It may not be fall yet, but it’s never too early to prepare for back to school—particularly when it comes to the technology acceptable use policy (AUP) .
Parents know the drill when it comes to the back-to-school packet. There are emergency cards in triplicate; information on the dress code, skateboarding rules and PTA dues; offers for SAT prep and parenting classes; and the list goes on.
The technology AUP is usually in the packet, too. Hidden in the giant pile of paperwork, it’s guaranteed to be ignored by even the most diligent parents and guardians. Unfortunately, this document is likely the only thing a parent will ever see about how the school uses technology.
To make matters worse, schools create AUPs full of dense legalese, hoping that if anything bad happens, they are “covered” (whatever that means).
When you see a principal on the news explaining why her school is suspected of being the center of some sort of scandal, does she ever hold up the AUP and say, “but we’re covered!” No. So why do schools believe that the AUP really does any good at all? And why do we send this out without a shred of explanation about the good that we expect from students using technology?
Of course, tech policies should be clearly communicated with parents and students. But why send something home that is guaranteed to intimidate, or worse, bore parents?
Sending a message
It’s important to take a step back. Try to put yourself in parents’ shoes and read the AUP from their perspective. In most AUPs, there is not a shred of positive vision for what “use” means. They should be called UUPs, or Unacceptable Use and Punishments.
Where is your vision shared? How do you communicate with parents and students about your hopes and dreams for technology? If this is your one chance, and you have to send out the AUP anyway, why not rewrite it so it reads like a vision instead of a promise of punishment? At least add a cover letter to it.
Why not rewrite the tech AUP so it reads like a vision instead of a promise of punishment? At least add a cover letter to it.
Sure, parents will flip through the packet and might not read it. But then again, if it’s your one chance, why not take it?
Taking a fresh look
Reread your AUP, and consider:
- Does is focus on punishment, or opportunity?
- Does it contain only legalese, or is it easy to read and understand?
- Does it communicate a vision of students as would-be hackers or criminals, or your vision of students as active participants in the 21st century?
- Does it portray students as potential victims of predators and bullies, or show parents how and why students are safely learning how to navigate this brave new world?
- Does it hint that computers are an afterthought and a reward that can be taken away as punishment, or explain why computers are essential tools in every classroom?
The AUP could be an opportunity to involve parents in your vision of technology, it could be a way to communicate the passion and importance of building a learning community that values 21st-century thinking, and it could be a way to help parents understand that despite scary media stories, your school is thoughtfully using technology to benefit their children.
So, which message is going home this fall?
Sylvia Martinez is a former aerospace engineer and video game designer, and the co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, which is called “the bible of the classroom maker movement.” She has been an FETC featured speaker.