Technology Improves And The Internet Expands But School Acceptable Use Policies Still Lock Students Out Of The Benefits

from the an-internet-with-18-years-worth-of-training-wheels dept

Few entities approach new advances in technology with more foreboding than school administrations. What could be used as portals to a nearly-infinite supply of information via the internet is often neutered into uselessness by schools’ acceptable use policies (AUP).

Several months back, the Los Angeles Unified School District shelled out $500 million on iPads for its students. Within a week of the first deployment, the schools were already repossessing the devices. Students found that the new tool was aggressively limited by school-installed software that turned the Information Superhighway into a dark tunnel that runs from the device to the school. So, they figured out how to circumvent the built-in “protections.” And in doing so, lost access to the devices altogether.

School officials (including school resource officers [pronounced “cops”] saw the equivalent in the fall of Western Civilization contained in the students’ subversion of restrictive limitations. But rather than use the opportunity to teach or learn, they simply took the technology away.

Dangerously Irrelevant’s Scott McLeod [previously seen here discussing tech/schools], the Director of Innovation for the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Iowa, noted the following while making some early year tours of schools in Iowa. Rather than embrace the Internet and technology in general, schools put more legalistic wording into telling students how much stuff they can do wrong by using either.

In addition to such proclamations as “your use will be monitored” and “internet access is a privilege,” McLeod found that the average Acceptable Use Policy contains more things to sign off on than “buying a house.” The composite list he put together rivals the numerous unreadable Terms of Service agreements scattered across the web.

  • I understand that I am responsible for my use of the district technologies and the use of the tools is for academic and educational purposes.
  • I will practice digital citizenship by using information and technology responsibly, legally, and ethically.
  • I understand the use of the Internet and technology is a privilege and not a right; there are consequences for not adhering to the Acceptable Use Policy.
  • I will honor property rights and copyrights with information and technology.
  • I will keep my intellectual property safe by saving in specified locations, using and safeguarding passwords, and using my own account at all times.
  • I will practice personal safety by safeguarding identities while online or offline.
  • I will not participate in any form of cyber-bullying or harassment.
  • I will use technology in a respectful manner, sharing equipment and resources.
  • I will only use district-approved technology, tools, resources, and applications while on [the district’s] campuses.
  • I understand that users must use the district wireless access points; no personal or other access points should be used while on [district] campuses.
  • I understand that personally-owned devices are not allowed on district networks nor used for online access.
  • I will not attempt to use any software, utilities, applications, or other means to access Internet sites or content blocked by filters.
  • I will not capture video, audio, or pictures without the consent of all persons being recorded, their knowledge of the media’s intended use, as well as the approval of a staff member.
  • I will report any problems with the equipment, resources, or network to a teacher or administrator in a timely manner.
  • I understand that the district’s technology resources are the property of the district. I have no expectation of privacy with respect to any materials therein, and all use of district technology resources may be monitored without notice.
  • I understand that I may be responsible for any damage or loss I cause to district technology resources.
  • I have read the acceptable use policy, which [sic] are incorporated by reference herein, and agree to the stated conditions in this form as well as in the entire policy and regulations. I also agree to abide by any school technology handbook which may be applicable.
  • I understand that I am responsible for taking care of my laptop and accessories, including proper cleaning, avoiding hot and cold temperatures, and storing the laptop in the district-provided case.
  • I will not leave my laptop unattended unless it is locked in a secure place. I (or parents) may be fully responsible for the cost of replacement should my laptop become lost or stolen.
  • I understand that I (or parents) may be fully responsible for the cost of repair or replacement due to damages that occur to the laptop issued to me or damages I am responsible for on another person’s laptop.
  • I will bring the laptop to school every day and to the best of my abilities have it fully charged.
  • I will use the laptop for educational purposes and in accordance with the handbook and other applicable [district] policies, including, but not limited to, policy [ZZZ]. I will use academically-appropriate sounds, music, video, photos, games, and applications.
  • I will not attempt to use any software, utilities, applications, or other means to access Internet sites or content blocked by filters. [duplicate!]
  • I will only use the laptop’s recording capabilities for academic purposes, with consent of the participants, their knowledge of the media’s intended use, and staff approval.
  • I will report any problems with my laptop to a member of the technology staff in a timely manner. The only technology support for the [district] laptops are [sic] through the [district] technology department, not a store or technology service.
  • I understand that the district owns the laptop and has the right to collect and inspect the laptop at any time. I have no expectation of privacy in the laptop on [sic] any materials and/or content contained therein.
  • While off campus, I will abide by [district’s] policies and agreement with respect to the use of the laptop, including but not limited to the 21st century learning handbook and board policy [ZZZ].
  • I will only use public or personally-owned access points and not privately-owned points without the owner’s permission.
  • I will turn in the laptop and accessories on or before the designated day and location, or prior to my leaving the [district].
  • We have read the [district] 21st century learning handbook and policy [ZZZ] (acceptable use), which are incorporated by reference herein, and agree to the stated conditions. Questions or accommodations regarding the device would be directed to your building principals.

