Like the ever changing technology that is quickly permeating classrooms across the nation, so too are the policies governing the use of that technology changing. Past practices in developing an acceptable use policy (AUP) for a district’s information and communications technologies (ICT) have been more top-down in approach: “a school official such as the chief technological office, a cabinet member, or legal counsel working alone, or with one or two others” (Consortium of Schools Networking Initiative, 2011). However, a shift away from this practice towards a more inclusive development that includes relevant parties such as teachers, students, parents, and upper-level district personnel working collaboratively to development an AUP that has more potential for acceptance “from those who are affected by the policy” most, is gaining in momentum (Consortium of Schools Networking Initiative).
The purpose of a good AUP is to both protect students from unnecessary harm as well as to provide them with “access to the extensive resources on the Internet for learning and teaching” (Consortium of Schools Networking Initiative). Even if such policies were not dictated by the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000, many schools and school districts, particularly at the elementary level, would probably still be blocking upsetting and inappropriate sites like those that contain pornography or excessive violence. Education World (n.d.) suggests that a well-organized and clear AUP will contain six parts: preamble, definitions, policy statement, acceptable uses, unacceptable uses, and violations/sanctions. Furthermore, Lepion (2012), and the multitude of collaborators on the crowdsourced example of a social media policy, suggests including a “Personal Safety” section that encourages students to step forward if they have any concerns for the safety of them self or others that have arisen from interactions with ICT. Of course, every district should document through signature or other means that the AUP has been given to students and parents.
More important than having a clear and responsible AUP is having a specific clause in the AUP that states it will be reviewed and revised as issues arise or technologies change. Also allowing for different entities within the district like elementary, middle, and secondary schools to develop and implement their own procedural guidelines on the implementation of the policy is also a good idea. No two schools are alike or the students within them. It is important to maintain procedural control at a building level so “modifications can be made in a timely manner – often without board action” to ensure smooth use of technology in the building (Consortium of Schools Networking Initiative, 2011). For example, the new frontier of technology integration in education is, of course, the student owned portable or hand-held device. AUPs should be inclusive to this new use of technology without giving students free reign to abuse it. This is where procedural control at the building level is key. All out bans of portable devices will soon be policies of past generations, simply because “many parents have protested such rules, as they feel safer when their kids have mobile phones” (Masnick, 2009).
A review of AUPs of educational institutions in Pennsylvania yielded interesting results. I reviewed to local high schools with vastly different sizes in population: Central Dauphin School District and a neighboring school district, Steelton-HIghspire School District. I also research the AUPs of 2 Pennsylvanian Universities: Shippensburg University, a medium-size public university and Penn State University, a large state-affiliated university with multiple campuses across the state.
Central Dauphin is an impressively large school district in the state of Pennsylvania operating two high schools, four middle schools, and thirteen separate elementary schools. Its Technology policies are vast and complicated. Their technology links provide students and parents with over 30 different policies and procedures for everything imaginable from changing a password to properly saving or disposing of files. An additional and separate link is provided for a copy of the official AUP. Included in Central Dauphin’s technology links is a bring your own device (BYOD) page with a list of what appears to be troubleshooting or frequently asked questions list. However, despite having the BYOD page online, the school district is not currently allowing teachers or students to participate in the program yet.
Steelton-Highspire School District could not contrast more with Central Dauphin. It is a small district boasting only one elementary and one secondary school for students grades 7-12. Both schools reside on the same campus. Steelton-Highspire has no official AUP posted on their website, but does have a cyberbullying policy in line with the state regulations of Pennsylvania. I find this lack of AUP fascinating as Steelton-Highspire provides a link on their website explaining that they were part of the Classrooms for the Future grant, which was used in Pennsylvania to provide schools with large quantities of technology for the classroom including Smart Boards and laptops.
Shippensburg University has a short AUP that was more of a disclaimer than a policy dictating acceptable practices. It appeared to warn the students they were responsible for all damage or inconvenience that could arise from use of a university computer or access to the university network. It continued to warn the students that the University would not be held responsible for a lack of service or a problem arising from a device or network failure. Uniquely, the university did have a special section devoted to the use of online gaming by the students. The AUP merely stated that the university did not reserve server space or allocate additional resources to this activity.
Penn State’s AUP was more difficult to identify. Due to the vast size and nature of an organization like Penn State University it appears they operate under one guiding document, a manual of general policies and rules. Then each individual campus as well as individual colleges (College of Education or College of Chemistry, for example) can create their own more stringent AUPs. Penn State’s general guideline for computer use took up a little less than the whole of page fourteen. It dealt mainly with respect of shared property as well as intellectual property. It set a general tone that students would be respectful at all times while maintaining an academic use of the computers.
Central Dauphin School District (n.d.). Policies & Procedures. Central Dauphin School District. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.cdschools.org/domain/61
Central Dauphin School District (n.d.). Safe Connect (BYOD). Central Dauphin School District. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.cdschools.org/domain/1464
Steelton-Highspire School District (2008, October 6). Classrooms For the Future. Steelton-Highspire School District. Retrieved February 8 , 2013, from http://www.shsd.k12.pa.us/domain/341
Steelton-Highspire School District (2012, June 11). Policy # 249 Bullying Cyberbullying.Steelton-Highspire School District. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.shsd.k12.pa.us/Page/3307
Penn State University (n.d.). Student Guide to General University Policies and Rules. Penn State University. Retrieved February 8, 2012, from http://studentaffairs.psu.edu/conduct/pdf/PoliciesRules.PDF.
Shippensburg Universtity (n.d.). Shippensburg University Network Acceptable Use Policy.Shippensburg University. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.ship.edu/ITS/Helpdesk/Student/Shippensburg_University_Network_Acceptable_Use_Policy
Consortium of Schools Networking Initiative (2011, September 13). Web 2.0/Mobile AUP Guide. Participatory Learning, Leadership & Policy: A CoSN Leadership Initiative. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?tabid=8139
Education World (n.d.). Getting Started on the Internet: Developing an Acceptable Use Policies. Education World. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml
Lepion, K. (2012, June 11). Crowdsourced School Social Media Policy Now Available. Edudemic. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://edudemic.com/2012/06/school-social-media-policy/
Masnick, B. (2009, February 16). Bill Introduced In Pennsylvania To Ban All Portable Gadgets In School | Techdirt. Techdirt. Retrieved February 8, 2013, from http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090213/1835443768.shtml