A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Towards a Forward-Thinking Acceptable Use Policy for Mobile Devices. To avoid repeating myself, a lot of what I’m going to say here builds upon that post. As a result, you may want to read that first before you start here – or at least remind yourself of it! :-p
No-one ever works in a vacuum, and I don’t think anyone in the history of the world can claim to have had a truly ‘original’ idea. At least not in terms of being the sole agent involved with the idea from scratch. With that in mind, there must have been something brewing in the edublogosphere, as the week after my post seminal blogger David Warlick posted his AUP 2.0. In it, he introduced his School AUP 2.0 wiki, a fantastic resource for anyone wanting/needing to grapple with these issues.
Writing policy documents may seem like a boring or even pointless job, but an up-to-date and meaningful Acceptable Use Policy is crucial to, and underpins, everything we do in terms of educational technology. I’ve mentioned before how my school, like most schools in the UK, has a policy that outright bans students from having their mobile phones in school. Yet, all of them do, and use them blatantly in front of teachers at break and lunchtimes. Some, like myself, have even encouraged students to use their mobile devices for learning: SMS updates from Google Calendar and Twitter, for instance, taking digital pictures instead of writing down homework, or podcasts and revision videos on their MP3/MP4 players.
Such discrepancies are dangerous. It means that the teacher is not protected if anything goes wrong. That’s fine for me, with my gung-ho attitude towards authority and copyright legislation, but less so for the ‘average’ teacher who is already cautious about the benefits of using educational technology. We need to say what is acceptable and what is not in this Web 2.0, digitally-connected world. Students, as teenagers, don’t live in what most adults would call the ‘real world’ anymore; it’s a blended digital/physical world with no hard-and-fast distinctions. Heck, even I don’t live in the ‘real world’. Reality is socially constructed. :-p
It may not be possible to actually keep an AUP up-to-date about specific policies. Realistically, these things are only revisited once or twice a year at an absolute maximum. I know of some schools who have the same AUP from about 1994… 😮
So, instead of a set of hard-and-fast rules, we need guidelines. I really liked the idea Pamela Livingston shared in the comments section here of a post on Classroom 2.0. She reports that her school came up with the acronym ‘LARK’:
I think that’s a fantastic starting point, and a base from which few AUP’s could really go wrong. It reminds me of Sunday School, about putting what you’re going to say through the various seives of being loving, kind… anyway – I digress! 😉
Earlier I mentioned that some schools haven’t updated their AUP’s since the early 90’s. That’s not to say that what they came up with then is completely irrelevant; it just needs updating and tweaking to reflect 2008 and beyond. Take, for instance, Dave Kinnaman’s 1995 essay (with lots of links!) entitled Critiquing Acceptable Use Policies. Kinnaman has updated this over the years to reflect the changing nature of schools and the digital world. He starts it off with a great quotation from Howard Rheingold:
This technological shock to our moral codes means that in the future, we are going to have to teach our children well.
Which is exactly how it should be: any AUP worth it’s salt should begin with what the educational instution is doing to educate the youngsters in it’s charge about such matters.
Dave Warlick’s wiki is probably the best place these days to go to look for sample AUP’s, as it pulls in tagged links from del.icio.us, diigo, etc. You could also try here. Every AUP must appropriately balance those things common to all Internet and educational technology users, and those things that are specific to the context of that particular educational institution and it’s members. I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to grab something that works for one school, college or university and expect it to just ‘work’ with yours; the AUP must be tailored to your specific situation.
At the end of the day, AUP 2.0 must be more a manifesto of what we want to achieve with educational technology than be about what we want to restrict and block. There are obviously websites, services and practices we want to ban outright – pornographic, violent and racist sites, for instance. Children cannot cope with the same things adults can. But it should still be the guiding principle of an AUP to allow as much as possible, used in an acceptable way as possible. Blocking things because of their ‘potential’ to be used inappropriately (Twitter? Bebo? YouTube?) is to avoid the issue and to abdicate our responsibility as educators in institutions that are supposedly about learning.
The AUP 2.0 for my school will hopefully follow in the near future. I need to persuade the Senior Management, governors and, indeed, staff that it needs to be revisited first! 😮
Image credit: Don’t Stop Questioning by contrapositively, Traffic Light Tree by Squirmelia & T-092-0197 by yanyanyanyanyan – all @ Flickr