Developing a School Acceptable Use Policy
The Internet is a wide open environment that contains many helpful educational resources, but also many documents, images, and files that may not be suitable for children. To help deal with concerns about students accessing inappropriate materials, many school districts are developing and implementing acceptable use policies for their teachers, staff, and students. These policies describe what the school system deems 'acceptable use' of technology for educational purposes. These policies help protect school systems from any liability incurred by allowing students, teachers, and staff access to the variety of information on the Internet. This activity describes how to develop an acceptable use policy, suggestions for getting community support for this policy, and references to other resources available on the development and implementation of these policies.
- Learn if your school system already has an acceptable use policy for technology.
- Learn how to write an acceptable use policy for technology in your school.
- Get school board support and approval for an acceptable use policy.
- Gather local support from students, teachers, staff, and parents as you implement your acceptable use policy.
- Learn where to get additional information on acceptable use policies.
Materials and Resources
In developing our lessons and activities, we made some assumptions about the hardware and software that would be available in the classroom for teachers who visit the LETSNet Website. We assume that teachers using our Internet-based lessons or activities have a computer (PC or Macintosh) with the necessary hardware components (mouse, keyboard, and monitor) as well as software (operating system, TCP/IP software, networking or dial-up software, e-mail and a World Wide Web client program, preferably Netscape, but perhaps Mosaic or Lynx). In the section below, we specify any "special" hardware or software requirements for a lesson or activity (in addition to those described above) and the level of Internet access required to do the activity.
- Special hardware requirements: none.
- Special software requirements: none.
- Internet access: Medium-speed (28,800 BPS via phone) or High-speed (greater than 1 MBPS via network).
Bringing technology into the classroom can be a powerful, if not frightening, process. Along with all the wonderful resources available on the Internet there are some things parents and teachers may not want their children and students to experience. To help students, parents, teachers, and staff understand, engage in, and monitor wise use of the Internet, many school systems are implementing acceptable use policies (AUP) for their students and personnel. These policies lay out under what conditions access to the Internet from a school computer is acceptable and when it is not. These policies generally take the form of a written document which describes what is acceptable school use of technology.
Many communities are implementing policies that guide student, teacher, and staff use of technological resources so as to limit liability and restrict access to those resources that are deemed "appropriate" for educational use. Restricting access to resources brings up concerns of censorship. School districts need to address these concerns by thinking carefully about what they want their students to have access to, how they want to restrict access (assuming they do), and what they will do when students gain access to materials deemed inappropriate.
While each community must decide for itself what it feels is appropriate use of technology, there are many helpful resources available on the Internet that can guide the creation and implementation of an acceptable use policy for schools. In addition to the resources in the Internet Resources section below, school personnel may wish to consider the following issues when developing an acceptable use policy:
- Get broad support for any acceptable use policy. Ideally, a school board should be directly involved in establishing any acceptable use policy adopted by a school district. Since the issues around restrictions to resources are often controversial, school board members (who are elected officials) will be held accountable for whatever policy restrictions are implemented. Since popular support is key, AUPs should be drafted by teams involving board members, teachers, parents, and others in the community.
- Deal with concerns of censorship by addressing specific situations to be covered in the acceptable use policy as well as defining what the outcome of such actions might be. Characterize possible risks as you develop your AUP. Example risks might include all of the following:
- Students sending or receiving explicit sexual messages.
- Students accessing explicit content in an unsupervised situation.
- Restricting access to objectionable materials by means of software used by teachers, students, and staff.
- Student contact with questionable people.
- Objectionable student behavior.
- Destructive student behavior.
- Reflect on the impact of the AUP on the school system and student learning:
- What restrictions might be infringements on individual free speech?
- Is monitoring school e-mail messages a violation of personal privacy?
- Who is ultimately responsible for student behavior in the school?
- What legal obligations do school systems have for the behavior of their students?
- Any acceptable use policy should include the following "basic" items:
- A definition of the school districts' stance on what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate materials or resources.
- An outline of how student access will be monitored and who will ultimately be responsible for student behavior?
- A description of what restrictions and responsibilities are placed on staff?
- An outline of what responsibilities are placed on students and parents?
- One approach that may school systems use is to develop a student contract that is sent home to parents. This contract spells out the details of the responsibilities of students, parents, and the school system, and is signed by both student and parent. Included with this contract should be the AUP as well as a list of consequences associated with actions deemed inappropriate.
- Take advantage of what others have learned about drafting and implementing acceptable use policies. Visit Internet sites that have example or actual AUPs (see our list of Internet Resources below), talk with people (use e-mail or the telephone), get ideas from people who have already implemented these plans, and don't be afraid to get interested parties together to resolve issues or solve problems.
- Armadillo's acceptable use policies
An extensive set of resources on acceptable use policies at Rice University.
- ERIC's list of acceptable use resources
A list of acceptable use resources.
- GSN acceptable use policies
Another list of actual acceptable use policies at the Global SchoolNet Foundation.
- K-12 acceptable use policies
An excellent starting point by Nancy Willard at Internet Marketing Services for learning about acceptable use policies, including templates for students, employees, guests, etc.
- MO DESE Technology Network Project
The project CONNECT Website, which contains acceptable use policies (AUP's) from a variety of school systems.
- Merced County Office of Education, acceptable use policy information
An acceptable use policy at Merced County Office of Education.
- Rice acceptable use policy resources
More resources at Rice University (Gopher) on acceptable use policies.
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