In the June 2001 issue of eSchool News, I began a series of columns on acceptable-use policies (AUPs) and what they should entail. I’ve covered filtering, plagiarism, and law-breaking in some detail, and I’ve urged readers not to be vague: A good AUP is a policy document approved by the school board that spells out specific rules of computer conduct and the consequences for breaking these rules.
Now that you’ve got a solid foundation upon which to work, here’s a final checklist of things to look for as you review your own AUPs.
First, make sure your AUP covers all aspects of high-tech use in your school district. Some AUP-drafting committees and school boards get so hung up on insulating their schools from the dangers lurking on the Wicked Wild Web, they forget that even schools without internet connections need an AUP. If you have computers, your AUP needs to address every way they are used, even if the machines aren’t web-enabled.
Remember, if your computers have floppy disk or CD drives, anything (and I do mean anything) that can be found on the web could end up downloaded onto a hard drive in your computer lab. If you give students (or faculty and staff, for that matter) access to your system by having slots or drawers that accept portable media, then you must tell them that it is not OK to bring floppies loaded with games, shareware, pirated applications, or digital photos with the faces of the cheerleading squad superimposed on naked bodies.
The simplest policy is often the best. No outside application software of any kindever. Any programs loaded onto school computers must be screened and approved. Most schools allow students to transport homework or class assignments on floppies so they can work on home computers. Problems can be minimized if you have a system to screen disks for viruses and limit the types of files that can be uploaded.
The list of hardware dos and don’ts is pretty simple. Your AUP must include rules about respecting copyright. School computers should not be used for private business or personal gain. Vandalism against other computers or the school’s information technology system must be on your “forbidden activities” list, along with all forms of hacking. Don’t forget to make sure students understand that passwords are of little use if they are shared or published. Put it in your AUP.
Some AUPs are marvels of inclusiveness. All of the lists and explanations and promises and places for Mom and Dad and Junior to sign are there. They have all the proper philosophy for education in the solid state age. They also read like they were written by a committee of lawyers, technocrats, and the folks who write the instructions for how to assemble do-it-yourself backyard jungle gyms and lawnmowers.
This is the No. 1 (and most unforgivable) fault of many AUPs, in my opinion: Someone forgot to have the policy reviewed and rewritten by the English teacher with the best writing skills or (even better) the journalism teacher whose mantra in class is “be concise.” Even if your review of your AUP turns up no technical holes or policy lapses, give it a hard look for plain old readability.
The best AUP is a policy that is straightforward and easy to understand. It has a lot of simple sentences and a dearth of dependent clauses. It eschews legalese and fancy educational or technical terms (in other words, it is written to educate and inform rather than impress someone). It uses analogies that compare high-tech offenses to traditional ones: No copies of Penthouse, no porno CDs; threatening eMails are no different from nasty handwritten notes; electronic mailboxes are no more private than student lockers. You get the picture.