Protect and Provide

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As I read through a number of Acceptable Use Policies, I found that they all had one thing in common; protecting the students from questionable content and behaviour while trying to provide access to information and sharing. The Acceptable Use Policies addressed ethical issues, copyright and fair use issues, safety issues and disciplinary actions.  These policies set out the expectations for principals, teachers and students when going online.  The question is whether this policy should be consistent from school to school or class to class?  In reality, I think the policy is not consistent due to the fact that each teacher has a personal view of what is acceptable.  When this happens, a mixed message is sent to the students and they become unsure of what is acceptable.  There are two ways to solve this dilemma for students: ensure all staff follow and enforce the Acceptable Use Policy; guide students into becoming critical thinkers so that they can make good decisions about what they access and how they behave online.

If the Acceptable Use Policy is followed and enforced by all staff in the school then the students receive the same message from class to class.  When following this policy, teachers often choose sites, monitor comments, and punish those who abuse online privileges.  Along with Acceptable Use Policies, many schools use online filters that removes questionable sites.  When teachers do follow the policy, they tend to do most of the thinking for the students and may limit access to information.  The policies control content and focus more on the don'ts rather than teaching or guiding students.  While following the Acceptable Use Policy protects students, it does very little to prepare students for real world applications.

In the real world, the student's life, there are no filters or policy to guide students.  They are free to choose what they view and comment in any manner they choose since they are not governed by policies.  This is the real problem with using and enforcing these policies in school.  To truly protect our students we must create critical thinkers.  Students must be taught how to critically analyze the information they are viewing.  They must be taught how to be responsible when they come across content that is subjective and how to deal with it.  When we, as teachers do this, then we are creating digital citizens who will be able to make good decisions independently.

Does this mean that the Acceptable Use Policy is not needed and that we should allow students to make there own choices?  No, we need to ensure that we follow school board policies while teaching students how to be critical of content.  Working in the primary grades, I would not want to expose students to all content online.  However, even in the primary grades, students need to taught how to choose age appropriate material and how to respond to others.  As teachers, we need to find the balance between protecting students and providing access to the digital world.

Policies must be living documents that change to meet current needs.  They need to be updated regularly to address trends or they become outdated and meaningless.  Does your board's Acceptable Use Policy meet the needs of how students interact online?

HWDSB Acceptable Use Agreement
TDSB Online Policy
DSBN Acceptable Use Agreement
HDSB Acceptable Use Guidelines

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