The University of San Diego just released a series of documents and policy recommendations on “Helping School Personnel Control Student Misuse of Electronic Communications Devices On and Off-Campus.”

After reading this collection, I have so many thoughts that I hardly know where to begin. Any personal interpretation aside, though, I think that anyone involved in K-12 educational administration should read this. It includes a very thorough compilation of legal cases related to student use of both school-owned and student-owned electronic devices (primarily cell phones, but the information is broadly applicable to other devices, as well as to social media and the web in general) both on and off campus.

So now for the personal interpretations, in no particular order:

  • There are a lot of complex legal issues to consider, and many cases with contradictory findings.
  • I worry that upon reading this leadership will run shrieking from the room and not even want to use electronic devices for instructionally valid purposes. (My experience, as well as that of others, is that when students are given instructionally relevant activities to do, improper use drops dramatically.)
  • It’s a shame that this amount of exhaustive work on mobile devices and social media went into examining improper uses of electronic media.
  • Little mention was made of constructive uses of technology, beyond to point out that now that schools have used electronic devices for productive uses, they will find it harder to restrict their use. Unfortunate comment.
  • This is very indicative of the focus of most administrations on legal issues. If folks spent as much time on addressing real learning needs as they do on legal compliance and covering their collective asses, students would benefit.
  • This report applies as much to broader student uses of the web and social media. There are some fascinating cases related to cyber-bullying and personal student web sites devoted to often juvenile (they are kids after all) student critiques of schools and school personnel. Personally, I worry a lot about restricting student speech (which is addressed in this report). For each of these cases, we should look a non-digital parallel example and think about how we would react to that. There is then the issue of publicness to consider — drawing an inflammatory picture is not the same as then photocopying that picture and publicly distributing it (or putting it on the Internet).
  • Simply saying in a policy document that free speech and the Constitution will be respected is not enough if the actual polices are not consistent.
  • There is a huge need for educating students about the publicness of the Internet (and mobile communications that can be forwarded, publicly posted, etc. in a single click), related legalities, and responsible and civil behavior. This is a 21st century skill!!
  • I would love to use this document with a class of middle school students to have them engage in a discussion of the issues and then draft their own rules and acceptable use policies. Anyone game for that? 🙂

Please weigh in with your own comments on these issues and this report.

Policy issues for student use of electronic devices…and a whole lot more
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