Critical Review of Wissahickon School District's AUP

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Student AUP Under Review



Policy


Supporting Documents


Other Student AUPs Used in Review



Critical Review



Mark-Up of Original AUP




Recommendations


Overview

Although I do believe that the Wissahickon School District's Student Acceptable Use Policy is effective, I also think that it is long overdue for a revision and upgrade to fit the needs of the 21st century. In my review, I compared Wissahickon's AUP to the AUPs of five districts of socio-economic status: Upper Merion Area School District, Springfield Township School District, Colonial School District, Lower Merion School District and North Penn School District. Of the five, three were very similar and seemed to follow the same template: Springfield, Colonial, and Upper Merion. Lower Merion's AUP was similar to Wissahickon's - shorter and more general. North Penn's was also short and different altogether - no guidelines or prohibitions like the other districts' documents. I have chosen to update the Wissahickon AUP to ressemble the three districts' AUPs who have used the same template. I feel that it is a reasonable next step for the current AUP and doing anything more drastic might raise too many red flags among stakeholders. One step at a time is best.
Please refer to the document above to view my embedded comments. Continue on to read my recommendations for this AUP.

Structure

As mentioned in my comments, the structure of the document seems outdated. A more suitable approach would be to create a table for each section as in the districts who used the same template. Although the formatting doesn't need to be exactly the same, it is more pleasing to the eye and more organized. This structure makes the text much more legible and easy to navigate. It allows for the dissemination of more information in an orderly fashion.

Missing Sections

In comparing Wissahickon's AUP with the other ones, there are clearly sections missing: Definitions, Responsibility and Delegation of Responsibility. I believe that adding these sections in and really fleshing out the details would more clearly convey the true meaning and intention of the policy.

Definitions: As far as definitions go, there could be a range of interpretations of the phrases "age appropriate", "educational purpose" and other similar terms. This is, without a doubt, something that should be added in so that there is no confusion or miscommunication about what these terms mean in the policy. A complete list of vague and uncertain terms and phrases should be identified and completely defined.

Responsibility: As it stands, the students at Wissahickon are directed to sign the AUP User Agreement every year and turn it in. However, no where does it actually state IN the current AUP that they have to do this. This is a needed addition to the policy. In addition, I see a "School District Limitation of Liability" in other AUPs and I would think that is something that every district would want to have.

Delegation of Responsibility: Although the current AUP does mention this briefly, it is not in its own section as it should be, and it is not as clearly defined as others. Other AUPs have roles and responsibilities clearly defined and outlined.

Authority: The current AUP does have the "Authority" section but it is lacking many things that the other AUPs have, such as compliance with authorities, monitoring/tracking info, access restriction/removal policy, limiting use, removing excess files, and revoking privileges. I believe that all of these things are necessary and should be included. As it is, the current AUP warns the users that the district can inspect and archive anything & everything, but a little more detail and explanation would help alleviate any doubt and worry that may arise due to lack of clarity in the current policy. Having all users sign and abide by a User Agreement just seems like common sense to me and although my district does do this now, it is not highly enforced. Putting the language actually in the AUP about having to sign it would make the agreement hold more weight among all stakeholders.

Guidelines

As far as the "Guidelines" go, the current AUP lists a long list of prohibitions, information about consequences for misuse, and security and privacy information. In my opinion, as compared to other AUPs, this section needs so much more. The following guidelines should be considered as part of a revision of this AUP:

Prohibitions: Add more detailed descriptions instead of relying on more general statements. For instance the current document has a prohibition: "using the Net for any illegal activity, including computer hacking and copyright or intellectual property law violations". In other AUPs, this one statement is split up into three or four separate statements: "Engage in, facilitate or attempt to engage in or facilitate any illegal activity", "Use or attempt to use copyrighted software on unauthorized computer systems", "Hacking or cracking or attempting to hack or crack the network or others' computers..." (from Springfield Township AUP). I also recommend the prohibitions be broken down into categories such as: General, Operational, Access & Security. In addition, there are several prohibitions that are in place that could possibly be considered for removal or at least edited to encompass learning today. For instance, "accessing 'chat lines' unless authorized by the instructor for a class activity directly supervised by a staff member". This statement could be re-written so that students would be able to use chat services even when they aren't directly supervised as long as their activity still was within the guidelines and is for educational purposes.

Types of Services: Other AUPs list types of services that are offered to the users - network access, email, Internet access, cable access, guest accounts. A clear definition of the services available to the users would be helpful.

Parental Notification and Liability: Again, this is another section that is in the other AUPs that is lacking in the current Wissahickon AUP. The district can put this in there to protect themselves from families who have different beliefs and ideas about what they would like their children to see on the Internet. Having this section conveys the fact that ultimately, a child's actions are the responsibility of the parent when it comes to network use and social responsibility.

