Creating an acceptable use policy is an important part of any learning initiative that involves technology, be it a 1:1 program, BYOD environment, blending learning initiative, etc. Many K-12 students now own smartphones, tablets or laptop computers and if they don’t own a personal device, they most likely have access to one of the aforementioned at home. As the availability of this technology increases, students expect to have access to the same tools at school thus sparking the BYOD and 1:1 phenomenon. Prior to this “mobile revolution” personal devices were often banned from the classroom. As schools begin to realize the value mobile devices have in education, Internet and device use polices are becoming a little more relaxed. However, this is a tricky road to navigate. While you want to encourage the use of technology, you also have a responsibility to create a safe learning environment for all students. This raises a host of questions. Should you allow devices from home on your school network? Should certain websites be blocked? What role does social media play? How do you prevent Cyber bullying?
To answer these questions and to provide you with some guidance for creating your own acceptable use policy, K-12 TechDecisions spoke with Jennifer Jenson PhD, Professor of Pedagogy and Technology at York University. Jenson has been involved with technology policy and practices since the late 19990s and has worked with various school boards in Ontario and British Columbia.
TD: What are some key components of an Acceptable Use Policy?
JJ: I would argue for inclusivity in terms of networks to allow BYOD on the part of teachers and students. Some districts find that radical. I don’t think that’s radical anymore. Two, to have a clear use policy around the usual kinds of things people worry about including pornography, etc. I think we need to talk to kids about appropriate use. Three, I think we need some really clear guidelines about what constitutes bullying on and through Facebook, social media, etc.
TD: Should schools block access to certain websites like YouTube or Facebook?
JJ: I think there are two things. One, is that their [students’] networks are mostly open at home so I think blocking sites like YouTube where there are really amazing learning opportunities leaves out a media and a medium that these kids understand in terms of supporting their learning. Do I think Facebook is really appropriate to be sitting on in a classroom? No. But in terms of appropriate use, even as adults in the workplace, we don’t always use Facebook and YouTube at the appropriate times. We use it for downtime in our own cubicles so the expectation that we have on students that somehow they are going to be perfect and always follow the rules is incredibly unrealistic. What we have to do is open these things up and talk to them about what is appropriate and what’s not. That’s the key for me. If we block, block, block we have no opportunities to raise these kinds of issues.
TD: How can schools prevent cyber bullying?
JJ:I think first and foremost you have to just recognize it as bullying. A lot of this is underground. It’s stuff that people don’t talk about and don’t confess to being bullied or to bullying. I actually think one of the things that might happen if you open these resources (social media, YouTube, etc.) to use in schools is not necessarily that you’re going to see more bullying, but that you might create an opportunity for a teacher to see something and say hey what’s going on? Is this common? Are you doing it? Is it being done to you? I think we end up creating opportunities for people, in passing, to find out what’s going on.
TD: What are some common mistakes schools make when they first allow mobile devices in the classroom?
JJ: They feel like they need to maintain some kind of control. It’s interesting. The first school [district] in Ontario to open up their wireless network was in 2011 or 2012. I was at a round table where the superintendent or chief operating officer was talking about how everyone was really nervous and it was terrifying. Then they really hadn’t had a lot of trouble of any kind once they opened up their network. So I think there is a lot of fear that might be unfounded.
Two, is feeling like you have to block certain sites because as soon as you start doing that you actually start interfering with curriculum because teachers need to be able to find things. You might think certain resources need to be blocked, but they actually are appropriate in the context of whatever is being done in class.
The other thing that happens is we think student data on computers, not related to grades, (I’m talking about their homework) is really important to back up and save. We’ve had hundreds of years of kids losing their homework and I really don’t think that’s where we want to put use policies, worrying about that kind of back up system if the data doesn’t really matter. I think that’s where we get into trouble. We spend a lot of money backing things up that simply do not need to be backed up.
TD: Who should be involved in creating a use policy?
JJ: You want as many stakeholders as you can get including parents, IT staff, teachers, principals and superintendents. I would also include, if you can, someone who is doing research on technology in schools or someone who understands these things on a corporate level because they have very different ideas and might be able to provide very different solutions.
TD: What are some best practices for managing classroom technology?
JJ: The first best practice from the policy and the teacher side is the same thing. You have to let go of control. You can’t know everything and you have to be willing to have difficulty conversations. The second one is that using those types of technology [tablets, smartphones, laptops] literally changes your pedagogy and instruction. I think sometimes you can say close your laptops. Turn off your devices. We’re going to spend 20 minutes with no screens.