There are federal and state regulations for internet safety in schools. However, school districts must develop their own Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) to further define the loose structure set by federal and state laws. Your school district has an established AUP, but is it up-to-date? These five questions will help you revisit and revise your AUP.
Responsible Use Policies vs. Acceptable Use Policies: What’s the Difference?
According to a guide published by the Consortium for School Networking, some school districts no longer use the term “Acceptable Use Policies.” Instead, they use the term “Responsible Use Policies.” The change in wording from “acceptable” to “responsible” in turn changes the title’s connotation. The term “Acceptable Use Policies” covers what behavior the students should not engage in. On the other hand, “Responsible Use Policies” focus on teaching students what to do in order to be responsible digital citizens. While this may not seem like a huge change, it puts a more positive spin on the relationship between students and technology.
To learn more about digital citizenship, check out this LearnSafe post.
When’s the Right Time to Update Your District’s AUP?
Technology evolves quickly, so there’s no right answer as to when to update a district’s AUPs. For instance, now that it’s common for students to bring in their own handheld devices, many schools need to update AUPs that only involve laptops on the school’s wifi. Several of these devices can operate outside of the school’s wifi, which means that students can access blocked websites on campus. Students need to fully understand what content is off-limit while at school and what content is seen as inappropriate at all times.
Do Students Understand the Policy?
In updating the policies, be aware of what kind of language you use. You want students to be able to read the policies themselves. AUPs should be discussed in schools through seminars or assemblies. While these conversations are important, students should also be able to read the policies on their own. Students are an important stakeholder in AUPs, so the policies need to be approachable. You want students to care about their education and the policies that govern them. An excellent way to encourage student investment in AUPs is giving them the chance to review the material and voice their opinions. They know the most about technology, so giving students a voice when writing AUPs can be helpful to the administration.
Does Your Policy Include New Media and New Terminology?
It is the best practice to revisit the AUPs every few years to update policies to keep up with new media. Also, if there is a rise of a new problem because of new media, the policies require immediate revision. For example, when the term “catfishing” became popular, it was important to educate students that an online profile might not accurately reflect the person behind it. It was also important to teach how detrimental it could be to for students to engage in “catfishing.” Catfishing caused a spike in bullying, thanks to anonymity. If you wait to update AUPs until after fads like “catfishing” become a major issue, you could be putting students at risk. It is best to stay on the front of new issues by regularly revisiting and revising your current AUPs.
Does Your Policy Protect Against Misinformation?
The risk of cyber-predators and cyberbullies are often the center of internet safety discussions. While this is important, other risks on the internet aren’t given as much attention. The internet is a vast resource of information, but, unfortunately, a lot of that information isn’t reliable. AUPs need to also focus on teaching students the dangers of misinformation. Students will need to understand the difference between blogs, articles, surveys, studies, reports and more. This is a life skill that will undoubtedly resurface in the future, whether in college or in their careers.
Obviously, there is no single answer to how technology should be used in schools, which is why each school district has its own AUPs. Consider your students, current internet fads and social media when revising and implementing your district’s AUPs or RUPs.
Text by Katherine Polcari