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Getting Started on the Internet IconGetting Started on the Internet:
Developing an
Acceptable Use Policy (AUP)


The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Internet use is one of the most important documents a school will produce. Creating a workable AUP requires thoughtful research and planning. Education World offers food-for-thought and a few useful tools for educators faced with developing a workable AUP for their school's students.

 

With the current push for computer technology in the classroom, many educators and parents fear dangers that the uncensored Internet might hold for children: inappropriate or obscene words and images; violence; and people who pose an online threat. One strategy that many schools use to defuse such dangers is a student Acceptable Use Policy, or AUP, for the Internet.

 

WHAT IS AN AUP?

The National Education Association suggests that an effective AUP contain the following six key elements:

 

  • a preamble,
  • a definition section,
  • a policy statement,
  • an acceptable uses section,
  • an unacceptable uses section, and
  • a violations/sanctions section.

The preamble explains why the policy is needed, its goals, and the process of developing the policy. This section should say that the school's overall code of conduct also applies to student online activity.

The definition section defines key words used in the policy. Words and terms such as Internet, computer network, education purpose, and other possibly ambiguous terms need to be defined and explained to ensure student and parent comprehension.

A policy statement must tell what computer services are covered by the AUP and the circumstances under which students can use computer services. Schools may, for example, base student access to computer services on the completion of a "computer responsibility" class that will enhance student understanding of the AUP guidelines.

The acceptable uses section must define appropriate student use of the computer network. It may, for example, limit student use of the network to "educational purposes," which then must be defined.

In the unacceptable uses section, the AUP should give clear, specific examples of what constitutes unacceptable student use. In determining what is unacceptable, the committee charged with drafting the AUP must consider

  • "what kind of computer network sites, if any, should be off limits to students;
  • what kind of student sending, forwarding, or posting of information, if any, should be prohibited, and
  • what kind of student behavior will be destructive to the computer network services and should, therefore, be restricted."

Among the sites that might be off limits to students are chat rooms and term paper vendors. In addition, AUPs often prohibit students from sending, forwarding, or posting sexually explicit messages, profanity, and harassing or violent messages.

The violations/sanctions section should tell students how to report violations of the policy or whom to question about its application. "As a practical matter," says the NEA, "the AUP may simply provide that violations will be handled in accordance with the school's general student disciplinary code."

MORE ABOUT AUPs

A typical AUP has a section where students and parents sign the document, in acknowledgement that they are aware of students' restrictions to network access and releasing the school district of responsibility for students who choose to break those restrictions.

Student AUPs vary greatly in tone, a review of about one dozen documents online shows. Some are student-friendly and warm, with clearly defined terms. Others sound cold, legalistic and sometimes vaguely threatening.

In a "student-friendly" yet firm draft copy of an AUP for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in California, students are told, "Your school has rules for acceptable behavior. Likewise, there are correct procedures and rules that govern the use of the information networks. If you don't follow these guidelines, you may lose your privileges to access the information highway."

The Bellingham (Washington) School District AUP states that, "In a free and democratic society, access to information is a fundamental right of citizenship." Still, it goes on to say, "Independent student use of telecommunications and electronic information resources will be permitted upon submission of permission forms and agreement forms by parents of minor students (under 18 years of age) and by students themselves." The message is that students have intellectual freedom based on their taking responsibility for accepting limits to that freedom.

SAFETY FIRST

Many AUPs make students aware of basic Internet safety rules before they are allowed to surf independently. A popular resource, especially for elementary-age children, is Lawrence J. Magid's "My Rules for Online Safety." Among those rules are:

 

  • "I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
  • I will never agree to get together with someone I 'meet' online without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will make sure it is in a public place and I will bring my mother or father along.
  • I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents."

Magid also has written Teen Safety on the Information Highway, which delineates the special risks faced by teenagers. Among the advice given to teenagers: Share what you know about the Internet with your parents!

THE BIGGER PICTURE

The Internet Advocate, "A Web-based Resource Guide for Librarians and Educators Interesting in Providing Youth Access to the Net," recommends that librarians and educators be prepared to:

 

  • "respond to inaccurate perceptions of porn on the Net;
  • promote positive examples of youth Internet use;
  • develop an 'acceptable use policy,' (AUP);
  • provide examples of AUPs from schools and libraries;
  • understand software to block Internet sites and related safety/censorship issues;
  • contact organizations committed to electronic freedom of information; and
  • familiarize yourself with additional Internet resources for librarians."

In other words, an AUP can't be developed in a vacuum. A vital, workable Acceptable Use Policy must be based on a philospohy that balances freedom and responsibility. To that end, the Internet Advocate Web site provides many of the tools that librarians and educators will need to develop a philosophy and a workable AUP.

 

 

 

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