AUPs | Feature

Emphasizing Responsibility in Mobile AUPs

As more schools turn to mobile technology, policy around the technology is coming to the fore, and it's not all about Do's and Don'ts.

Calling up dozens of school districts of various sizes to discuss their policies around school-owned mobile devices isn't practical for any school IT staff. But when the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) wanted to learn more about schools' Appropriate Use Policies related to mobile technology, education technology expert Mary Ann Wolf did just that.

A paper she is co-authoring for CoSN on the topic has not yet been published, but she recently shared with T.H.E. Journal some of her findings in advance. In the course of her research, Wolf, CEO of Wolf Ed and the former executive director of the State Technology Education Directors Association, learned something interesting about Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) and mobile devices: Both their names and content are in a state of rapid change.

"We're starting to see a shift from Acceptable Use Policies to more of the notion of Responsible Use Policies," Wolf said. "What we're finding is this notion of the responsibility is on the school and the district, but that the students also have a responsibility."

According to Wolf, schools have generally found it easy to shift or waive existing policies if it means making the most of the educational value of mobile technologies.

She said the difference between acceptable use (where the emphasis is on poor behavior that must be avoided and punished) and responsible use (appropriate behaviors for maximizing learning) reflects different approaches to technology in the classroom. In the latter case, mobile devices in the classroom are seen as another resource, similar to the old-fashioned textbook or an encyclopedia, as opposed to a toy that ought to be confiscated.

For example, Wolf said, the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo, CA, found that, with more students than ever taking smartphones and tablet computers into the classroom, it needed to make sure the use of school-owned and student-owned devices was similar--at least for instructional purposes.

"In the last two years we've really moved to a mobile environment," said Robert Craven, program specialist in Saddleback's technology services department. "We have a lot of iPods now and a lot of iPads in place throughout the district for students to use. We do have a laptop mobile cart still in existence from a few years ago, but those are dwindling down. Then we have 'bring your own technology,' and we've had that for quite a long time now."

The district's BYOT (or bring your own technology) policy is evolving in tandem with its school-owned technology policy. Saddleback's AUP is a work in progress that includes both "do" and "don't" directives. But an important, and frequently overlooked, companion to the policy is a series of lesson plans for teachers and students about how to implement the policy.

The lesson plans demonstrate how to incorporate the mobile devices into the classroom, teaching teachers and students alike the skills necessary to make the most of the technology.

"What we found with students bringing these mobile technologies or using the mobile technologies we're providing for them, the vast majority are responsible with how they use that, especially with a little guidance," Craven said. "It empowers their learning so much that it would be irresponsible of us as a district to prevent children from using mobile devices or using the device that they learn best with for those few who are going to cause problems."

The Saddleback AUP addresses cyberbullying, sharing private information, and other issues surrounding student behavior that push some districts to ban the use of all technology, but Craven prefers to focus on the positive.

"I like that term 'responsible use,'" he said. "With responsible use, we are writing in a lot of those specific technologies that we have--Google Apps, Google maps, the portal--specifically because we want the students to be aware that that's where we're directing their learning to and through using the mobile devices."

Each district needs to determine what kind of policy will fit its educational goals and educational culture, according to Wolf. She also said what Craven has witnessed in his own schools: When students are taught appropriate behavior, they move away from inappropriate usage. And that's the basis for the best policy, she said.

"You do need your stakeholders to understand that there is a true educational value to using technology," Wolf said. "When you do that, you start to see where this kind of policy fits in and makes sense."


About the Author

Margo Pierce is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.