Content Guidelines: Besides listing a few things that the students cannot do such as post websites about the School District without permission, the current AUP has no guidelines at all for the content that users publish on the network or using the network. I recommend that this section be added and completed to encompass the variety of content that can be produced in schools today: websites, videos, presentations, podcasts, digital portfolios, email, videoconferences, and so forth. These new guidelines should be written to protect the students, their families, and the school. They should include statements such as those in other AUPs such as the ones below taken from Colonial School District's AUP:

"a. Published documents including but not limited to audio and video clips or conferences, may not include a child’s phone number, street address, or box number, name (other than first name) or the names of other family members without parent consent.
b. Documents, web pages, electronic communications, or videoconferences may not include personally identifiable information that indicates the physical location of a student at a given time without parent consent.
c. Documents, web pages, electronic communications, or videoconferences may not contain objectionable materials or point directly or indirectly to
objectionable materials.
d. Documents, web pages and electronic communications, must conform to all School District policies and guidelines, including the copyright policy.
e. Documents to be published on the Internet must be edited and approved according to School District procedures before publication."

Due Process: The current document has also no text at all to refer to Due Process. I believe a statement or three in this section is needed to protect the district and outline how misuse will be handled. Again, the more that is written and outlined, the clearer the policy is and the less leeway exists for misinterpretation by varied individuals.

Search and Seizure: Although mentioned in the current AUP under the "Authority" section, this information should indeed be included in a separate section under Guidelines so that users have the information needed about what rights they have when they use the district's equipment, network and software. In addition, there should be statements in this section that cover the school's equipment and network but also any technology that a user brings into the network and uses in school. Even though the computers, phones, ipods, etc may belong to the user, they are still using the school's network, and therefore the district has a right to access the personal technology.

Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism: The only mention of these items in the current AUP comes under the Prohibitions section of the policy: "using the Net for any illegal activity, including computer hacking and copyright or intellectual property law violations". As I mentioned, all the "illegal" activities are lumped together and, in my opinion, should be separated out and more clearly defined. Due to the nature of the Internet today and the easy availability of information, images, music, videos, artwork, etc it is very easy for students to violate copyright and plagiarize work. A district's AUP must have clear guidelines when it comes to these issues, and not only that, but ALL users should be trained on proper use of the information found on the Internet.

Safety & Privacy: The current policy has information about safety & privacy scattered throughout the document in the Purpose, Authority and Prohibitions sections. It would be beneficial to create this section under Guidelines to pull all the information into one place, and as I've repeatedly stated, help clarify exactly the intent of the district. Having these guidelines in place can help resolve issues before they begin and lay the groundwork for those users who are unsure about where they stand with the district. One guideline that I do not see specifically in the current Wissahickon AUP that I found in others should absolutely be added: "Student users will agree not to meet with someone they have met online unless they have parent consent." (from Upper Merion's AUP)

Selection of Materials: This is an interesting section that I think could warrant going into any AUP. Although I found it in both Upper Merion and Colonial's AUPs, this one is from Colonial's:

"When using the Internet for class activities, teachers will select material that is appropriate in light of the age of the students and that is relevant
to the course objectives. Teachers will preview the materials and web sites they require or recommend students access to determine the appropriateness of the material contained on or accessed through the web site. Teachers will provide guidelines and lists of resources to assist their students in channeling their research activities effectively and properly. Teachers will assist their students in developing the critical thinking skills necessary to ascertain the truthfulness of information, distinguish fact from opinion, and engage in discussions about controversial issues while demonstrating tolerance and respect for those who hold divergent views."

Not only is this text necessary, but needed today. With the ubiquitous amount of "stuff" out there that students have to muddle through to get to any real information, it has to be up to the professionals, the teachers, to identify the best resources for their students. Teachers today cannot just sit back and allow their students to "google" everything. They are still the teachers and must be there to facilitate and guide their students. They must help in the development of sound research skills and teach the children how to best determine the validity and worth of information found out there in the cloud.

District Web Site: Other AUPs have a small section mentioning the website, teacher web pages, and in some instances, student web pages. Wissahickon's AUP should also have such a section to inform users about the site and its purpose and the guidelines for updating and maintaining the district's web presence.

Consequences: The current Wissahickon AUP does have a section for consequences, but as in a lot of the other sections, it is not clearly labeled and set apart. I recommend that a complete section be constructed and the information moved there. The supporting document, "Internet Use Code of Conduct" (linked above under "Supporting Documents") does this as well - it lists the prohibitions as it does in the guidelines of the AUP. It also lists the discipline action that will be taken, according to the WHS Discipline Code, should there be a violation of the AUP. This document is available in the student handbook, as well as on the district website.

