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Electronic Technology in Schools: Responsible and Ethical Use and Access

There are many ways in which electronic technology may be used in classrooms and school environments to enhance and promote student learning. Some technology is immediately familiar to students, and often includes instant audio and/or video recording features and immediate ability to share and post what has been recorded.

As educators, we may be involved in recording activities in the classroom, in manipulating recorded data for further pedagogical uses, and in displaying work or sharing it electronically in a board-authorized forum. As we do so, are we ensuring that the use of technology is couched within an articulated framework of civic and ethical obligations? Have our administrators or other supervisory personnel provided sufficient guidance and rules? Are we modelling responsible use of technology?

Further, as we embrace new opportunities for using electronic technology as part of our programs, are we also sufficiently mindful of the economic and other gaps among students that leave many without access to such technology?

Student Use of Electronic Technology

You may be encouraging students to explore and experiment with technology in various parts of your classroom program, and students may be eager to do so. As with any learning medium, the use of technology must be carried out under your supervision, be for pedagogical reasons, be done safely, and not breach school rules or expectations of conduct.

It is important to be aware of the rules your school board has in place to govern student use of personal electronic devices at school. ETFO’s position is that school boards should adopt policies and procedures dealing with the use of personal electronic devices by students. Such rules should preclude unrestricted use on school property by students and should require that such devices be stored and turned off during the instructional day, unless staff directly authorizes their use.

It is also critical that rules and policies address inappropriate or unauthorized use of personal electronic devices by students that includes cyberbullying and harassment of school staff or students, or the inappropriate or unauthorized use of photos, videos or audio recordings of educators or other staff. ETFO’s perspective is that these uses should not be permitted at any time.

The Education Act provisions for protecting students from bullying and responding to incidents of bullying specifically include cyberbullying. This may include the creation of a web page or a blog where the creator assumes the identity of another person, the impersonation of another person as the author of content or messages posted on the internet, the communication of material electronically to more than one individual, or the posting of material on a website accessed by one or more individuals.

If you are aware of or suspect that cyberbullying is taking place, you have a legal obligation under the Education Act to report this to school administrators, and they are obligated to investigate. Your board should have introduced policies and guidelines on this matter by early 2013. Resolution of such issues should usually involve not only the student who has behaved inappropriately, but also the victim and other students privy to the conduct.

If you are aware of or suspect inappropriate student use of personal electronic recording devices, you need to address this as you would other kinds of student misconduct. For example, if you learn that students are recording each other or staff without direct supervision by a teacher, intervene and keep your school administrators informed. Where appropriate, refer the matter to school administrators to handle through student discipline or other processes.

There have been instances of students recording an educator without the knowledge or permission of the educator or school administrators. Such recordings have been shared with school administrators in efforts to critique educators and have been included in complaints to the College of Teachers. Educators are vulnerable to the manipulation of such recordings and unauthorized sharing and posting of such recordings. Established expectations about student use of electronic devices and technology should protect everyone in the school community and be enforced regardless of who is the subject of recordings or cyber activities.

To the extent that rules or expectations around inappropriate or unauthorized use of technology are established in board documents and procedures, school administrators and classroom educators should enforce these rules. If no such rules are in place, or you see the rules being ignored or flouted, it is important to raise these issues with your local.

Staff Use of Electronic Technology

Proper decorum concerning the use of technology applies to school staff too. Staff should generally refrain from using personal electronic devices at work. Using such devices for personal reasons during instructional time can result in complaints to school administrators, who may see this use as unprofessional and as a failure to properly carry out your duties in the classroom. Using such personal devices in a professional setting, even for pedagogical reasons, may mean that students and others have access to personal information on the device, which could result in professional liability or discipline.

There are restrictions on your use of and access to board technology as well. ETFO recommends against taking board electronic devices off school property without explicit witnessing by or written authorization from your school administrator. You may be seen as assuming liability for the safety and security of that technology when it is in your possession. If the technology is used inappropriately, unprofessionally or for illegal purposes while in your possession, you may bear personal, criminal and/or professional liability. ETFO suggests that you do not engage in personal use of board property, including board technology, at any time. You should never assume that your use of such technology is private or inaccessible to the school board.

Whether you are using board technology or personal electronic devices, your ability to use such technology at school with students is restricted. For example, you can record students only if you have complied with board rules, have the necessary parental consents in place and use the recordings for pedagogical purposes. ETFO recommends against taking any classroom or student photos or audio/video recordings off school property or using them for any purpose outside of the classroom unless you have explicit authorization from your administrators.

You are expected to maintain professional standards of practice when working with technology just as you would with any other medium. If something would be inappropriate said aloud in the classroom or posted on a chalkboard, then it is inappropriate in an electronic communication too. If a photo or audio/video recording is not something you would immediately share with a parent or administrator, then you should neither make it nor keep it. It is wise to be aware of the College of Teachers’ professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media as well.

You should also consider the use of technology with colleagues. For example, electronically recorded conversations between colleagues at school could lead to criminal charges, allegations of harassment, job consequences or a complaint to the College of Teachers. Under Canada’s Criminal Code, it is an offence to intercept a private communication by means of electronic devices without consent of one of the parties to the communication.

ETFO expects school boards to ensure safe and secure working environments for employees and to implement clear and comprehensive written internet and email user policies and procedures for employees, students and parents/guardians. Working within these policies and procedures promotes a safer working and educational environment for all.

Access to Technology 

In the course of introducing and modelling responsible use of technology, it is also important not to assume a common understanding on the part of students in your class. Although student ownership and access to electronic technology has grown exponentially in recent years, there are still large numbers of students who do not have access to such technology at home or in other environments, and who do not have the same level of understanding around its use.

ETFO maintains that the use of electronic technology should be embedded in the curriculum and that there must be adequate funding for up-to-date technology for school boards to ensure equitable access for students. For many students, access to school board technology is the only access they have. It is incumbent on educators to ensure that the access that we give students within our classrooms is always equitable.

If you are alert to gaps in student access to technology in your school environment and have concerns about school use of technology further emphasizing these gaps, this is an issue to address in your program or in discussions with staff and administrators. We also encourage you to raise such issues with your local if they are not being adequately addressed in your school.

This article was written by staff in Professional Relations Services.