Acceptable Use policies are policies designed by educational institutions in order to both protect and enable its members. Such policies are written to ensure that members of the institution (in our case, mainly the students) are protected from a variety of potential dangers- pornography, violence, hate sites, sexual or physical harassment, cyber bullying, etc. On the other hand, they are also written in order for its members to use the extensive resources their school and the Internet has to offer, for the purpose of teaching and learning. (Consortium for School Networking Initiative, 2011)
Acceptable Use policies in different schools (or school districts) contain different procedures and regulations. The approaches schools take varies. Some use a more restrictive approach that focuses on what users should not do (in the form of site filtering and blocking), while others take on a broader approach, which includes the encouragement of users to become responsible users who make their own positive choices through their use, and are accountable for their behavior.
According to the National Education Association (as cited by the EducationWorld website), an AUP requires thoughtful research and planning, and an effective policy should contain six important elements:
- A preamble: explains why the policy is needed, its goals, and the development process.
- A definition section: ensures students and parents understand the terms used.
- A policy statement: explains what services are covered by the AUP.
- An acceptable uses section: defines appropriate use.
- An unacceptable uses section: explains explicitly what is not acceptable and how technology should not be used.
- A violations/sanctions section: details how to report violations and what the consequences for not following the guidelines are.
Let’s have a look at the following schools’ AUPs, and see how they fit with the NEA guidelines:
- Yokohama International School (Yokohama, Japan);
- Lincoln Community School (Accra, Ghana);
- International School of Bangkok (Bangkok, Thailand)- (Middle School); and,
- Xavier High School (Appleton, Wisconsin, USA).
These schools closely match the NEA guidelines; although the format is quite different from one to another- there are short and long sentences, and bullet points and paragraphs. The Yokohama RAP (Responsible User Agreement) is more comprehensive and the writers took the extra step to warn students of the implications of overuse of technology (“Proper usage of technology should never cause pain, fatigue or other physical or mental ailments.”). They also included a section on the school not taking responsibility for students’ misbehavior (such as posting inappropriate photos on Facebook).
In terms of language, the first three policies I reviewed (the international schools) were somewhat similar. The language was quite positive and seemed to be there to educate users. The main emphasis was on the responsibility and understanding of the users as “responsible digital citizens”. For example, The Lincoln School UAP states, “Digital citizens at LCS are defined as students who conscientiously contribute towards shaping a safer world through leadership, understanding and the respectful use of technology.” In contrast, the language used in Xavier High School was very punitive and almost moralistic (“The operation of the Internet relies heavily on the proper conduct of the users, who must adhere to strict guidelines. Internet access is a privilege not a right. If a user violates any of the provisions in this document, his / her account will be terminated. Some of the violations may also constitute a criminal offense and may result in legal action.”) In addition, there was no mention of using responsibly. The only section mentioning responsibility was about students and parents being held responsible for recovery costs as a result of their actions.
If I had to write an AUP for a school, I would definitely go with the more positive and encouraging approach taken by the three international schools I reviewed. I would also write two different policies- one for Primary students, and the other for Secondary students. The language used in the document must be written so that both the students and their parents understand their rights and responsibilities, as well as how to become a better digital citizen.
Consortium for School Networking Initiative. (2011). Acceptable Use Policies in the Web 2.0 and Mobile Era. Retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?tabid=8139
Education World. (n.d.). Getting started on the internet: Developing an acceptable use policy (AUP).Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr093.shtml
Lincoln Community School. (2012). Lincoln Community School Acceptable Use Policy 2012-2013. Retrieved from https://www.lincoln.edu.gh/uploaded/files/2012-2013/LCS_Acceptable_Use_Policy_AUP_sy1213.pdf
International School of Bangkok. (2011). Student Handbook 2011-2012. Retrieved from http://www.isb.ac.th/PDF/MS/MS_Student_Handbook_2011-2012.pdf
Xavier High School. (2013). Acceptable Use Policy. Retrieved from http://xavier.acesxavier.k12.wi.us/academics/library/acceptable-use-policy
Yokohama International School. (2013). Responsible Use Policy. Retrieved from http://www.yis.ac.jp/page.cfm?p=1826