Acceptable Use Policies

As this assignment began, this author viewed Acceptable Use Policies as the high school Internet variant of trampoline disclaimers. “AUPs outline what students are allowed to do with technology” (Ahn, Bivona, & DiScala, 2011, p. 4). Truly the obvious could be handled with the Golden Rule. However, is that enough? Are there requirements for a school’s AUP? Barring the Federal and State requirements not necessarily pertinent in a boarding school environment, a well-written AUP needs to contain the school’s purpose for providing the network, ethical use and restraint, delineation of privilege, Netiquette, examples of how inappropriate use is defined, how/when to report issues, system requirements, warranty (think trampoline here), expectation of privacy, and security/vandalism.

It is necessary to pause for a moment and qualify the schools and their AUPs listed in this post. Independent schools are not required to post E-Rate or CIPA, The Children’s Internet Protection Act, information. “The e-rate or ‘education rate’ program is part of a set of universal service initiatives targeted at low income subscribers, high cost areas, rural health care providers, schools and libraries mandated by Congress in the 1996 Telecommunications Act with the intent to bridge the gaps in telecommunications, technology and Internet access between rich and poor communities in the US” (Jayakar, 2004, p. 37). This US government program helps to bridge the digital divide. However, funds are tied to CIPA. An eligible school must certify that blocks and devices are in place in the network to prevent a child from accessing pornography. Thus, many AUPs for public schools address this focal point as funding for their Internet depends upon compliance. Since the vast majority of boarding schools are tuition and endowment funded, and not eligible for the E-Rate federal funds, their services are not E-Rate or CIPA compliant.

AUPs provide an envelope within which students can access and utilize technology at a given institution. This outline or envelope is necessary in today’s litigious educational landscape. One of the most detailed in envelope description was The Forman School, a 9-12 boarding school in Litchfield, CT. The focus of this school is students who learn differently. The only students who do not have a learning difference are children of faculty. As my former employer, it is pleasing to see the depth of information offered to both parent and student. The system information was clear. Forman even addresses device use and forbids their use as hotspots to provide wi-fi outside the Forman network. What is missing however, is the reason and purpose for the school to offer access in the first place – at no point is collaboration, research, communication within or to educational institutions nor the unique ability to access resources broached. “Education is a future-facing activity” (Facer & Sandford, 2010, p. 74). Stating the purpose elevates all involved and sets sights on the mission rather than the rules.

Wasatch Academy offers a learning center and attracts students who learn differently, though that population is not their sole focus. It is a 9-12 boarding school in Mount Pleasant, Utah. Wasatch Academy’s AUP again focuses on the privilege of Internet use. There is no mention of the true purpose of having Internet in an educational setting. There is mention that use should align with “the purposes, goals and policies of Wasatch Academy.” The statement continues spelling out what one cannot do and what one cannot hold the school accountable for. Again, the trampoline disclaimer comes to mind.

St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury, VT is a 9-12 boarding and day school. It is a rigorous school with a diverse population. The AUP starts by addressing positive uses for their network in support of the mission of teaching and research. The leading paragraph continues by addressing excellence, sharing, innovation and communication. But that paragraph ends quickly and moves to address the myriad of disclaimers the school deems necessary in a modern environment. Again, the stress is that the network access is a privilege not a right, privacy is not an expectation and the school has ultimate authority. Device use is at the discretion of the individual classroom teachers and forbidden outside specific educational uses. Although the AUP starts in a positive fashion, it quickly follows the two previous AUPs into trampoline land.

Salisbury School is also a 9-12 boarding school located geographically close to Forman. Salisbury is renowned for its academic rigor. Their AUP reflects a forward thinking mindset. Although quite detailed as well, Salisbury School’s AUP starts with a positive explanation of purpose. It quickly moves to explain the Internet and use is a privilege and not a right. “Within a few years, access to the Internet may be perceived by the public as a basic resource for both educators and learners” (Flowers, 2010, p. 363). Additionally, the Salisbury School identifies the Headmaster and the Academic Technology Director as having final decisions with regard to privacy and privilege. Flowers also cautions that actions such as this “with or without just cause may be considered an infringement on individual privacy” (2010, p. 363). Strategic use of expanding paragraphs leaves the primary focus on the purpose and who is in charge on the Salisbury School’s AUP. This creative approach makes one feel forward thinkers who wanted to leave a positive impression designed the AUP. It contains the essential elements listed above and leaves space for device development and future network growth. The expectations are clear and the envelope sealed.

Ahn, Bivona, and Scala seem to target what makes a powerful AUP. Placing literacy skills ahead of computing in the AUP language by drafting a path to promote said literacy one creates a horse of a different color. This new policy “highlights information literacy development and allows room to value student uses of social media. Students who create and share school video projects on YouTube are developing media creation, communication and lifelong learning skills” (2011, p. 5). The rise in social media, the change in student access as the school is no longer the Internet gatekeeper and Web 2.0 tools demand that we keep pace. AUPs cannot be so restrictive that creative opportunities are lost as we are afraid to deal with them. The challenge seems to be an ever changing and growing envelope. Challenge accepted.

References:

Ahn, J., Bivona, L. K., & DiScala, J. (2011). Social media access in K-12 schools: Intractable policy controversies in an evolving world. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 48(1), 1–10. doi:10.1002/meet.2011.14504801044

Facer, K. R., & Sandford R., (2010). The next 25 years?: Future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 74-93.

Flowers, B. C. (2000). Analyses of acceptable use policies regarding the Internet in selected K-12 schools. Journal Of Research On Computing In Education, 32(3), 351.

Jayakar, K. P. (January 01, 2004). Reforming the e-rate. Info – the Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, 6, 1, 37-51.

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