a battery to power their electronics. Try to find an omnidirectional microphone. Better yet, Radio Shack still sells their version of the Crown Boundary Effect microphone, which is a true omnidirectional microphone that picks up everything within a 360 degree radius. They cost about fifty or sixty bucks, but I after experimenting with much more expensive microphones, I swear by this one. It is called either a boundary effect or pressure zone microphone, and comes with a twenty foot cord, and is powered by one small battery that may last as long as a thousand hours.

     Some other good omnidirectional microphones come with larger plugs, and usually are monaural, not stereo. If you purchase one of those large-plug mikes, get a conversion plug that takes its quarter inch plug output, converts to a mono miniature (eighth inch) plug, and fiddle with the folks at Radio Shack so that the microphone fits into your tape recorder microphone input. It will be monaural, but the beauty of this type of microphone is that it is designed to reduce phase distortion caused by signals coming in from all directions. Mono microphones of this kind are perfectly fine for the job. This means that you may get just one channel, or there is a chance the mono plug will feed both channels of a stereo machine. If the machine is stereo (and relatively few of the good ones are, nowadays), that would be great.

     Next, go to the local audio-video store and pick up 120 minute tapes. A lot of stores are reluctant to sell them because they are thinner than normal tapes. If your tape recorder is good, it should be able to handle the longer cassette no sweat. Sony makes a 120 minute tape, and it comes in a handy dandy glove type of container, not the types of containers that crack and break.

     Before you go to the meeting, check your gear out thoroughly. You will need to bring an extension cord....perhaps even two twenty-five footers, and also bring an octopus jack, of heavy duty construction grade from a store like Home Depot. Expensive but totally worth it. Many conference rooms are badly wired for electricity, hence the reason for the extension cord. Do not buy cheap extension cords. Heavy duty extension cords are available several times a year as "seasonal best buys. Buy an inexpensive set of earphones, and try them out on the recorder with the microphone on and the machine in "record." You should be able to hear yourself and others in the room speak. Bring those earphones with you to make sure the recorder is running properly, and that you are actually hearing audio in the headphones.

     Bring an extra battery for the microphone "just in case."

     Bring a roll of duct tape, and tape down all of your lines, from the outlet (tape plug to wall by using a tape "tent"), then your floor leads, and most importantly, the plug and jack connection for your microphone to the tape recorder. Set the microphone right out in the center of the table.

     Believe me, with pressure zone or boundary effect microphones, you can hear someone sneezing 150 feet away. They are very sensitive. Tape the ears of the microphone to the table, a piece of tape each side. Don't worry about the gummy stuff. It comes off with mineral spirits (paint thinner) very easily. Do not put the microphone on anything soft. It works best using the hard reflective surface of the table. Do NOT place the microphone on the floor.

     Before you go to the meeting, label TWO, maybe THREE tapes as to time, date, and identification of meeting. This will avoid a mad scramble when you change tapes. Label each side of each tape as well, starting with one and going to four or six. Don't forget to label the tape container. When you put the tape(s) away, put them in the properly marked container. Each side will give you an hour. Make sure your machine clicks when it runs out of tape. You want to hear it stop. OR notice the exact time you start, and change your tape (turn it over) before it runs out, say at 55 minutes, or whenever the tape side ends, less five minutes. This will avoid the loss of signal caused by the leader, and you will be able to get a signal immediately on to the tape for the second side.

     As you start the meeting, get everyone to announce their full name and their title. Announce yourself. If anyone comes in after the meeting starts, stop the meeting and ask them to introduce themselves the same way. If anyone leaves the room, note it verbally by announcing their departure for the tape recorder. If the meeting has a break or recess, "forget" to shut off the machine. Since you brought it in, other folks will be quite reluctant to turn it off because it is your property. There shouldn't be any reason why "side conversations" or informal chatter can't be recorded. It's an official meeting, recess and all. At the conclusion of the meeting, offer to send them a duplicate copy of the tape recording. If they accept your offer, request that the tape be included in your child's special education records. It then becomes an official educational record protected by FERPA.

     At the close of the meeting, leave the machine running, again "forgetting" to turn it off. As with recesses, you will often have folks engage you in a "side deal" or catch them just being themselves. This may expose a side of their character or approach they would never want to have as an official record. Try to avoid letting anyone engage you in a hallway chat or an informal conversation. This is a favorite tactic of school authorities--it's called "off the record." If you get sucked into this one, you will regret it. School authorities often have persons sitting at those meetings who are observing you closely. That's their primary job. They look for the signs of hesitation, of being unsure, for the things you said were important at the start of the meeting and which you forgot during the hurly burly of the meeting. While these may often be small details, they still offer the "hall dogs" the bone they need.

     The folks at the meeting will usually have agreed before hand who is to speak and how much of the agenda they actually expect to cover. It is normal that some agenda items may not be covered by the time the meeting is about to adjourn. In order to sucker you into either tipping your hand (if you have a grand strategy) or to see just how far they can stretch your limits, someone from the IEP team may then want to discuss those items away from the formal meeting. From the beginning of the conversation, it may be hard for you to determine just where it may lead, so the best advice is not to talk "between sessions." This is especially true if, in the past, persons from the district have demonstrated bad faith by "forgetting" agreements or failing to implement agreed-upon parts of the IEP.

     If you are caught in such a situation, inform the person or persons that you will be making a written memorandum of record of that conversation and requesting that the written memorandum be included in your child's special education records. Whatever you do with copies of the memorandum, keep the original.

     Tapes deteriorate. You may wish to dub the tape sometime in the near future, so you have the original and a back up exact duplicate copy.

     Transcripts of these tapes are very time consuming to make. Unless you plan on a Due Process hearing or formal, expensive legal action, most parents are satisfied with just having the tape in their child's home special education records, properly labeled and ready to access to confirm facts or commitments. If ever you intend to make a transcript, it is important that you identify for the transcript record who is speaking, since they will not have identified themselves each time they talk beyond the first introduction. Be aware of the fact that people often move around a table in meetings, or sit in different places after a break. This may make their voice sound different, or come from a different direction if you have set up a stereo microphone set up.

     Tape recordings are tools, and tools are sometimes hard to use. Keep this in mind when "documenting" any meetings. The best thing to do following a meeting is to write down specific commitments and critical information, using the tape as confirmation. That way, once the conference recedes in time, you will have accurate notes of the contents of the meeting in addition to the tape itself.

     If your tape recorder has Dolby B noise reduction, try to use it. Sometimes conversations become muffled or hard to understand. Using any of the Dolby systems to record the meeting, you can play the tape back without the noise reduction and "capture" information unintelligible in the noise-reduced tape. High frequency information is often "lost" with noise reduction, and this way, you can "regain" the high frequency material by playing the tape back without the noise reduction.

     A good rig may cost a buck or two, but the more money you spend on getting reliable equipment, the better will be the result.

Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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