Any new tool brought into the classroom brings with it the risk for misuse. The exercise book brought us graffiti, the mini whiteboard gave us inappropriate images on the back side (seriously…why do they make those things double sided?) and in years gone by the school desk gave us creative engravings”.
Of course, in theory, we can deal with all of these problems through good behaviour management and by setting expectations before we use any new tool. However, the first time that you bring mini whiteboards into a class there will always be one child who seizes the opportunity for some creative mischief. Ultimately, it’s in that moment that you lay out your stall. You need to demonstrate that the misuse of tools is not acceptable. This way students take your stance seriously, and know that your bark is as bad as your bite.
This is where I think we risk falling down with educational technology. There’s a lot of opportunity for mischief. I’ve encountered pass codes set on devices to prevent students using them, apps installed on iPads using personal accounts, students manipulating kiosk stations to render them unusable and VPNs being installed on school owned devices. All of these incidents were identified and resolved quickly (Cisco Meraki Systems Manager has been great for this). So, from a technical and safeguarding perspective, there was no danger to students and I was exposed to only a minor inconvenience. For example, after Meraki caught students adding apps with personal accounts I just issued a profile to stop app installations. Received the misused iPads, removed the inappropriate apps, and the students were immediately punished. Annoying, but easy to deal with.
I must stress that 99% of our students are great with educational technology and use it responsibly…It’s just that annoying 1% who can ruin it for everyone!
But this exposed me to a wider set of questions. What is the policy for VPN abuse? What is the punishment for using proxies? If you change the wallpaper on an iPad in a set of shared iPads what should the punishment be? If a student takes a sly selfie with a raised middle finger what should a teacher do?
We have a very comprehensive behaviour matrix in school, and it works. It promotes consistent reactions from teachers, and students know clear boundaries across the school. However, educational technology is used so widely across the curriculum that we really need our behaviour policy to clearly cover the procedure for common device misuses. Gone are the days of ICT departments enforcing departmental policies about computer misuse. The misuse of technology is now a whole school issue. After we return to school in January this is the first thing that we are going to review.
Ultimately, there needs to be whole school consistency on this issue. All schools need to realise this now. ICT is deployed far more widely than it used to be. Some teachers will not be tech literate to understand the potential risks, and therefore reactions will vary considerably. Consistency is absolutely key. For example, in my opinion, installing a VPN removes all filtering and thus exposes students to serious child protection risks. For this reason, exclusion would be an appropriate punishment. Another teacher could potentially just ask a child to stop. While another teacher may overlook the issue if a child is just using a VPN to bypass filtering to access an educational video. There needs to be a standardised policy, at the whole school level, to ensure consistency from teachers.
The take home message that this experience has taught me is simple. You need whole school policies to cover educational technology misuse. They need to be clear, regularly updated, and cover the most common forms of technology abuse.by