Responsible Use

The general thrust of education these days is on student-centred learning. This is often expressed by depicting on the teacher’s role as being the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. Regardless of whether you agree that that’s how things should be (and as it happens I don’t: see Please! No More Mantras!), the often-stated philosophy these days is that students know best.

But does stating that philosophy mean that it is observed in practice?

“The student knows best” has translated itself into “Students can be trusted” – specifically in the area of Bring Your Own Technology. It’s a logical approach: given that you can’t monitor what kids are doing on their phones, or even stop them bypassing the school’s filtering system by connecting to the internet via 3G or, soon, 4G. Consequently, many schools have brought in Responsible Use Policies to replace their old Acceptable Use Policies.

Who's the boss? Make THEM responsible! Photo by Christopher

How do “Responsible Use Policies” differ from “Acceptable Use Policies”? In theory, by changing the language involved, by making the student acknowledge that they are responsible for how their device is used, maintained and kept safe.

In practice, however, very few so-called “Responsible Use Policies” appear to be like that at all. I’ve looked at several, and in many cases the only discernible difference between the two types of policy is that one word. It seems to me that if you are going to hand responsibility over to students, you have to do a bit more – well, a lot more, actually – than typing up a new document. How about the following?

  • Consult with students over the wording of the document.
  • We’ve heard about flipping the classroom. How about flipping the consultation process? Make the students responsible for it, and let them consult with you? Obviously, the extent to which you can do this will depend on various factors, not least the students’ ages.
  • Trust students. Why do some “Responsible Use Policies” state that students must use their devices only when the teacher says they can? What if they want to take notes on what the teacher is saying, or email themselves with key points? Surely the students should be left to decide for themselves if it’s appropriate for them to use their device?
  • Same goes for music. I’ve seen policies that state that students cannot listen to music on their devices unless the teacher has given permission. Why not? If they choose to listen to music while the teacher is talking or a class discussion is taking place, that can be dealt with under the normal school rules or the general heading of “courtesy”. Why does it need to be included in a policy written specifically with digital devices and connectivity in mind? And if students want to listen to music while they work, if it helps them concentrate, well that’s a good thing, is it not? As long as they’re not disturbing anyone else.
  • Keep statements positive. It is really depressing to read a policy that includes, or worse, starts with, a long list of “Don’ts”. It’s also useless, because telling people what they must not do doesn’t help them know what they should or can do.

How many schools are really brave enough to say they give their students responsibility, and mean it?

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