Laying Down the Law: Crafting Acceptable Use Policy

By Reilly, Rob | Multimedia Schools, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Laying Down the Law: Crafting Acceptable Use Policy


Reilly, Rob, Multimedia Schools


How Did We Get Where We Are?

When computers were first introduced to the classroom, these were the major concerns that teachers and administrators had: How would a whole class share a single computer? What software was available and how could it be acquired? Who is going to help me when I get in trouble? Computers were not much more than a very effective drill-and-practice mechanism--they were not consequential enough to spawn material for the 6 o'clock news. But then, in the mid-'90s, computers became more powerful, more capable of running software programs that touched all aspects of the curriculum, and Tim Berners-Lee fathered the World Wide Web, which in turn brought about Web browsers. Schools began to install computer networks, which connected students to that gold-mine of information known as the World Wide Web. Much to their credit, administrators and computer-savvy teachers were quick to realize that student use of the computers and computer networks needed to have a written use policy so that students and teachers understood the "ground rules"--limits needed to be defined, and appropriate use needed to be understood and codified. Let me repeat this, as these two points are critical in crafting a use policy--limits need to be defined, and appropriate use needs to be understood.

These use-policy documents came to be known as "Acceptable Use Policy," or AUP. However in the early stages of development AUPs proved to be ineffective, as those who created them did not quite understand how computer networks or the World Wide Web would, or could for that matter, make teachers more effective or support them in their daily tasks. But then no one really understood the "potential" of the computer for education, and back then I'm not sure anyone really understood what constitutes appropriate use of computers. Thus AUPs did not clearly define inappropriate conduct but tended to focus exclusively on a mechanical/ logistical concerns (e.g., change your password every 6 months, back up your files), or to be vague. When push came to shove, this lack of clarity caused the AUP mandates to be legally or even pragmatically unenforceable (e.g., do not send unwanted or harassing e-mail, only use the system in an appropriate manner).

What's an AUP to Do?

Historically, Acceptable Use Policy regulates user-to-computer behavior and defines other logistical and mechanical needs. In recent years there has been a radical change and a demographic shift in both the nature of the network and its uses. The World Wide Web, e-mail, and various curricular-centered mailing lists are becoming valuable educational resources that can revolutionize education as we know it. Those who craft policy must realize that the network is not just a mechanical entity but it is a forum where proper use in an educational setting must be defined (e.g., how is the Web going to be used in the social science curriculum, what constitutes proper conduct/use for students and for the professional staff). Both of these concepts are important. But lost in the laser-speed development of the technology is the notion that we must understand and constantly talk about the educational reasons that technology is in school. We need to set policy so that the "things" out on the Web that are supportive of a school's educational goals are identified and utilized to their maximum. We should understand what appropriate behavior is and what it is not. And we should have a theoretical understanding of the mechanics of the computer networks and the Internet.

On one hand, AUP rules for behavior are already understood by teachers and administrators--it's "understanding" the rules while using a computer or a computer network that may complicate the issue. To a large degree, the issues that an AUP addresses are not all that different from what happens in the school bathrooms, on the playground, and when walking in line when the teacher is not looking. …

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