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Eight key considerations for acceptable use policies

With digital technologies taking hold in classrooms across the nation, school technology leaders know they must change acceptable use policies to keep students and school networks safe, while also giving learners flexibility and access to important digital resources.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has refreshed its acceptable use policy (AUP) guide in an effort to help technology leaders craft policies that reflect the emergence and permanence of digital technologies in students’ hands, in classrooms, and in teachers’ toolboxes.

The guide, “Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning: A Guide for School Districts,” was released through CoSN’s Participatory in Schools: Leadership and Policy initiative and it addresses eight important considerations.

(Next page: The eight recommendations)1. How does policy differ from procedure, and does the difference matter?
“Policies answer the ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions. Procedures answer the ‘how,’ ‘who,’ and ‘when’ questions.”

2. What federal laws regulate internet use in schools?
“The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is the key federal law affecting the instructional use of digital media. CIPA requires any school district that receives eRate funding to filter or block visual depictions that are obscene, contain child pornography, or material harmful to minors. The law also requires districts to have in place an internet safety policy.”

3. What state laws regulate internet use in schools?
“Many states have enacted laws pertaining to cyberbullying or electronic harassment. Twenty-four states have enacted legislation that requires schools to filter internet materials and/or to require schools to develop Internet safety policies.”

4. What are two ways that school districts develop or revise the acceptable use policy?
“School districts generally approach policy development pertaining to the AUP in one of two ways. Some do so by designating a school official such as the chief technology officer, a cabinet member, or legal counsel working alone, or with a small group of school personnel to develop their policy. Others…involve a committee comprised of stakeholders including parents, teachers, administrators, community members and (though more rarely) students.”

(Next page: Four more important factors)

5. When – how often – should school district acceptable use policies be updated?
“Effective policies do not live on paper. They live in the consciousness of those who are affected by the policies. Updating can help bring AUP policies from a document stored in the district server to understandings that shape behavior. The widespread use of social media and other Web 2.0 applications and the increasing prevalence of mobile devices by school age youth are key factors in causing many districts to review their AUP.”

6. What are the implications of moving from an acceptable use policy to a responsible use policy?
“When a district adopts the approach of helping students become responsible users of digital media, there is the need to provide specific learning experiences.”

7. Where can you find samples of acceptable use policies?
The guide links to several AUPs from districts across the country.

8. What are some timely, relevant and useful resources pertaining to the use of digital media for learning?
School technology leaders can explore a number of wikis, CoSN documents, and other resources.

“While digital media has transcended our culture, schools are increasingly confronted by the dilemma to both protect and provide for their students,” said James Bosco, principal investigator of CoSN’s Participatory in Schools: Leadership and & Policy initiative. “Many districts, without knowing, are operating under outdated policies that do not address today’s dangers and online accessibility concerns. The up-to-date AUP Guide will help school leaders both understand the right acceptable use policies and discover how to implement them to better navigate our digitally based environment.”

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Laura Ascione

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