My take on Acceptable Use Policies

So, my project was to develop an AUP (Acceptable Use Policy). I liken an AUP to a parachute. While I believed that I understood what this was, my first step was to check various definitions of it, to ensure I was running down the right trail. Wikipedia stated that this was “a way to restrict the way a network site or system is used… to reduce legal action … and often with little prospect of enforcement”. Webopedia stated that it was a “contract specifying what a subscriber can and cannot do… containing things like liability disclaimers, lists of actions or behavior that will result in the termination of a customer’s account” Finally, the Media Awareness Network had a definition relevant to schools, stating an AUP is “a written contract between administrators, teachers, parents and students. It outlines the terms and conditions for Internet use by defining access privileges, rules of online behaviour, and the consequences for violating those rules”. They also stated that an AUP should act as a legal document, be complete, protect students, be complete and be unique to your school. As I looked all over the internet, it quickly became apparent that this does not occur so much.

Some rights reserved by The U.S. Army

Before I even started to design my AUP, I came up with the principles that an AUP needs to balance the wall of protection with the door of freedom, and needs to be driven by vision, and not fear. It also needs to be enforceable and not just some pie in the sky ideals. It needs to protect both the students and the school. In this presentation by Harvey Barnett, he stated there were 4 facets to a good AUP.

• Purpose
• Terms and conditions
• Privileges of use and misuse
• Agreement and consent.

After looking outward to see what an AUP is, I then looked inwards, to see what my school does. While our AUP is OK (in fact, we are in the process of redesigning it), my biggest issue (as a Grade 9 homeroom teacher) was how it was delivered. This year it was a page that the kids were told to take home, get signed and return to their homeroom teachers (and in all fairness to my school, in younger grades, there was discussion etc, prior to getting the “document” signed). For my Grade Nine kids, where was the discussion and explanation that gives “life” to this document? At this point, I moved to the idea that an AUP is not just about the document, but also about its delivery. I came up with the idea below on the left, where we start with overarching principles (to make my AUP specific to my school), outline rights and responsibilities of our kids, then have separate AUP for our elementary and MSHS kids. At this point, my colleague Brendan Mcgibbon gave a presentation on “artful thinking”. One idea I “stole” from this presentation was to present the rights and responsibilities as an artist palate. Each “colour” is distinct and separate, but is needed to create the overall picture. As I looked at more and more AUP from other sources, I came to the conclusion, that we could use the same AUP for both elementary schools and MSHS. It would only be the explanatory notes that would need to be written differently, to be in “kid specific” language.

The same content, but the right image is so much more friendly

After thinking about the delivery, I decided that understanding is more important than having every kid return the signed form by the end of the first week of school. While every teacher may not be equipped to introduce and discuss the AUP, this staggered return of the signed AUP forms would allow the technology facilitators to introduce / discuss this, rights, responsibilities reasons and repercussions as well as model various aspects of it, with small groups of kids, so when the kids did sign it, they had “informed consent”, understanding exactly what they have just signed.

Some rights reserved by www.clker.com

Mobile phones seemed to be very problematic for schools. Some banned then outright (and then some of these schools admitted that it did not work) and other schools allowed them in the classroom. My thought was that we need to make a balance between capitalising on the advantages and the potential abuse available. Teachers also need to work within their comfort zone, so I would not ban the use of mobile phones, but their use in the classroom would be at the discretion of each classroom teacher. I decided this did not need a mention as I am trying to keep the names of all programmes etc out of my AUP, as they can change so quickly. I came up with the material below for use when we introduce the AUP, and then teach the ideas behind it.

