School Technology Policies Are More Important Than Ever In The iPad-Enabled Classroom

School Technology Policies Are More Important Than Ever In The iPad-Enabled Classroom

School technology policies are often restrictive, but circumventing them can be dangerous for teachers and students alike.

One of the challenges of 21st century education is determining the appropriate ways to use technology in the classroom. That’s a challenge that each school or district needs to confront in its own way. One thing that is universal, however, is that the policies and processes put into place around technology need to come from an ongoing dialog between teachers, school administrators, and IT professionals.

While some schools may have restrictive policies, those policies are emblematic of the community to which the schools belongs. They are the policies that the school itself and the parents of its students feel are needed to protect its students. Those policies also teach students what is acceptable behavior and how to protect themselves in the online world.

As the classroom adapts the increasingly mobile and digital reality, these policies and guidelines help guide the transformation in learning that the iPad has come to represent. Everyone involved in education needs to be part of the discussion, particularly when it comes to student safety.

That’s why I found an article written by GOOD’s education editor Liz Dwyer particularly disturbing. In it she encourages teachers to violate the technology policies in place at their schools if they disagree with them or find them restrictive. Rather than encouraging teachers to discuss why they feel the need to integrate Google+ or Twitter into the classroom, perhaps leading to a policy exception or even a change in the policy, Dwyer encourages teachers to take matters into their own hands. To circumvent mobile device management, Mac/PC management, and Internet filtering, she offers four suggestions – all of which would be successful in the majority of public schools.

  • Purchase a private VPN connection that can tunnel past a school’s firewall and provide unrestricted Internet access.
  • Purchase a USB 3G/4G network dongle from a mobile carrier and the associated data plan for use with a school-owned or personal computer in the classroom. She eagerly points out that Mac users can share this connection with Wi-Fi-enabled computers and devices nearby using OS X’s Internet Sharing feature.
  • Purchase a personal hotspot device from a mobile carrier, which provides the same benefits as a USB dongle.
  • Use a free ad-supported VPN app for Macs and iOS devices that masks a user’s Internet access history.

At the end of the article, she tells teachers that they’re responsible if they follow her suggestions.

Yes, some of these methods may be questionable or outright banned by your local school district. Proceed at your own risk because, ahem, we aren’t liable if you get busted.

What she fails to mention is that these practices may violate state and local laws, could lead to teacher dismissal, and could result in a school losing state and federal funding. If a child or a child’s personal information is put at risk, the teacher and the school could face civil and criminal action. Less dramatic, but possibly more important, it sends a very inappropriate message to kids to see a teacher breaking the rules.

The simple fact is that school technology policies exist to protect everyone on campus including students, teachers, administrators, and IT staff. They also exist to ensure a school abides by any federal, state, or local laws and regulations about what kids are allowed to access on school property or with school equipment.

The iPad is ushering in a new teaching paradigm, but it also introduces new questions and even new risks. Figuring out the best and safest ways to use the iPad and related technologies isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take an ongoing process of discussion. Skipping over that discussion isn’t going to help things along.

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  • Ralphie

    As an IT security person for one of the top 10 school districts in the nation (size-wise) I would say the following:

    Most public school systems rely on Federal funding for numbers purposes, funding that is predicated on compliance with certain rules and laws. One of those is CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act). We have various safeguards in place to assure that the content on our systems is in compliance with CIPA, as failing to do so could potentially affect our Federal funding.

    While the methods in the article are means to bring content into the schools that would be outside of our systems, doing so in our district would be a direct violation of our user agreement that every employee agrees to upon employment. Violation of our UA is grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether you are a represented or non-represented employee. Not to mention, it’s just wrong and reckless.

    Our district, like many others, has a means of requesting access to blocked content. It’s relatively fast and in most cases results in delivery of the desired content or something comparable. That being said, a case does have to be made that the blocked content is relevant to the curriculum and lesson(s).

    What this author suggests is not only a violation of possible user agreements, risks potential dismissal, and is ultimately unethical.

  • matthewmspaceyoutube

    Honestly I’m a student and we always try to find ways to get past the school firewall (which isn’t actually that hard, just add https to every website). Even if they told us no hotspots or usb sticks, we’d still get them and share them anyway. Heck, some people who have jailbroken their iPhones use MyWi or TetherMe instead of the painfully slow and “protected” wifi. Lately though, they’ve been caring less because we’ve been finding ways around. About 6 months ago, they completely took down the firewall, which either was because it didn’t work or they just gave up on not letting us do stuff, because we have our cell plans on our phones. Even if the school wifi blocked youtube or something on our computers, we could just use our phones and their data plans.

  • assyrianpride

    I totally support any effort to bypass firewalls.

  • mr_bee

    Totally irresponsible suggestions indeed. And for what? What could anyone possibly learn from Twitter or Facebook in the classroom that they can’t learn another way?

    I know I say this a lot too but it would be a violation of *Federal* law in Canada to follow these suggestions due to the privacy and data protection laws. The teacher is responsible for the students data in the classroom and I’m pretty sure it’s the same in Europe.

    Any USA based service like that would be totally off limits in the classroom due to the lack of any protection or privacy. It happens anyway, but if a single student complains or someone’s personal information gets out you could go to jail, and you’d lose your teaching job for life as a starter.

  • Ralphie

    Honestly I’m a student and we always try to find ways to get past the school firewall (which isn’t actually that hard, just add https to every website). Even if they told us no hotspots or usb sticks, we’d still get them and share them anyway. Heck, some people who have jailbroken their iPhones use MyWi or TetherMe instead of the painfully slow and “protected” wifi. Lately though, they’ve been caring less because we’ve been finding ways around. About 6 months ago, they completely took down the firewall, which either was because it didn’t work or they just gave up on not letting us do stuff, because we have our cell plans on our phones. Even if the school wifi blocked youtube or something on our computers, we could just use our phones and their data plans.

    And the minute you would do that I would have you identified right down to the workstation and username and your attempts are automatically reported to your principal.

    Even non-district devices on the sandboxed access points are captured and monitored. I have your MAC address the minute your phone, iPod, whatever, touches my access point. As soon as I see attempts to access non-district sites, your MAC address is blacklisted and you can’t connect again.

    With the proper combination of hardware and software assets, we can lock things down as tight as we wish. Fortunately, our students are warned up front about the systems in place, as well as the consequences for attempting to circumvent them. As soon as a few people were suspended they knew we were serious.

    As for using your own resources, we don’t care. That’s an issue for classroom management, not network security. Again, it never ceases to amaze us how many people, despite being warned not to do this, try it anyway. I love the excuse, “I didn’t know you could – - – .”

    Surprise.

    Ralphie

  • Tallest_Skil

    I totally support any effort to bypass firewalls.

    I totally support any effort to permanently expel students who bypass firewalls.

  • technochick

    These articles might be more useful if you directly referenced some of these laws you keep off hand mentioning. You know they exist so you reasearched them etc thus you have the text and citations already.

    And why, if you are so dismayed by this woman are you giving her the attention of such a detailed accounting of her ‘disgusting’ tactics.

About the author

Ryan FaasRyan Faas is a technology journalist and consultant living in upstate New York who has written extensively about Apple, business and enterprise IT, and the mobile industry. In addition to writing for Cult of Mac, he is a contributor to Computerworld, InformIT, and Peachpit Press. In a previous existence he was a healthcare IT director as well as a systems and network administrator. Follow Ryan on Twitter and Google +

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