Ethical Guidelines for Technology Use in Schools

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Technology is gradually revolutionizing the classroom. However, it also comes with certain risks. Learn about some of the ethical concerns around the use of technology in schools, and what to consider when developing guidelines.

Technology in Schools

Technology is everywhere these days, and so it's probably not surprising that it's found its way into schools as well. When we talk about technology in schools, we are mostly referring to access to computers, though this can include computerized testing, virtual schools, and use of electronic communication (such as emails and social media).

Ethical Guidelines

Technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and significantly improve outcomes. Technology is no substitute for personal interaction and should be used carefully and purposefully. That being said, it truly can improve education.

Technology is beneficial but is no substitute for personal interaction
Technology is beneficial, but is no substitute for personal interaction

However, along with the potential benefits of technology, there are also potential harms and ethical issues to consider. Let's take a look at some issues that should be considered when developing ethical guidelines for technology use in schools.

Protection of Students

The first and foremost priority for any school should be to protect the welfare of the students. There are significant risks that are associated with the use of technology in schools. These include data security, privacy, cyberbullying, equal access to resources, class communication, and questionable material.

Data security is about keeping a student's private information safe. Students may be tempted to put their information on the Internet by completing forms, signing up for websites, or even broadcasting it openly. This is a threat to their personal security. While it is hard to control student behavior, certain things can be done such as blocking potentially dangerous websites and educating students about the risks. Schools that collect information electronically also need to make sure that their security is in order and is adequate to protect the data that they have collected. From the school perspective, this is mostly an infrastructure issue.

Privacy is related to data security but is also about protecting students' right to their own personal lives and personal expression. There is an underlying tension between the issue of cyberbullying and privacy. We want students to be able to express themselves without having someone looking over their shoulders, but cyberbullying is such a major threat that it is tempting to allow this to supersede students' privacy.

Cyber bullying comes in many forms and is extremely serious
Cyber bullying comes in many forms, and is extremely serious

Cyber bullying is when students are bullied by electronic means. This can include basic verbal bullying from insults to threats, but can also include posting images online and generally trying to taint the reputation of another student. Cyberbullying can lead to major psychological scarring, and even suicide, and should be taken extremely seriously in any ethical guidelines. Education on this topic and the consequences should also be given to students.

Cyber bullying statistics
Cyber bullying statistics

Equal access to resources might not sound like an issue of protection, but it really is. Students that are not as well off may not have access to computers in the same way as their wealthier classmates. This gives the use of technology the potential to increase opportunity gaps between students. Although avoiding this completely is not possible, it can be reduced by allowing widespread access to computers in a library or computer room, and keeping those resources available for many hours before and after school.

Class communication is something that needs to be considered for the protection of students and teachers alike. These days it can be important for teachers to communicate with the students electronically. However, all such communication should go through school systems, not personal email, or more informal communication like texting. This is about both protecting students from exploitation and protecting teachers from unwarranted accusations. Professionalism is important at all times. Communication between fellow students can also be an issue when done during school hours. Electronics like phones and tablets can be used to communicate during lessons, distracting students from what they are supposed to be focusing on. They can also use them to play games during class if the teacher does not notice the problem. A firm policy and guideline for this is also important.

While computers are the main source of technology in a classroom, there are many other forms including phones, tablets, and smart boards
smart board

Questionable material (such as adult content) can also potentially be accessed through computers at school. It's important to have clear guidelines forbidding this, and software can be used to attempt to block it. However, there are often ways around such blocks and students should be supervised when using electronics at school.

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