Before Giving Students an iPad in Class, Read This

October 03, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, In the Classroom, Parents and Families

Social media is changing the way kids learn and discover the world around them -- both in and out of the classroom.

It's a trick to find the right balance between protecting students and giving them the tools they need to make the most of today’s technology for learning.  This week’s controversy over students in Indiana and Los Angeles hacking past the in-school restrictions on their new iPads to check out their Facebook page instead of their math project underscores how important it is to have smart discussions with students—and parents— before handing over the tablets.

Schools have come a long way from the days of banning all cell phones and barring student access to the internet. We've all learned how to better manage these tools, tap into their potential, and guide our students in what it means to be ethical digital citizens. And in today's competitive, global world, we simply cannot bar our students from learning how to navigate online worlds.  

“We also know how important it is for districts to develop comprehensive policies to ensure that students can harness technology to its full potential, which includes arming students with the right skills and knowledge to use social media safely and responsibly,” our Chief Education and Strategy Officer Linda Burch said in the release to a report last year.

Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media,” a report by The Consortium on School Networking (CoSN) and 13 other leading education associations, including Common Sense Media, argues that that schools need to provide opportunities for kids to use digital tools in a “supervised environment that emphasizes the development of attitudes and skills that will help keep them safe outside of school. “ The report has recommendations on how schools can create and revise school policies that deal with mobile and social media use in schools.

As tablets and other digital media encourage learning anytime, anywhere, it will be particularly important for parents to get in on the conversation about safety and acceptable use. Kids will bring their tablets home, after all. Parents need to be ready. We have many resources for both parents and educators to teach good digital citizenship.

Here are 10 tips to get you started on a school policy for using digital media:

1. Research whether your state has an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that your district/school can use or adapt.

2. Create a committee of stakeholders who will write your AUP.

3. Begin with a statement of your vision, philosophy, or mission to frame the intent of your AUP. How is this technology and access a benefit to students, and what are the strategies that are in place to support such positive growth?

4. Outline how the AUP supports or ties into any existing code of conduct. You address ethical issues as well as legal responsibilities.

5. Define clearly what is acceptable use and what is unacceptable use.

6. Delineate the need for safety and privacy.

7. Outline the consequences of violating rules and expectations.

8. Consider whether you want to add any sort of legal disclaimer absolving your school/district from any illegal or otherwise inappropriate usage.

9. Contemplate whether you need a statement about how you are complying with existing policies (e.g., bullying), state or national telecommunication rules and regulations, as well as fair use and other intellectual property laws.

10. Include places for all stakeholders (teacher/administrators, parent/guardians, and students) to sign and date the AUP.

We have lots more in our 1-to-1 Essentials Program, which is designed to help schools, families, and students harness the power of 1-to-1 devices responsibly. We include sample policies from schools around the country so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Director of Technology at Nueva School Edward Chen, who worked with Common Sense Media to design this program, told us the best way to design an AUP may be to let the students take the lead. With the help of students, his school adapted its AUP into a questionnaire instead of a list of dos and don’ts. “It’s more like holding kids to ethical standards,” Chen said. Students at Nueva initially boycotted the AUP. It was eventually redrafted by the school’s student council and then adopted by the administration. 

Of course every school and school culture is unique. It’s up to your community to decide what’s right for your students. We hope these resources will guide your discussion. We’d love to hear from you about how it goes.