Enough is enough. I think it was Clay Burrell who (via Twitter) initially pointed me towards this quotation by Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Unhappily, teachers in many UK schools (and further afield) are forced into a kind of cognitive dissonance as a result of official mobile phone bans being flouted by almost every student in the school. In fact, it’s more than that. Teachers are made to feel guilty when they encourage students to use the technology they have for learning.
Andrew Field and I had a brief Twitter conversation about this situation recently. As a result, Andrew started a thread on the EffectiveICT.co.uk Forum to discuss the issue. I’d like to bring more people (i.e. YOU) into the discussion, especially if you’ve got any links to good and forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs)!
A brief search for AUPs relating to mobile devices brings up the following problematical example:
Mobile phones must not be used during the college day, including break and lunchtimes. Phones must be switched off during the day. If any student is found using a mobile phone at any time during the college day it will be confiscated until the end of the day
Of course, one can see why this particular college, like many educational institutions, has gone down this road. They’re protecting their own back; it’s the reason why networks often blacklist sites that teachers want to use for perfectly sound pedagogical reasons.
But then, there’s the rub. As Andrew Field pointed out, if the Internet connection’s already filtered, why lock pupils out of wireless networks and the like when they’re using their own devices? He cites using an iPod touch for accessing online content through the wi-fi connection in his department. There’s no reason why I couldn’t do the same – give out the password to students.
A big stumbling block is insurance, I suppose. But then, I’m only supposing. What exactly is the legal situation? Surely if a student damages their mobile phone/MP3 player in school it’s covered by their parents’ home insurance in the same way it would be on their way to and from school? Andrew quotes the following from Halifax insurance:
For those items that are normally worn or carried in everyday day life Halifax Home Insurance offer Personal Belongings cover away from the home both in the UK and abroad. This cover complements their unlimited sum insured contents insurance* and provides cover for items such as jewellery, money, credit cards and mobile phones.**
* Inner limits apply to certain areas of contents cover, including; money restrictions, single article & high risk item limits and contents left in the open. High risk items are subject to a £2000 limit per item. Details are available within the policy and schedule.
** Aggregate limits of between £2,500 and £10,000 apply. Individual limits apply to mobile phones, money, credit cards and pedal cycles.
I wonder if there’s anyone reading this who has links with those in the industry who could give a definitive answer?
Becta provide some reasonably helpful (general) advice on the subject, stating that an AUP should not stand alone, but instead be part of a ‘safe ICT learning environment’, including:
- an infrastructure of whole-school awareness, designated responsibilities, policies and procedures
- an effective range of technological tools
- a comprehensive internet safety education programme for the whole school community.
I agree. Unhelpfully, they state that there “are many sample acceptable use policies available, both online and via local authorities, which schools can use as a basis for their own policies” – but then fail to link to any.
To their credit, however, they have a PDF document from 2006 on E-safety which could provide an excellent platform to spark a discussion within your school. It covers everything from the potential dangers of online access, to the responsibilities for those with various (already extant) roles within the organization. It’s focus, nevertheless, is on prevention of abuse rather than enabling and opening-up as much as possible!
Diagrams are powerful tools when trying to effect change. This one, from the PDF mentioned above, demonstrates a sound (if slightly conservative) process. As technologies change, so must AUPs and, most importantly, the whole organization’s response. ICT lessons, as many teachers of the subject have realised, cannot simply be focused on learning how to use Microsoft Office and the like. They need to prepare students for the 21st century online world.
We need to create responsible users of the Internet and mobile devices. Yes, there are risks. Yes, there might be financial and other costs to the school. But isn’t it worth it in the long run?