Within the past few years, thanks to COVID-19 and distance learning, the amount of technology in schools across the country has increased a hundredfold. Many districts are now supporting 1:1 device initiatives, giving students daily access to the internet and information through Chromebooks, iPads, and other smart devices. To the relief of the world, education has mostly returned to the classroom after the pandemic mandated distance and hybrid learning.
Now, along with paper notebooks and colored pencils, classroom supply lists include technology as essential learning materials. With access to smart devices comes different responsibilities for teachers and students, new ways of learning, and new distractions. What’s your school’s current technology acceptable use policy?
As teachers continue to enhance instruction using 21st-century devices, the written policies for technology are often not clear or outdated. In many schools, the rules for daily technology use are frequently delegated to the discretion of each individual classroom teacher.
Teachers know their students best, but this open policy leads to confusion for both students and teachers who must navigate the variety of expectations from one class to another. It might be fine to use headphones during work time in period one, but in period two they better be out of sight. A student may forget which teacher encourages the use of social media as an inventive form of learning and expression, and which only allows access to the learning management system. It may seem to one teacher that the class right after homeroom often needs extra reminders to put their devices away.
Today’s technologies are fairly new, so most teachers don’t have the experience, training, or adequate support to help students overcome the addicting nature of apps that manipulatively track and collect data to entice and masterfully distract human behavior.
The U.S. Department of education articulates the need for a common language at all school levels around the expectations of effective technology use (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Most schools have an acceptable use policy (AUP), a document that outlines those expectations. Often hidden in the back of student handbooks, the AUP lists the do’s and don’ts of technology as a contract to be followed by students and staff. It should not be assumed that students, parents, or even teachers read these terms and conditions, or even understand them fully.
A 2019 article from the Journal of Research of Technology in Education finds that most AUPs are outdated and too rigid, many focusing more on the legal issues with children using technology instead of developing and nurturing student learning (Sauers, 2019).
Schools need to update the harmful language of AUPs towards “empowering policies” and a more modern “responsible use policy” or RUP (Sauers, 2019). There are plenty of empowering policies and standards related to student use of technology that one could reference, such as those proposed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). ISTE’s standards for students outline qualifications for students to be “empowered learners, digital citizens, knowledge constructors, innovative designers, computational thinkers, creative communicators, and global collaborators” (ISTE, 2022).
Schools should also seek to address standards related to digital wellbeing in their RUPs as students today are spending excessive amounts of time on their devices both in class and at home, exacerbating the amount of youth depression (Lapierre et al., 2019) and contributing to decreasing academic performance (Demirbilek & Talan, 2018).
RUPs are a call to action for teachers and administrators to engineer solutions to help students stay engaged in the learning process. Investing time to create clear and empowering policies during staff development days and through professional learning committees will provide much needed guidelines for teachers, administrators, and parents to better plan and support students. This will also help classroom management by providing unity between teachers and an end goal to infuse empowering technology policies through the curriculum.
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