Rights (privileges)
Each student has the right to:
• use the software provided by the school
• access distance learning
• access cloud based material
• use IT to enquire / research
• use IT to produce / create material
• use IT to publish material

 

Responsibilities (violations)
Each student is responsible for:
• their own actions and those of their accounts (including access to inappropriate sites or materials)
• any other action deemed by teachers and admin to be inappropriate

Each student shall not:
• perform illegal actions (including copyright violations)
• Use school network in inappropriate ways
• Damage / disrupt / vandalise the system
• Access the accounts of others
• Harass, attack / insult / demean others
• Use technology in class for “off task” activities

At the beginning I tried to list all the software, then all the areas it could be used. This is evolving so fast that in the end I removed it, and added the “provided by the school”. The rights seemed pretty straight forward, but the responsibilities section took a long time to get the wording (almost) right. In the end I had to break the responsibilities into two sections. I am not so happy with this, so any wordsmiths out there…

 

Penalties
This was pretty much the same as what is in the multitude of school handbooks around the world, with the only real addition being the possible loss of access to the technology that was used to “infringe”.

Penalties may include (but are not limited to):
• Parental involvement.
• Loss of tablet / access to the school IT system.
• Additional disciplinary actions as per the school handbook.
• Involvement of law enforcement, and legal action when and where required.

One area I was having difficulties was some of the wording in most AUP documents that, in my opinion, instantly made most senior kids liars as soon as they signed their AUP. That was to do with respecting and protecting intellectual property rights. I thought this because I am pretty aware that most kids in my senior classes are downloading and sharing both music, and to a lesser degree films, that they have obtained for free. I do not condone this at all, but if we want our kids to respect this document, it can’t be something they break as soon as they get home, get on the family computer and illegally download. For this reason, I added to point 5 to be solely about the school computer system. My hope is then that at least on the school systems and tablets, they do not do this. I still have mixed feelings about this, as the document is supposed to be about being a responsible digital citizen, but also something the kids can and will honour.

As I looked around the internet, I was struck by how similar many AUP looked, with a common 6 conditions (see below), and how so many schools did not attribute the source of their AUP. I felt this was rather ironic actually, and even my school fell into this trap – having a non-attributed document, that was in part about attribution and its enforcement. This did, however, lead to difficulties in attribution, not knowing who the original author was.  I originally attributed it Jeff Utecht, and this site, as it was the first place I saw this.  Later I found out that (possibly) the original ideas can from Andrew Churches, from his Edorigami site.  I did find it difficult to track to “original” source of this format.

Six conditions of responsible internet usage:
1. Respect Yourself.
2. Protect Yourself.
3. Respect Others.
4. Protect Others.
5. Respect Intellectual property
6. Protect Intellectual Property

I thought my school did a good job of fleshing each of these out, but I did find a few areas to modify:

(a) I developed point 3 more, to include off-task activities when in class. For example, doing maths homework in Science class is now covered.

(b) As I looked at these 6 points, I could not see anything about looking after the school system. There was nothing that directly related to damaging, disrupting or vandalising the school system (both its hardware and software, so I added a point 7).

(c) I thought that the internet is developing so fast and that we should be proactive, not reactive, and so added a section to the end about the school management reserving the right to act for other activities that are deemed to be inappropriate or in breach of the spirit of this document.

At this point, I feel my AUP is fairly complete, and am pleased that I have managed to keep the key information to one side (with the signing on the reverse side). My AUP is embedded below, or you can get the intact document from here.

. Any comments will be greatly recieved.

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One Response to My take on Acceptable Use Policies

  1. Clint Hamada says:

    Andrew Churches’ work at Edorigami was the original source of the UNIS Hanoi RUP. I’m pretty sure that he is the originator of the work because I remember discussing it with him and others on Twitter a few years back.

    I agree (obviously!) with the vast majority of your version of the AUP. One thing that I’m not a fan of – although I understand your intention I think – is the wording “any other action deemed by teachers and admin to be inappropriate.”

    The reason why I like the Churches version of the AUP is that it is framed positively; it is a series of “do’s” rather than “don’ts”. The “any other actions” sentiment seems in contravention to the sprit of the rest of the document. I don’t really see it as being proactive, but rather reserving the right to be reactive in the future!

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