What impact does a school’s AUP have on their philosophy towards social media and Internet technologies?

In the United Kingdom we work in a school system where safeguarding young people has the highest priority. Following the tragic deaths of ‘Baby B’ and Damilola Taylor where too many people in authority who should have prevented the murders of these children at the hands of parents or carers failed to, we now have an education system that is very ‘safeguarding’ aware.

In a secondary school setting we have been told that ‘the safety of the child’ is paramount. It is more important than outcomes. You can have a school where children report they are happy; where many come out with good academic results; where children from disadvantaged backgrounds fare well: yet if the school doesn’t have robust systems, processes and an ethos which shows that the safety of the child is the core concern, then the school can be heading for trouble. A school local to me was heading for a ‘good’ OFSTED judgement, and yet it went into ‘special measures’ (the lowest rating) simply because it’s safeguarding procedures were deemed to be lacking. We are working in a culture where safeguarding reigns supreme.

I am not saying that the safety of the child isn’t important. However what is clear is that our focus on ‘safeguarding first’ may be having an impact on the way schools promote the use new technologies. Clearly new technologies come with risks. The Internet and social media have all sorts of content that can corrupt, upset and disturb young people (not to say adults!). These are also tools popular with the bully who may attack their peers via Twitter, Facebook or whatever. Clearly if we are to protect young people from all that is out there, and in some ways from themselves, we need to have sensible appropriate policies in place.

In a fascinating study of (Acceptable Use Policies) AUPs in United States school districts, June Ahn and her team have seen two broadly different approaches to how schools view technology. I am explaining these in an exaggerated broad-brush form in order to help identify the extremes. In one camp we have schools where technology (internet, social media platforms and so forth) are viewed as potentially dangerous and unhealthy for young people unless it is properly managed and access to the technology is strictly controlled. Therefore teachers should use the technology with care. Students have access only after they have signed a form agreeing to use it sensibly and this is supported by their parents. Further, should there be misuse then the right for a student to use technology will be removed as part of the school’s sanctions process. At the other end there are schools that expect all students to make use of new technology in support of their learning. There is no consideration that parents should ‘give permission’. No permission is sought access is automatic. The policies though do indicate that young people need to be supported in their discerning and critical use of the new technologies and that its use must be encouraged by teachers. There is therefore far less emphasis on filtering or preventing access to certain sites and more on training youngsters to be appropriate users of the technology. Should a student behave inappropriately then the behaviour will be dealt with but there is no indication that access to the technology will be removed. You wouldn’t prevent a young person from using books in all classes simply because they threw a book at another student? It is unthinkable. In this circumstance you would deal with the behaviour.

So where does your school stand? Is the AUP all about preventing harm to young people or is it about supporting and leading learning? Is it about preventing access to unsuitable materials or is it about training young people to be discerning users?


Worth a read:
Ahn J, Bivona L, DiScala J (2011), Social Media Access in K-12 Schools: Intractable Policy Controversies in an Evolving World. ASIST 2011, October 9-13, 2011 New Orleans, LA, USA