Towards a forward-thinking Acceptable Use Policy for mobile devices

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:

Personal Belongings
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? 🙂

Update:

Liz Kolb replied to this post via Twitter providing a handy link to some AUPs:

8 Comments

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  1. I need to confirm this with the network manager but my perspective on students not being allowed to use wireless connections at school is to do with overloading the access points.

    Wireless was installed at our school for e-registration in lessons and registrations and it is essential that access points work for this.
    Does this sound silly? I’m in two minds but am going to chat to people at school about this.

  2. I need to confirm this with the network manager but my perspective on students not being allowed to use wireless connections at school is to do with overloading the access points.

    ‘Overloading’ in what way? The data throughput of a wireless router/access point is much more than even a school’s Internet connection, so no worries on that front.

    If you mean in terms of number of operations, then potentially. However, there would have to be several classes connecting to the same access point and doing some fairly data-intensive stuff. I’d be interested what your network administrator has to say… 🙂

  3. Don’t over complicate any AUP. The more conditions the easier to find exceptions. Ask any lawyer. My AUP would be ” don’t do anything you would not tell your parents about over tea”!

  4. This debate is interesting. Teachers and the authorities want to provide a safe environment for learning and use this as the lever to ban technology they do not understand and that could be used as a tool against them. Students are comfortable with the technology and if the framework for use is integrated into the school ICT and safety use policy and the appropriate sanction imposed for misuse then mobiles should be allowed. As teachers we should welcome any tools which allow students to access learning. What educators should be concerned with is the quality of the learning content. Some say there is more learning happening before and after school than what is going on in school.
    In my view we (the educators) should go NATIVE and embrace the technology whilst providing the framework to use the technology appropriately and safely. If using a mobile phone, handheld or minibook for learning engages one student then it is worth it, that is after all what we are in the business for. Maybe asking students to take part in the acceptable use policy is worth exploring then it is their rules they are obeying.
    Mike

  5. Doug, I have for many years been pushing the use of mobile technologies in classrooms in Shropshire. This month I have hit a brick wall with a very competent head teacher when discussing their schools ICT vision document. I was keen to add mobile phones as a useful and acceptable device for educational use, the head teacher asked how they can stop students sending each other porn via bluetooth and until I can give her a solution then mobile phones will be banned from the school campus. It didn't appear to matter what I said about the educational benefits we couldn't get past the movie issue. What do you reckon, how do you move this forward?

  6. @Mike: You might be onto something there. Perhaps the school council could be involved in helping shape the AUP policy… :-)

    @Steve: Hmmm… With that particular problem, I think I'd probably have thrown it back at her in the following way. How does she prevent students trading porn magazines in school? How does she prevent grafitti around school? How does she prevent

    Pretty soon she should see the bigger picture. It's about educating students and applying school sanctions to technology in the same way they would with anything else.

  7. Technology has really advanced a lot, I wonder when my kids grow up, how things are going to be!!

  8. Nice to see the Quote by my Idol M. K. Gandhi here!

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