He’s not exaggerating much. While not every policy has all of these stipulations, a cursory search for Acceptable Use Policies finds plenty of AUPs with similar stipulations, most of which run on at length [pdf].

How does this encourage students to expand their knowledge or broaden their horizons? How can anyone learn from mistakes when all mistakes are either preempted or severely punished? Students faced with agreements like these may just decide to do all their surfing at home or anywhere else where they don’t need to get the approval of presumptive “guardians” or worry about accidentally violating the many rules governing their dumbed-down access points?

Even worse is the fact that an extensive list of “don’ts” doesn’t encourage proper behavior. The AUPs assume that any small amount of leeway will be abused. What it says to students is that the school doesn’t trust them to do anything on their own without screwing it up or using resources to do “bad” things. This sort of thing, repeated year after year throughout school, has a cumulative negative effect that strips students of the ability and willingness to make their own decisions or handle their own problems.

Yes, trust is earned, but simply signalling that you’re willing to trust sends a powerful message to students. Those who will take this opportunity to further build trust will find it very rewarding. Those who only look for loopholes will be swiftly outed by their own actions. The only difference between a restrictive AUP and an empowering AUP is this: some students will improve. The number of those abusing the system will remain roughly unchanged. Implied trust is a very powerful motivator in the right people. And those are the kind of people schools should be actively pushing towards greater things.

McLeod suggests a different type of Acceptable Use Policy — one that will encourage students to try harder, do better and become awesome people. He calls it an “Empowered Use Policy” (EUP). If nothing else, it’s a whole hell of a lot shorter.

When it comes to digital technologies in our [school / district], please…

Be empowered. Do awesome things. Share with us your ideas and what you can do. Amaze us.
Be nice. Help foster a school community that is respectful and kind.
Be smart and be safe. If you are uncertain, talk with us.
Be careful and gentle. Our resources are limited. Help us take care of our devices and networks.

There’s no shortage of micromanagers in the world. Let’s not keep giving them a reason to exist by sending them wave after wave of graduates who can only function when someone else is in control of every aspect of their activities.

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Comments on “Technology Improves And The Internet Expands But School Acceptable Use Policies Still Lock Students Out Of The Benefits”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Fastest way to get a kids to do something, tell them not to do it.
One would think given the VERY long history of these types of policies trying to regulate all sorts of things all ending with the same results, someone might have a clue.

The lesson the kids have learned is that those in charge are afraid of them knowing things, of having independent thoughts, of gaining knowledge without the tsking over the shoulder about how they shouldn’t.
Some are taught to kowtow to authority, accept the limited box they are allowed to inhabit and when the walls are moved in smile and nod and accept it without question.
Some see right through the fear of those in power, fear of unfettered knowledge. Fear of someone who will learn that they are not what the authority tells them they have to be. That the lessons they were supposed to learn were not reading, ‘riting, ‘rythmatic but to accept the bit into their mouth and have their spirits broken.

Run free, do not be hobbled by these shackles.
The world is greater than you dare imagine, and you can make your own place in it… not just the cookie cutter shape they want to shove you through.

They fear you. They fear you knowing the truth. Go, find your truth and remember that they can try to block the path you see, but there are other paths that lead beyond these petty small minded roadblocks. Blaze your own trails, not just the boring circle of the carousel.

I really really need to stop mixing metaphors in the wee hours.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Perhaps then making the parents assume the job of being parents rather than piling on the kids would be the better play.
Sign here and its not our fault if your kid sees a breast.
Sign here and your child is your responsibility.

And while the parents are a problem, given how many stupid administrator stories we’ve seen the entire thing is broken and needs a revamp.

Step 1 make parents be parents and do not let them abdicate the job to the system to handle for them until they think they can get paid.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Extremely astute analysis

Very well written article, particularly since this is not a popular trending topic. Great links and resources to support the points and conclusion. This is yet another stellar (daily!) reminder of why the very first site I read every day is Techdirt and why I’ve been a member since I first started reading.

Keep it up (and thank you!)

Tucson AZ

Anonymous Coward says:

It is not just high schools

So my nephew has a MS Surface Pro 3 armed with MS Office including OneNote. He takes it to his community college class instead of a notebook to attempt to go paperless. But his teachers ban the use of computers, tablets and smartphones in class because they are afraid the students will surf the web, post to Facebook, etc. So how is it that an institution of higher learning bans technology? Deal with the abusers if you have to, but let the kids who want to learn, learn.

