Photo by: Professor Mark J. Perry’s Blog for Economics and Finance

I’m at the airport and a man wants to borrow my pencil.  The simplest logic would tell me that he needs to write something, so I lend the pencil with no questions asked.  The man gets up and goes to the bathroom and is soon out of sight; the last I saw him, my pencil was in his hand.  Suddenly, I am more curious why he wanted to borrow my pencil.  My first thought is, “Will I ever see my pencil again?”.  Then, I begin to imagine why the man would need my pencil in the bathroom.  My thoughts are now out of control and more dark in nature.  Perhaps it’s unsanitary what he is doing with my pencil, or even darker; what if he is a hit man that is taking somebody out and my pencil is the instrument of choice.  Oh Lordy!  What have I done!  Now I’m too afraid to enter the bathroom to soothe my curiosity, so I wait.  Eventually, the man comes out, walks up to me, and extends his hand with a thank you.  I notice that the pencil is much shorter, the eraser has been chewed off, and it is wet.  Now let me ask you, would you take the pencil back?

This is not a true account and no pencils were harmed in the telling of this story, nonetheless, it does provide a good introduction for discussing acceptable use policies.  Usually there are no risks involved in lending someone a pencil, but as this analogy attempts to demonstrate, that even something as simple as a pencil can be used in less than desirable ways or even cause danger if not used properly.  Pencils can easily be replaced, but when the stakes are higher, more consideration should be taken to establish an acceptable use agreement.  The more obvious point would be not to lend expensive computer equipment as easily as you would lend a pencil, but the acceptable use policy must extend to the appropriate ways to use the equipment as well as the internet service provided.  In the same way that a pencil can be used in an unclean or dangerous way, technology devices and the internet can also be used inappropriately.  As a tool, there are limitless ways the devices and the internet can be used for good, but crafty are those that also use them for bad.  Therefore, an acceptable use policy must account for the proper treatment and use of the technology devices and services, yet it should be clear and concise and more practical for common student understanding.

My teaching experience in the USA has been limited to younger students, often still naive to the virtual evils.  In addition, we worked in a closed laboratory environment, where my presence was constant, the school network already screened most sites, and the students did not have online communication with each other.  Yes, there was an acceptable use policy, but it was not as relevant to them, as long as they weren’t hitting the computers.  Now, I work internationally in a private school, where the majority of the student population has their own equipment.  There really is no acceptable use policy in place.  I required students to sign a contract before bringing their laptops to schools.  Now that students will be communicating with other students online, I made sure that they respond to my message, that they understand anything they post can be shown to teachers, administrators, and parents.  Students don’t connect by mobiles to the router, but many of them have 3G or 4G access.

Most resources approach the  subject of acceptable use policies (AUPs) by referring to the behaviors and risks involved in online activity, rather than the actual treatment of the computer.  According to Education World, the National Education Association recommends including two sections for both an acceptable use and unacceptable use, which specifically indicates behaviors related to online activity.

Also, there does not seem to be a consistent approach to how schools word the policy.  “Student AUPs vary greatly in tone, a review of about one dozen documents online shows. Some are student-friendly and warm, with clearly defined terms. Others sound cold, legalistic and sometimes vaguely threatening.” (Education World, 2012).  Perhaps some of the institutions consider the legal risk more than the students’ ability to comprehend, so they might draft something more like a legal document.  On the other hand, some institutions value the students understanding and will make an AUP to accommodate them.

The following links are acceptable use policies from different high schools.

Saint Francis High School:  This policy has a lot of common statements that would appear in a policy for students in my school, because they value moral conduct based in religious teachings.

Ulysses S. Grant High School:  This school is a specialty school that focuses on technology and communication.  Nonetheless, their acceptable use policy is not very wordy and states expectations directly.

Nashoba Regional High School: This looks to be a poorer example of an acceptable use policy, as the purpose and expectations are not clearly stated from the beginning.  In addition, the site outsources much of their information and standards by putting links.  The information available in these links may be good, but it does not help to clearly define an acceptable use policy for their school.

Parramatta Marist High School: This is another poor example as the acceptable use policy looks more like a legal document that lawyers would chew on, rather that something that students can use and understand as a practical guide.

Reference:

Education World: Getting Started on the Internet: Developing an Acceptable Us… (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2012, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml
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