A Rush to be Proactive

I had a great lunch meeting with @sadone yesterday where we covered the state of everything in the short time that we had together. One of the topics that we touched on was Acceptable Use Policies.

It’s particularly timely for me as my Computer Science teachable class starts next week and one of our first activities is to analyze Acceptable Use Policies from the university and the surrounding school boards where the majority of the practice teaching takes place.

In our discussions, I noted that there are a great deal of messages lately from others looking for updated Acceptable Use Policies that would cover the use of Web2.0 activities in the classroom. A typical plan has the big list of “you shall not”s to help guide users to stay on the straight and narrow. The plan that I helped craft years ago had taken a slightly different tack as the superintendent that I reported to at the time “didn’t want to change it every time some enhancement in technology” comes along. Our philosophy was always that unacceptable internet use was just another form of unacceptable computer use, just like reaching over and typing on someone else’s keyboard when they weren’t looking. It was just wrong and there should be consequences that are proportionate to the action.

As higher speed internet access became available and networking a reality, everyone was on this fast ship to have documents in place to explain the policy. I’m sure that we all thought that we were doing the right thing – covering all the possibilities so that everyone was enjoying safe access. We even did professional learning events to help with the implementation of the plan and what to do when you accidentally stumble upon text or an image that was inappropriate. I’m sure that everyone who was involved in that process was glad when it was done, published, approved, and implemented. After all, we covered all the possibilities and anticipated everything that could go wrong, right? You get one chance to make this right before you move along to the next big thing.  Maybe, if you’re lucky, it will be reviewed on a regular basis.

At the time, who would ever have thought of the  that would so capture the imagination of the student or teacher? Now, what do you do? When you do look at what policies are in place, it’s no wonder that there are numerous pleas from teachers on Twitter or mailing lists looking for wording to cover Web2.0 activities when the exiting policy covers Web1.0 so well. With all the power and the openness and the intrigue, there’s this systemic need to have something to legislate its use. Will this lead to another cycle of “there – we have that covered”?

Maybe, it’s time to step back and look at the situation from another angle. If we consider these tools as useful as the other common tools – pencils – televisions – basketballs – floor mats – which don’t have Acceptable Use Policies for their use in the classroom, is it fruitless to try to write the rules of governance for this one other tool? There are always new and creative things that students do with pencils and we don’t rush out to try to anticipate all the things that could go wrong. Is it time that we give up on a legislative approach to internet use? If activities are constructive, meaningful, and supervised, can we not teach a culture of appropriateness instead of writing about it?

How about a one sentence policy that covers it all?

“Don’t do anything stupid or there will be consequences”.

links for 2010-09-10