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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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An acceptable use policy is a document that is present in every school district around the country. The purpose of this policy is to provide safe parameters for exploring digital resources and using school-issued devices properly. It also ensures that schools do their very best to block out the darkest corners of the web. And while these policies are effective and required, they have not evolved in their semantics.

From Acceptable to Empowered

Within the development of these school-wide policies, several shifts need to happen. My observation about the need for a semantic shift, probably one of the biggest shifts requited, reflects how acceptable use policies are interpreted by students. Essentially, these policies read more like a legal document rather than a document that students can understand and carry out. Additionally, we need to shift the focus from "you shouldn't do that" to a sense of empowerment around technology. In short, schools should place a positive connotation around technology use.

Some districts have started implementing responsible digital use guidelines or empowered digital use policies. Regardless of the title you choose, it should provide a sense of purpose for using technology beyond the idea that "said devices may get me in trouble." Similarly, this policy should be something that all students can understand and interpret. It should be simple and direct without creating an air of fear when signing on the dotted line.

Here is an example that I've used to begin simplifying my district's Empowered Digital Use Policy:

I understand that using digital devices (whether personal or school owned) and the GDRSD network is a privilege, and when I use them according to the Responsible Use Guidelines I will keep that privilege.
I will:
  • Use digital devices, networks, and software in school for educational purposes and activities
  • Keep my personal information (including home/mobile phone number, mailing address, and user password) and that of others private
  • Show respect for myself and others when using technology including social media
  • Give acknowledgement to others for their ideas and work
  • Report inappropriate use of technology immediately.

This novel policy fits within the parameters of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) and the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and doesn't cloud the tasks with lofty, legal verbiage. Another great resource for developing a school-wide policy for digital use is the wiki Unmasking the Digital Truth created by Dr. Wesley Fryer. Dr. Fryer breaks down the legal verbiage for each policy enacted by the federal government and shares what schools must comply with and what they can allow.

Health, Wellness, and Information

Once you've developed a policy, it's time to introduce the concept of digital health and wellness to students. This term may sound like I'm talking about calorie-counting apps, but it actually refers to making good choices online much like you would for your body's health. One of the best places to start is Common Sense Media. They offer iBooks and printable digital citizenship curriculum for grades K-12. These resources look great on an iPad, but they also offer a printable scope and sequence curriculum that allow teachers to prepare students for engaging in a digital space.

Beyond creating policy and teaching digital citizenship concepts, schools must include parents in these conversations around digital health and wellness. One of the biggest challenges for parents and schools is to develop policies and practice for a subject matter that is constantly in motion. As soon as you feel like you've gotten a handle on Instagram and Snapchat, something else comes along -- like Yik Yak -- that throws a curveball into every policy and practice you've created.

In my roles as both an instructional technology specialist and a director of technology, I used a variety of resources to make every attempt at staying ahead of the curve so that I could help the district, teachers, and parents understand what applications were out there and which of them posed an issue. Additionally, to inform parents on these new apps, I would offer community tech nights in our district. These events had a focused topic and took place in the evening. I targeted them toward parents but invited all community members to participate. The purpose was to share information about what apps students were using in class and what apps they might be using outside of school. In addition to the informative pieces, we would segue into a workshop setting where attendees could actually use the app itself to better understand how it works.

Whether your district employs technology or is just beginning to plan, it's never too late to start integrating lessons on digital citizenship. The two key elements in developing a healthy digital culture in your school are leading with transparency and establishing trust. Administrators and teachers need to place their trust in students and empower them to use the technology provided. This includes technology directors who may occasionally find it easier to block the entire internet rather than allow access to digital information. School administrators and teachers should also be upfront and open with the parents about what applications or digital resources they are incorporating into the classroom. If trust and transparency are leading your technology initiatives, schools will begin to see great successes in teaching and learning.

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dwillard's picture

Love this, Andrew! We have most recently adopted this more positive and proactive approach at Providence Day School. We developed a digital citizenship compass with 7 precepts to help empower and guide our students.

Here is the web version (with compass graphic) of our parent/teacher resource: http://pddigitalcitizenship.wordpress.com/

Here is the website that supports our monthly town-hall meetings with parents called Parenting in the Digital Age: https://sites.google.com/a/providenceday.org/digitalparenting/

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KatieDiebold's picture

Andrew this is GREAT! I can really relate to the way you think! Do you have any examples of the documents you have parents sign off on?

CarolynNicole's picture

This is awesome. We can't ignore technology and pretend it doesn't exist matter of fact, I feel it's our job to teach students how to use it responsibly. Of course, that also applies to teachers. I think another key component is teaching teachers, especially the young ones, where the teacher/student digital line is.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Andrew,
I think this is a very significant step in the right direction, and I admire the way that you've developed these resources. I completely agree about the need for openness and transparency, but I like most of all the way you've included empowerment. My question is this: does this go far enough? In other words, is this really citizenship, digital or otherwise? When we teach young people about being citizens, we talk to them about doing more than just paying their taxes and not breaking the laws (at least, I hope we do). So, why not teach them to do something more in terms of digital citizenship? Of course, I have no idea what that might look like at this time. Perhaps you do?

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