Each year, school districts roll out more tech to their students. While online tools provide a wealth of learning opportunities, they also come with a certain level of risk.
Schools and districts must ensure that students cannot use school-issued technology to access inappropriate content, expose themselves to cyber threats, or simply distract themselves from their schoolwork (via gaming, streaming shows or movies, or using social media).
How can schools address this before students even receive their devices?
The answer lies in three words: Acceptable Use Policy, or AUP for short.
An AUP is an agreement between the student and the district designed to keep students safe online. This agreement allows them to explore the digital world as part of their education, instead of accessing inappropriate or harmful sites, such as bullying, school violence, pornography, etc.
The CoSN guide on AUPs defines the two main components as:
Protecting students from harmful content on the Internet, and regulating their use of the Internet to not harm or interfere with other students.
Providing students with access to digital media that supports engaged learning.
AUPs enable students accept responsibility of their online and digital device usage.
Key Components of an AUP
It’s important to know what should be part of your AUP as you begin to write one. The National Education Association suggests including these six elements for an AUP:
Introduction: Why the policy is needed, goals, and an explanation of the process for creating this AUP.
Definitions: Key words used in the AUP.
Policy Statement: Explains which computer services are covered by the AUP and the circumstances students can use those services (i.e. students must complete a “computer responsibility” course before accessing these services).
Acceptable Uses: Define appropriate student use of the computer, such as “educational purposes”.
Unacceptable Uses: Gives clear, specific examples of what constitutes unacceptable use.
Violations/Sanctions: Tells students how to report AUP violations and defines how violations will be handled (typically the same as the school’s general student disciplinary code).
As a case study, Boston Public Schools (BPS) created an AUP for their 57,000 students across 128 schools. They took a student-centered approach, and enlisted the help of high schoolers to make it easier for students to understand, especially those in younger grades. In this example, BPS high schoolers created podcasts to deliver the AUP message. (All of their AUP materials can be found here.)
When students sign an AUP, they need to understand what it actually means, which is why this age-appropriate model is critical.
Here are a few additional tips when creating an AUP:
Split up the AUP by grade level or group of grades (i.e. K-6 and 8-12). Students in younger grades typically need stricter filtering than older students. It also allows the school district to simplify the agreement, making it easier for younger students to understand.
Make sure that the AUP is available in multiple languages so that it is easy for students and parents to comprehend before signing.
Revisit your AUP often to ensure it is current as the digital landscape continues to change.
Arlington Public Schools provides another example of a simple network and computer AUP, with five agreement statements and check boxes for students to complete.
Enforcing an AUP
The work is not done just because a student and their parent or guardian has signed the AUP. This next section lays out ways to enforce an AUP, both on campus and off. If students bring home school-issued devices, then they need to continue to follow the set policy even while home.
As stated earlier, any violations of the AUP should be handled by the school’s general student disciplinary code.
If school districts receive E-Rate funding, they must filter or block obscene visuals or any harmful materials under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Creating and maintaining an AUP helps school districts ensure they meet CIPA compliance.
School districts have filtering policies for the Internet, and some filter on the school-issued devices directly. And most schools, regardless of if they need to be CIPA-compliant or not, focus on teaching students how to be good digital citizens.
A mobile device management (MDM) solution also helps schools and districts add another layer of security to their filtering, and keeps students aligned with their AUP.
Additionally, an MDM solution helps with:
Website and keyword filtering.
Device oversight to ensure students comply with the AUP.
Whitelisting and blacklisting applications and websites.
Notifying IT personnel when an inappropriate application has been installed.
Ensuring safe search while on or off campus.
When a student signs an AUP, these policies must extend beyond the school day when using school-issued devices to keep students safe online.
School-issued devices should be used for school. But it can be hard to gain insights into how students use these devices without teacher supervision. And it’s even more difficult for students without Internet access at home to get the most out of these devices.
For more information about the filtering, device and data management, and insights enabled by the Sentinel platform, check out our blog.
Whether on or off-campus, whether using school-issued devices or personal devices, AUPs can be a valuable tool for students. Reading and signing this policy helps students understand the importance of good digital citizenship and encourages them to take responsibility for their use and exploration of the Internet.
It has never been more important for all schools in a district to remain on the same page in regards to student device usage policy, and adopting an AUP can help them achieve just that.