When I teach the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) we begin by breaking down those three words and defining exactly what is, “acceptable,” what it means to “use,” something, and what is a, “policy.” Students give examples of things that are acceptable, i.e., walking in the halls and not running, having a pencil ready for class, and even raising your hand if you have a question and not calling out. They simply say that you can use the computer, and that a policy is like a rule. They understand the very basics of what an AUP is, and as we dive deeper into different projects, more details bubble to the surface, such as copyright laws, citations, and safe surfing on the internet. The students understand that they need to abide by the AUP or there will be certain consequences that can result, such as loss of privileges or even suspension. What is this document telling us though? Is it just an iron-clad agreement filled with legal jargon threatening to, “drop the boom,” on any student or staff member that violates it? Could it be more?
While the AUP may be the most important document a district relies on, no two may look the same. I’ve looked at four different Acceptable Use Policies, and it’s incredible how different they are. According to the National Education Association (NEA), an AUP should contain six elements to build a better document:
- Preamble. Like the Declaration of Independence, this explains why the policy is needed and who the document applies to.
- Definitions. Parents and students need clarification on what certain words or phrases mean. It could simply be clarifying what is considered a computer or references to legal documents, such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), or results of judicial matters.
- Policy Statement. This statement defines all devices and services covered by the AUP.
- Acceptable Uses. What and how is it ok to use not just devices, but the programs, files, and internet that you can access from those devices?
- Unacceptable Uses. This section outlines things that are obviously not acceptable, and may refer to federal law prohibiting such things as child pornography or anything that lacks serious literary, artistic, political, educational, or scientific value to minors.
- Violations/sanctions. What happens when you break the rules? What consequences will you face?
While the NEA suggests schools follow this format, a lot of AUPs vary in length and detail. The AUP for my school district is twenty pages. Originally adopted in 1998, it has been revised several times to incorporate new languages and technologies that have been infused over the years. It does a hefty job of outlining definitions, law references, and scenarios to cover just about any violation. I’ve compared it to three other districts and those topped out at six pages. All four said basically the same thing, the major differences coming down to how detailed the languages are, and all of them sharing the common languages that users should not have any expectation of privacy. This is always a good lesson to share with the students; the district can search our emails and files at their discretion. Things the students do can also be searched. Students should learn, especially in today’s world of social media, that if they don’t want anything ending up in court, they need to think before they act.
The topic of the Acceptable Use Policy can be a hotly contested argument. While it is true that districts need to do everything in their power to protect themselves and the students, is it being effective in teaching the students what to consider when using school devices and internet? Sylvia Martinez suggests that the AUP is just another document that goes home each fall that parents sign and send back. She suggests that it “could be an opportunity to involve parents in your vision of technology, it could be a way to communicate the passion and importance of building a learning community that values 21st century thinking, and it could be a way to help parents understand that despite, ‘To Catch a Predator,’ your school is thoughtfully using technology to benefit their child” (2008). Another forward thought stems from Steve Taffee, who poses this simple, eight word AUP: “Be mindful, act wisely, and learn from mistakes” (2010). While I’m not sure this would hold up if somebody hacked into a system and changed their grades, it’s the type of forward thinking we need to learn to expect from our students. We, meaning teachers, administrators, and parents, need to teach them more of how to be good digital citizens as opposed to continuously focusing on the consequences of a few negative actions. Our AUP clearly states that the district “provides instruction to minors on the topics of Internet Safety and appropriate online behavior,” however we have no clear cut program, at least at the elementary level, to support that. What a great opportunity to use that caveat to involve students and even parents in the discussion of what internet safety looks like.
I took a look at four different AUPs while writing this entry:
Getting Started on the Internet: Developing an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). (n.d.). Education World: The Educator’s Best Friend. Retrieved February 4, 2014, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml