It’s ironic that we insist on censoring and controlling technology use. Outside school, technology is characterized by freedom and empowerment—the ability for anyone to easily access or publish information, connect with people across the world, and utilize media for new forms of creative expression and knowledge expansion. Innovation leads to new technologies, which in turn can nurture further innovation. However, that can only occur if we allow it:

  • Technology empowers students to explore and create. In schools, however, it’s often used in the pursuit of efficiency, where we require students to use technology in the same manner and with the intent that they produce similar results.
  • We understand that students have vastly different talents and distinctive learning preferences. At home, some use technology in more structured, logical ways, while others gravitate to more visual or creative pursuits. Technology empowers them to find their own space as learners. In school, we decide what applications they must use, and we dictate exactly how they will use them—step by step—even in the face of our full understanding that students are far more expert at learning and using technology than teachers.
  • The internet has enabled the democratization of information—publish, discover, and learn anything. Anyone can publish. Everything is available. In schools, we attempt to strictly control what they can see and do (yes, I used the word “attempt”—try Googling “ways to get around school web filters” and see what you get).

Technology is a product of change; however, we often design our implementations in manners that latch onto the comfortable old structures we’ve always used. Teachers control the class, and it’s always been heretical to suggest otherwise. We therefore decide what technology students use and, more importantly, how they will use it—even though they represent the first generations in history that are mastering many of the essential tools of everyday life before the adults who came before them.

If we know anything about the world outside school, it’s that it requires an ability to adapt to change. We insist that modern life requires graduates who are experienced, independent learners. School is the time to start developing those skills. When we enable the use of technology in school, we should also grant students the independence and freedom to use it their own way.

  • We can, and should, allow students to manage their own devices. Help them learn the relevant technical and organizational skills, especially as this has become a vital part of life outside school.
  • Loosen the Parental Controls. Allow them the freedom and responsibility to manage their school apps, set up their school eMail, and more. Have someone instruct them on best practices.
  • Allow them the freedom to find and use other apps as appropriate to their activities in class.
  • You can purchase some apps centrally, but otherwise ask parents to purchase the apps. There is an abundance of inexpensive choices.
  • A “Responsible Use” policy should clearly state what is allowed and disallowed. The policy should be signed by child and parent alike.
  • Freedom and responsibility come with consequences. Define a clear outcome for inappropriate use, and act upon it as required.
  • Use a web filter, but set restrictions loosely—and only block categories of sites that are potentially harmful. Ensure you have monitoring in place, so you can track web usage if needed. The only skill strict filtering develops is the ability to find ways to work around it … and students do. Rather than acting as “Big Brother,” set an expectation of personal responsibility and take action when the standards aren’t met.

Most importantly, school leaders should encourage creative, independent, and innovative use of technology.

(Next page: Three ways to encourage creative tech use—and why the desire to control students’ use of technology is symptomatic of a larger problem)