What message does your AUP send home?

Scott McLeod’s recent post at Dangerously Irrelevant, My not-so-friendly library, boring teachers, and other marketing interactions, talks about the negative impact of the draconian, punitive language his public library uses, and points to marketing expert Seth Godin, who “…reminds us that every interaction with a customer / client / patron / stakeholder / visitor is a marketing interaction. It’s an opportunity for us to build or erode our brand, a chance to increase or decrease the trust and goodwill of the people with whom we are interacting.”

It made me think about the messages that schools send out about technology.

Scott goes on to say:

Schools do a host of wonderful things. But they also engage in a number of individual and organizational behaviors that chip away at the trust and goodwill of their internal and external communities.

So, here’s my question – what message does your technology AUP send home?

The AUP, short for Acceptable Use Policy, is typically part of the packet that goes home with students every fall. Parents know the drill. You fish through emergency cards in triplicate, imponderable policies that need your signature on every page, the new dress code, the skateboarding rules, offers for SAT prep and parenting classes, PTA dues, and who knows what else. You sign the pages, sign the checks, and hope that you’ve filled it all out right and that you never have to do it again (until next year.)

The technology AUP is in there too. It’s likely the only thing a parent will see all year long that has to do with computers and technology at the school.

So does your AUP:

  • focus on punishment, or opportunity?
  • contain only legalese or is easy to read and understand?
  • communicate a vision of students as would-be hackers and criminals, or your vision of students as active participants in the 21st century?
  • 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?
  • 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 “To Catch a Predator”, your school is thoughtfully using technology to benefit their child.

So, which message is going home this fall?


14 Replies to “What message does your AUP send home?”

  1. Our AUP is somewhat general and rather bland in it’s language. But that’s actually a problem since the last line of each section is something to the effect “subject to approval of the principal”. Which means that we have 200+ people who are deciding what sites can be accessed, what is “disrupting” to school activities, what and to some degree, for what actions a student will be punished.

    It would be great if the AUP was written to offer a positive vision of student communication and creativity, but these things are written by IT folks and lawyers, not by educators.

  2. Tim,
    Would it be possible to include a cover letter, for example, stapled to the AUP? Something with some vision about technology?

    I know it’s usually not possible to un-lawyer or un-techiespeak a written document once it’s been done, but maybe you could provide something in addition.

  3. Do the parents really read the AUP? Ours is not handed out. It has to be accessed on the district’s website. The only thing the parents see is a denial form if they wish for their child not to participate in on-line activities. The AUP is several pages long and not an inviting read. So, to most parents it says “Don’t bother!” It was revised and the revisions approved at the last School Board meeting. But to most, it simply states “We are in control.”

    To students:

    “Student users shall not access or use online synchronous or asynchronous communication applications such as e­mail, chat, blogs, wikis or social networking Web site functions (i.e., discussion threads, document posting, RSS feeds, etc.) while at school.”
    “….and students are restricted to interaction with other District students.”

    To teachers:

    “The District
    ….A process is in place for requesting permission to use other teacher moderated and appropriate online educational systems or resources not described above”


    “School­based personnel (of all types) do not have a de­facto right to include online synchronous or asynchronous communication applications or social networking functions on their Web pages. ”

    I understand all the arguments for CIPA and e-rate $, but come on folks, we can’t breathe.

  4. Hi Sylvia

    Thanks for bringing this up — I had brought up the same during a panel at a recent conference and was pretty much shhhhhed on what I was trying to say.

    I know at my school — our AUP is a discipline plan and not a plan of usage. However, our network is so locked down that the AUP at times seems ridiculous because they can’t really do the things the AUP tells them not to (unless they hack into the system!)
    I would love to change the wording, but the “higher ups” feel that an AUP protects us — not sure from what we are protecting……but for now, it is their decision.

    I would truly enjoy having a parent/student/teacher/admin collective group that works on an AUP together…..one that shares the possibilities instead of the consequences.


  5. It seems to me that an AUP might be an opportunity for putting some legal teeth behind some things that we’ve all be trying to get going. For instance, we tend to think of AUPs as pertaining to the technology. But it wouldn’t be a far stretch to expand it to include ethical use of information as well.

    An AUP should be empowering, not dis-empowering. Again, we should look at AUPs as an opportunity, not just a CMA tool.

    Thanks, Sylvia. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

  6. Jeff, thanks for bringing the reality of the language here. It’s tough to see how this helps anyone. Legal language is not a substitute for policy.

    Jen, I’d be tempted to say, “let’s put up a wiki and we can all work on it together” however, I think that every local stakeholder group has to own this issue. Otherwise it’s just another bunch of words from somewhere else.

    David, The AUP shouldn’t be the only thing that covers technology, or ethical behavior for that matter. But right now, it is often the ONLY message that parents and students get about school computer use. The other problem is that they are so one-sided, it’s a sure way to have students ignore them. And we often call them “contracts” — as if there was some two-way agreement between the signing parties. Students clearly hear the message, that they are not to be trusted.

    How about an AUP that lists rights for the student (or for that matter, teachers) to working, usable hardware, to an Internet connection that hasn’t been filtered down to uselessness, to an email system that works, or to timely tech support?

    A contract is two-way street.

  7. Smiles — just to spread it a bit more…..

    I believe what you said about “Otherwise it’s just another bunch of words from somewhere else” is exactly what is happening.

    I believe a lot of schools (more than we would probably care to admit) are grabbing AUP’s off the internet, doing a simple find and replace to put their school name in, and are having their students/parents sign an AUP that was not even written for their school — probably never haven read it before mass producing it for signatures.

    Grins, I can safely say this, because I know one of my past schools did, and I got the idea from another school.

    So, while yes, I agree it COULD be a legal document – how I am seeing them used, distributed, and not fine-tuned for “that” schools use — basically we have again printed out useless pieces of paper — and for what purpose — just to say “We have an AUP?”

    Smiles, now I am stirred up a bit.
    And THAT is a good thing.

  8. @Sylvia “tech support”
    The IT department should be supporting learning and should not be the arbiters of content, curriculum and pedagogy.

  9. Great ideas and discussion! We’re in the process of re-wording our AUP and are hoping to change the P from Policy to Principle. The thinking is that we want to be guided by principles and not restricted by policies, but we’ll see if the lawyer will bless it. Also, we’re hoping to go simple – with Doug Johnson’s idea of 3P’s – respect Privacy, Property and use aPpropriately. It’s clear, simple, and easy to remember. We’ll be working out a supplemental document (hopefully WITH student input) as to what those principles look like in practice, and we’ll be looking for ways to keep the dialog going throughout the school year. Right now, the document is from 2004 and we are all in violation of it! The School AUP 2.0 wiki led me here, and I’m grateful!

  10. When does privacy go too far?

    Recently, a middle school student at one of our local school districts was proclaimed the national winner of the Doodle4Google contest. The district was proud of her accomplishment and they wanted to publicize it on their web site. But because of the rules of their AUP, they were not allowed to mention her name! You could go to Doodle4Google page and see her name. However, the local district was left to merely announce that “one of their students” had won!

    I see that their site has been recently updated however. The student is now given full credit.

  11. this discussion to be very enlightening. I am one of two people mainly responsible for writing and enforcing our AUP’s. I hate it. I am tired of telling everyone what they can’t do. The list gets longer every year. Of course there are actions we must limit for the efficient functioning and safety of the entire network, and personal safety, but the kids just are constantly playing a game of keep-away all the time. Our staff members are almost as bad, sending spam, making derisive comments about each other and indidual students in school e-mails. Does anyone have a sample of an AUP that emphasizes the more positive aspects?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.