Chances are your district’s acceptable use policy is outdated. Here’s how to make sure you stay on top of emerging technologies.
News Flash: A student is suspended for taking inappropriate pictures of another student using a personal cell phone and then electronically distributing those photos to friends. At the time of the picture taking, this fictional high school student was attending an athletic event being hosted in another district.
Does your district’s acceptable use policy (AUP) cover this type of problem — one involving no school-owned systems but at a school-sponsored event? If it’s similar to the policies in most districts today, probably not. And even if you had enough foresight to include this issue, it’s a fair bet there are some possibilities out there — Bluetooth anyone? — that aren’t mentioned in your AUP.
With the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools, multifunction cell phones and handheld computers, to name just three, it’s obvious that keeping AUPs up to date requires constant attention. The three big questions concerning these policies are as follows: How often should AUPs be updated, how should they cover new and emerging areas of technology, and how can they be effective without limiting students’ acceptable uses of these tools.
Constant changes in technology will continue to push AUPs, forcing IT directors to consider pen-size scanners and computers, monitors in eyeglasses, miniaturized devices and anytime-anywhere digital storage. Leaders will also need to keep tabs on Web 2.0 shared applications. Although it’s hard to predict the future, count on technologies becoming smaller, increasingly interconnected and broadly accessible.
How Old Is Your Policy?
The first question is the easiest: How frequently are districts revising their AUPs? “Typically, we updated the AUP at the point of redoing our district technology plan. The problem with that is an AUP then becomes based on older use of technology,” says Kevin Cassidy, director of instructional technologies for the Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Today, districts are updating their acceptable use policies more frequently than in the past. Lloyd Brown does it every year. “With a one-to-one initiative, you have to be further ahead with your AUP and student conduct code,” argues the director of technology for Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools, where students in grades six through 12 have notebooks.
Chase Hafner goes even further. “We update our AUPs two or three times a year,” says the director of technology for Sweetwater County School District #1 in Rock Springs, Ark. “My goal is to stay current and ahead of the curve. I find that if you don’t, the AUP becomes useless and the kids are using technologies in an inappropriate way.”
Hafner includes the AUP in the student handbook but makes sure changes made during the school year are covered in various lab and library settings. “Ensuring that all 4,400 students and all parents involved have read and understood the AUP is the tricky part,” he says.
What Should Be Included?
Cassidy identifies a second challenge facing districts: An acceptable use agreement must “become more specific to the kinds of things kids are doing” and the kinds of tools they are using. As never before, AUPs must now take into consideration personal, mobile and emerging devices, along with rapidly evolving Web 2.0 applications.
“Today’s students feel disconnected when they cannot use new and emerging technologies — keeping pace keeps them engaged,” says Sweetwater’s Hafner. “We are trying to create an environment that provides guidelines for students and staff to use new technologies in a meaningful way and to embrace them.”
Rather than shut down possibilities, Hafner is “trying to create a networking and computing environment that removes traditional burdens and provides students the access and learning opportunities that will truly benefit them in the future. For example, “[We had to] lay down guidelines for Bluetooth devices — which was our attempt to stay a couple steps ahead of the kids.”
Other districts choose to tackle this question in a different manner. In the Boulder Valley (Colo.) School District, they create a document that includes a responsive posture and flexible language as the chief way to remain current.
In Boulder Valley, a new AUP doesn’t block specific devices but rather addresses student behaviors or activities. Although newer devices, whether personal or provided by the district, are clearly identified, the focus is not on notebooks, cell phones, iPods, pagers or other tools. Once again, appropriate behavior is emphasized. Applications often abused by students are clearly identified (e-mail, inappropriate Web sites, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging and podcasting), yet students are expected to be responsible when using school computer networks or personal technologies.
Boulder Valley also extends its expectations of appropriate behavior “while on or near school property, in school vehicles and at school-sponsored activities,” and includes the appropriate “use of district technology resources via off-campus remote access.” Schools are permitted to add restrictions: “Individual schools may choose to have additional rules and regulations pertaining to the use of personal, networked and communications resources in their respective buildings.”
Penalties for violating an acceptable use agreement are also changing: Moving beyond the typical consequences (ranging from loss of privileges through suspension and expulsion), Boulder Valley allows for temporarily holding or confiscating of personal technologies: “A school may temporarily hold (pending parental or same-day pick up) personal technology resources that are used inappropriately.”
Put the Focus on the Student
A question being asked by Cheyenne Mountain’s Cassidy is, “How can we focus more responsibility in the direction of the student and parent?” Increasingly, districts are bringing greater student responsibility into play. Brown addresses this issue by integrating acceptable use practices directly within the Henrico code of student conduct. Internet safety perspectives are also systematically embedded into the curriculum and parent education initiatives of his school district.
“Our curriculum supports acceptable use through a direct instruction effort: In the sixth grade, we go over dos and don’ts, and how to take care of yourself on the Internet,” Brown says. Taking the issue of responsibility one step further, Brown tries to help parents understand the issues by providing “tech tips” online (staffdev. henrico.k12.va.us/parents/internet.html). “We can’t spell everything out in the student conduct code or acceptable use policy, so we rely on parents.”
Hafner agrees and his Sweetwater district has created a healthy Internet safety emphasis to accompany its acceptable use policy. “We engage in numerous efforts to get our parents involved technologically so they can communicate with and help their children,” he explains. “From the AUP perspective, I want the parents to take a strong lead in Internet safety. We want our kids to take these practices home with them and have them reinforced in the home.” Hafner has a strategic reason for this effort: “A number of pieces in our AUP and the Internet safety part are designed to prepare our students for a one-to-one notebook initiative and a 24 x 7 world of access with a large focus on learning.”
And The Beat Goes On
Everyone knows what devices and applications have to be covered in an AUP, but here’s a list of some newer items you should consider addressing next time you update:
- Multifunction cell phones
- MP3 players
- Jamming/interference devices
- Social networks
- Social bookmarking
- Multiuser role-playing environments
- Video games