Mobile Computing | Q&A

A Better Approach to AUPs for Mobile Devices: 5 Questions with Anthony Luscre

Anthony Luscre: "One of the problems I've seen is that the district will have a good AUP, but there's no consistency among staff members about how they apply that AUP within their own classes."

One of the keys to a successful school mobile learning program is the acceptable use policy. But according to Anthony Luscre, director of technology for Mogadore Local Schools in Ohio, the AUP alone may not be enough.

Luscre--also a consultant who helps schools develop their practices and policies regarding student use of mobile devices--explained that the pace of technological development has exceeded the ability of some schools to respond. And AUPs can be both cumbersome and ineffective, leading some districts to stick with old and overly restrictive policies, sometimes to the extent that they ban whole classes of devices outright.

Luscre explained that an effective approach to the AUP involves building not just awareness, but understanding among faculty, staff, students, and parents; demanding consistency when it comes to enforcement; and supplementing the AUP with more agile practices, such as concise, less formal rules that are posted throughout the school to remind students of what's expected of them when they're entrusted with powerful technologies.

Luscre will be speaking at three sessions on these topics at the FETC 2011 conference, being held Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, 2011 in Florida: " OMG, I CNT BLIEV WE R REALLY GTTNG 2 DO THS IN SKUL," " ECDs in Education: The Good, Bad and Ugly of Cell Phones, BlackBerries, iPads and More," and " A Hitchhiker's Guide to Using the Internet: The Synopsis."

THE Journal: It seems a little crazy right now. Some schools require students to bring electronic devices; others will suspend students for bringing them. Why is there such chaos about this topic right now?

Anthony Luscre: Technology innovations have been moving at a very rapid pace, one that often exceeds schools' abilities to react to the changes. The manufacturer and service providers drive much of the technology innovation, and there's little consistency in their offerings, which makes it harder for schools to adopt new technology. One of the other things is a question of whether the devices are going to be used for private use or for educational purposes in the classroom.

While it's easier just to say no to ECDs, it's important that school administrators and teachers realize that teens have a very large pent-up demand to use these types of devices because they practice using them almost continuously throughout the day.... When you tell a student, "No, you can't look up something online," or, "No, you can't text," they feel like the skills they're developing aren't valued.

Teachers must be aware of student demand to use their everyday practices such as texting, videos, and social networking. I am providing a session at FETC to encourage classroom teachers to harness these everyday student technology skills. I discuss how to capture these skills to improve student learning. That includes using texting to improve student composition; Twitter for haiku and other poetry; book reports by wiki; Google Earth for virtual field trips; eBay for economics; and iPhone apps development for creative thinking, problem solving, and math.

The other thing causing that chaos is that all school districts are at different comfort levels with new technologies. In addition, they have a track history of various incidents that may or may not bode positive for the use of ECDs. If there's been an issue involving sexting, they're much more hesitant to want to open themselves up to potential liabilities and problems with parents.

THE Journal: So what needs to be in place before a school or a district can decide whether or not to allow students to bring personal devices onto campus?

Luscre: The first steps necessary are having a good [acceptable use policy] (AUP) and a consistent building-wide approach to discipline with regards to ECDs. One of the problems I've seen is that the district will have a good AUP, but there's no consistency among staff members about how they apply that AUP within their own classes. That causes a lot of issues. If teacher A is allowing use and teacher B is not, then students say, "We're allowed to do it in teacher A's class; why can't I do it in your class? If I'm allowed to do it in one place, why am I not allowed to do it in other places?"

The school also needs to decide whether the use of these devices will simply be personal or used as a learning tool. If the latter is true, they will also need a curriculum plan and course of study that incorporates these tools into existing classes and an ongoing and dynamic professional development program to assist classroom teachers in this process. The other thing is, teachers need to network with other teachers who have integrated them into the classroom. Until you have cases of positive use, it's hard to justify the time and effort involved.

THE Journal: Name something that most acceptable user policies are leaving out but shouldn't.

Luscre: Most schools are actually missing a scope of coverage, one of the most important features for all AUPs and an essential for ECDs. When AUPs were first introduced, the only devices available were district computers, so it was just assumed what the AUP covered. Today we have personal laptops, smart phones, iPads, and cloud-based services available from both school and home. Your AUP needs a scope of coverage that identifies all of these categories. For example if your students are using Google Apps on a school account, they need to know that the AUP covers that both at school and at home. With the proliferation of cameras in devices, the scope of coverage needs to discuss those aspects of things.

THE Journal: Do acceptable use policies need to be different for schools where personal devices are allowed versus schools where it's only school equipment being used?

Luscre: If you have a well written scope of coverage, it'll go a long way to making an AUP work, whether you choose to use devices in the classroom or not. The scope of coverage is one of the most important things in the AUP, and I'd say that 10 [percent] to 20 percent of schools have one.

THE Journal: Once the district has an acceptable use policy in place, how do you advise getting those rules off of the Web page where they're posted and out into the real world where they apply?

Luscre: I recommend a three-pronged approach. First, school staff needs to know and understand the district AUP and any building-specific rules governing technology use. Administrators of each building need to establish clear and consistent building-wide enforcement of these policies. I know new teachers hardly ever get a copy of the AUP to read as part of orientation. Most districts don't discuss this with their staff at all. That's one of the important things. Teachers need to know how exactly the policy is being applied in their building.

Second is education of the students. Traditionally teachers have started the school year reviewing classroom rules such as gum chewing, talking, etc. This is where the dialog about the AUP needs to be added. It should be seen as any other classroom rule.

Because AUPs are required to have a lot of legalese and are not written at the reading level of many younger students, I recommend that schools create a set of computer rules, written at age-appropriate reading levels for each individual building. This needs to start at kindergarten. We really need to let students know it exists at that time, by having simple rules: Do not visit inappropriate Internet sites; do not attempt to learn or steal another person's password; do not change the settings on the computer.

I think the other nice thing about computer rules versus policies is that policies usually require a lot of action. They have to be written, sent to the lawyer, and sent to the school board for approval. So districts are hesitant to change AUPs because it involves a lot of work. Computer rules are a great way to deal with day to day changes or what I call the "threat du jour." I suggest that computer rules simply refer back to the AUP as the gold standard. If there's any question, it's covered in the policy. But the rules are nice and flexible. They can be changed very quickly and individualized by building, by grade, or some other way.

The third prong is interaction with the parents. Most schools require that parents read a summary of the AUP and sign an AUP acceptance form. In addition, I suggest public sessions on Internet safety and children, e-mail safety, and cyberbullying. There are a lot of people who can provide information on that, including local law enforcement, state [offices of] attorneys general,... local judges or prosecutors, the FBI, and Web sites like NetSmartz Workshop.

I think it's important is to provide value for the parent with these. So I suggest having classes for both students and parents on Web searching and information literacy, to put a positive spin on getting parents involved in the AUP process while providing a valuable experience to them.

Luscre will be speaking at the FETC 2011 conference in January and February 2011 in Orlando, FL. Further information can be found on the FETC's site here.