I am trying to teach him technology as computers and technology are affecting every aspect of work and home life these days. Even factory works are using more and more technology. I want him to learn to use the Surface Pro to do more than just consume, I want him to learn to create. Create content, take notes, edit video, be productive. Don’t just watch and read, create something. But the college is not helping.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: It is not just high schools

Believe it or not I’m with the professors on this one; first off, sitting behind the guy who is playing games on his laptop is distracting; if you can see his screen, you keep catching weird lights and movement out of the corner of your eye.

Also, honestly, for the most part paper note-taking is nearly as efficient. Recording the lecture would probably be a more efficient use of technology in the classroom.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re:


What I found deeply fascinating about those articles about the school district giving the students iPads is that none of them actually identified the goal of the program.

An iPad is a fairly niche tool; it’s outright bad for writing papers, it seems ok for doing creative work like art projects and as an e-reader, and it’s best at allowing students to browse the internet in search of research materials.

So why wouldn’t the district let students do that? If students are only supposed to use approved textbooks and sites, did the district just spend a half billion dollars to give students lighter text-books?

I mean, isn’t giving out iPads with these restrictions a bit like giving students bicycles, and then telling them they can only ride them on school property?

What was the ipad handout supposed to accomplish, and was that program really the best use for that half-billion dollars? Last I checked, I couldn’t find anything resembling an answer to these questions.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

I will not capture video, audio, or pictures without the consent of all persons being recorded, their knowledge of the media’s intended use, as well as the approval of a staff member.

Does that not come off to anybody else as a way to protect a staff member from a potentially embarrassing video from being taken?
Also many of these seem redundant or at the very least should be combined into one point. Almost as if the person creating this didn’t actually think this through only haphazardly made additions after the fact…

Daniel J (profile) says:

Re: Video consent

It’s actually meant to keep kids from videoing in the locker room and posting vids of the fat kids getting changed to youtube. Or setting up bully pranks and recording them, or taking pictures in the bathroom. Kids aren’t well known for their impulse control and good decision making abilities.

As for the multiple points saying the same thing, the article says its a composite list. Either Scott, or the Techdirt editors, needs to prune out redundancies. It looks like “padding” and gives people an opening to discredit their point.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Our school board is the same. It requires students and parents to sign an acceptable use policy document for devices such as iPads or Chromebooks or using computers in a school.

Our oldest son has special needs. He had difficulty controlling urges and so we couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t violate the policy. So we sent the form back unsigned. Didn’t stop him from using computers.

Ninja (profile) says:

When it comes to digital technologies in our [school / district], please…

Be empowered. Do awesome things. Share with us your ideas and what you can do. Amaze us.
Be nice. Help foster a school community that is respectful and kind.
Be smart and be safe. If you are uncertain, talk with us.
Be careful and gentle. Our resources are limited. Help us take care of our devices and networks.

Well, tbh the day I see such advanced thinking in school administrations will be the day I stockpile resources and go to my bunker to wait the zombie apocalypse.

However if I ever end up in such position or owning a school you bet this will be my A/EUP.

Anonymous Coward says:

But wait, there's more!

30 bullet points is already long, but that isn’t the end of it. There is also a “21st century learning handbook and policy”, “acceptable use policy”, and “school technology handbook” referenced by the bullet points.

“which are incorporated by reference herein”

Oh, that explains it. The policy was probably entirely written by the district lawyer. Would it kill them to use language students can understand?

Daniel J (profile) says:

This article fails to mention that these policies are largely in place due to Federal requirements placed on school systems. The Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires strenuous internet filtering and puts the onus on the schools if children see questionable content.

Combine that with the fact that teenagers don’t always make good decisions and need DO NOT spelled out for them, and the fact that this equipment can be pretty expensive to replace, and you get long AUP’s that seem onerous and are generally just systems trying to protect their funding, and themselves from being sued by parents.

Anonymous Coward says:

This brings me back

A high school I was at Junior and Senior year, they had school provided laptops that were similarly locked down and bound under an acceptable use policy.

Since I was unable to get some programs installed to help me with my schoolwork, I set installed them on a computer in my home’s basement with vnc software, which I then connected to from the school laptop (it already had the vnc software on it), while making sure I completely followed every clause in their Acceptable Use Policy.

Wanna know how they got around it? They arbitrarily called it “hacking” (cracking) and thus sufficient cause to revoke all computer privileges, even though it involved nothing of the sort. “Hacking [cracking] is what I say it it” (actual quote)

It goes to show how people who are determined enough to punish/make an example out of someone may completely disregard frivolous things such as “facts” or the “actual definition” of a word (or even the “definition” of a different word that was meant to be used).

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