Technology in Education: Not as Simple as “AUP”

When educational institutions first embraced technology, a boilerplate Acceptable Use Policy (“AUP”) was generally sufficient to address many concerns about inappropriate behaviors, user expectations, system ownership, and electronic communications. In order to secure funding and grants, most institutions timely implemented an AUP and moved onto other more pressing issues. As technology became imbedded in educational institutions and within education itself, however, most AUPs should have evolved to reference or include a number of other issues, such as email or document retention, personal technology use, copyright, social media, and cyberbullying.

As educational institutions consider new ways to implement technology such as through e-books and distance learning, it is crucial that they have written policies and training which adequately address current legal and practical concerns. As each educational institution modifies its current AUP and/or considers whether separate technology policies are warranted, three principles should be taken into account.

First, each technology policy should establish clear expectations and consequences associated with violations. This means that the policy language really matters. For example, a word like “should” must be used sparingly or not at all because it may be interpreted as a mere guideline and could undermine enforcement efforts. Additionally, institutions must avoid creating rights where none exist. For instance, language providing for “reasonable” amounts of personal technology use opens the door to multiple interpretations and abuse.

Second, technology policies should be developed with input from various stakeholders. Although it may seem more efficient to develop policies without collaboration, this method of policy development overlooks the opportunities to seek valuable input, promote user buy-in, and to train users during discussions. As the policies are developed, each stakeholder should offer unique insight and information. For example, administrators may provide crucial information about searches and investigations, IT staff may hold the key to bandwidth and filtering discussions, and educators may offer insight about copyright, educational use, and training. These are just a few of the valuable resources educational institutions have at their disposal, and does not even address the insights which students or legal counsel may offer.

Third, today’s technology policies must be both practical and customized in that that take into account each educational institution’s technology limitations, procedures, and philosophy. With input from the various stakeholders, the educational institution should explore, among other things, issues such as Wi-Fi usage, bandwidth availability, external software and hardware, cloud use, and personal technology devices.

Whereas an educational institution may be tempted to simply adopt the latest boilerplate AUP, in order to truly address its technology challenges, educational institutions must devote more thought and attention to today’s and tomorrow’s technology use. Is your educational institution considering new ways to use technology? If so, consider rolling out new or revised policies before you implement the technology.

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