Other Recommendations


Personal Technology: Although several of the recommendations above relate somewhat to the use of personal technology devices in school, I would like to see some clear policies in place. What are the district's guidelines for bringing in personal computers, phones, ipods, cameras, and so forth? What about 1-to-1 access? If students are each assigned a computer, are students allowed to use computers from home instead? Do they need specific administrative approval to do so? How do they access the network? What type of access do they have? Can, and should, it be the same as if they were using a district computer? How do the personal computers connect to the network and all peripherals such as printers, scanners, cameras, and so forth. If we are truly going to allow users to bring in their own equipment, there needs to be guidelines in place to protect everyone involved.

And, what about using personal technology in school? I would absolutely recommend the evolution of AUPs to no longer ban cellphones and ipods in school, but allow them and write language to support their use in the classroom. If they were allowed to actually be there, they would no longer have to be hidden, and therefore the teacher can know where they are at all times - and can use them in instruction!

As THIS ARTICLE mentions, there is a High School in Urbana, Illinois that has just modified their AUP to include language regarding cell-phone use in school. See below for the actual excerpt from the document:

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http://www.uni.uiuc.edu/og/news/2008/10/can-you-hear-us-now-cell-phone-policy
Including a section such as this would open up the use of these personal technologies in school. Not to mention, the covert operations of students texting under the desk, in their pockets, in their bags, etc might be curtailed in class if we actually allow use in school during down times and lunch!

Intellectual Freedom: North Penn's AUP has this section and I really feel that this should be addressed in every AUP today:

"So long as expressed opinions are not otherwise inconsistent with this policy, the network administrators will place no official sanctions upon the expression of personal opinion on the network. However, the North Penn School District does not officially endorse any opinions stated on the network. Any statement of personal belief is implicitly understood to be representative of the author's individual point of view, and not that of the North Penn School District or its staff. "

This allows the users to be more open and honest on the network, but it still protects the district. I believe that today we must allow students to be creative and expressive, and the bigger the audience, the more motivated they are. We should give the students freedoms to express themselves, but within the guidelines of the AUP of course. As long as what the students are creating, posting, writing, rapping is not offensive, does not defy the AUP and is not disruptive to the school environment, they should be allowed to express their opinions in school and on the Internet.

Filtering Details: It wouldn't hurt to mention that a detailed Acceptable use Policy should contain language that specifies how the district is complying with the Children's Internet Protection Act and how the various "inputs" are filtered - email, Internet, chat, etc. How are things filtered? What services/software/hardware is used for filtering?

Archiving Details: Due to things such as The PA Right to Know Laws and Federal Rules of Civil Proceedings, I would think it wise to include statements regarding how our data is archived and for how long. The AUP should include specifics as to the format of the documents as well - paper, electronic, on disk, etc. How are they stored? Where are they stored? Who has access?

Conclusion



The current Wissahickon Acceptable Use Policy for Wissahickon has served its duty, but now it needs to be updated to better suit the needs of the learners and teachers of today. There seem to be many gaps and generalized statements. A firming up and fleshing out of the ideas outlined above would without a doubt lead to the creation of a very relevant AUP for the year 2009. A good, solid AUP should be the only document needed when it comes to technology use in a district, and I believe that Wissahickon's AUP would benefit greatly from the changes outlined above.

Although I thought it best to stick to the common template for now - it's better to take baby steps - I wouldn't mind taking a larger step forward and totally revamp the "common AUP" into something really made for the 21st century. As we look to the future, we should also consider the idea of an AUP such as what David Warlick has proposed in his School AUP 2.0 Project. As you can see from the image below, the outline is different than the common template I used in my recommendations for my AUP.


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http://landmark-project.com/aup20/pmwiki.php?n=Main.StructurePage

Another page of Warlick's website outlines the goals of this type of AUP, which align perfectly to the way in which we are trying to evolve education today:
Below are the goals of and "AUP 2.0" as explained on the School AUP 2.0 Overview.
warlickaupgoals.png
http://landmark-project.com/aup20/pmwiki.php?n=Main.Overview
Clearly, much can still be done to improve the idea of an Acceptable Use Policy in districts today. If more and more districts move to update their current AUPs and adopt ones such as this, much change may start to be seen in education and learning. Giving students proper access and teaching them to be responsible citizens is, in my opinion, an obligation of any school today. It is also the school's obligation to support and protect all users and stakeholders of the district. After all, we aim to provide a policy so that all our users can aim to be responsible, safe, hard-working, and conscientious network users. Wouldn't it be great to have all our students as happy as this!! :


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http://69.90.174.246/photos/display_pic_with_logo/72135/72135,1233063079,5.jpg


Resources



The following resources were used in the critique and creation of this page: