Technology in the Classroom
What precautions should you take?
The use of educational technology is routine in today’s classrooms, but it does come with potential risks. Concern exists in four areas: acceptable-use policies, using your own device at school, using district-issued devices at home, and student use of personal technology.
Most districts require employees to sign an agreement outlining acceptable use of the district’s technological resources—both hardware, such as computers, and software/programs, such as the district’s network. These agreements have typically focused on prohibiting inappropriate or excessive personal use of the district’s internet. Educators should always be familiar with their district’s policy and follow it.
As most know, but many forget: Computer use almost always leaves a trail that cannot be erased by the delete button. Nothing is gone forever, and nearly everything can be recovered and traced. There is normally very little right to privacy when using district computers, so in most cases an employer may track an employee’s internet use and see what websites the employee has visited either on a district-provided device or on a personal device connected to the district’s Wi-Fi or network.
Administrators can likely read any emails you send or receive from a district email account. There might even be limits on privacy with a personal email account if the local policy provides that an employer can monitor private accounts accessed on the employer’s system.
Tip: It is a good practice to log out when you are not able to actively monitor your computer station. This will prevent unauthorized use by students or co-workers that might be attributed to you and can eliminate the chance you will unintentionally allow access to confidential student information, which could be a violation of the Family and Education Privacy Rights Act (FERPA).
It is also very important to know what type of teacher-student communication is allowed. District requirements and prohibitions on teachers’ electronic communications with students vary widely. A violation of the policy itself can be seen as evidence a communication was improper and lead to serious negative employment and certification consequences.
There are three main concerns when using your personal device, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, at school:
- Using it inappropriately while at work.
- Students’ viewing inappropriate material.
- Sharing personal information when unintentionally syncing your device to the district’s network.
The first two dangers can be avoided by following district policy, using good judgment, and safeguarding your device. Avoiding the third can be more complicated as it requires a working knowledge of your device’s settings.
Most district policies will cover when it is allowable to use your phone. Avoid potential negative employment action by familiarizing yourself with these policies. Also, recognize that connecting to the district’s network via Wi-Fi constitutes using district resources even if you connect on a personal device. You should never use the district’s network to access inappropriate materials—even if you are viewing them on your personal device.
It’s also a good idea to keep close tabs on your phone while at work and protect it with a password. You would not want a student “finding” your phone and discovering an inappropriate text or picture of you out with friends.
Lastly, take steps to avoid syncing your phone with the district’s network. If your settings are not properly set, your phone might attempt to do this without your knowledge. This could result in all data on your phone, including texts, emails, pictures, and websites you’ve visited, being transferred to the district. You might not necessarily have anything to hide, but why risk turning over personal information to your employer?
Legal duty to keep work-related communications on your personal device
As smartphones and texting have become more common, it has become far more common for teachers, administrators and others to communicate with one another electronically. The Texas Government Code (the Public Information Act) requires that all public school employees keep (not delete) any work-related electronic communications on their personal device unless a copy of the communication is also kept by the district. This requirement lasts for as long as the district would keep the communication under its local archive policy. The educator is legally required to keep the information for this period even if they leave the district. Deleting work-related communications in violation of the law’s requirements can lead to both civil and criminal penalties.
Many districts issue employee laptops or tablets. Not only can these be a great asset in the classroom, but also they can help educators keep track of lesson plans, parent communications, and grading at home. But keep in mind:
- If the educator is allowed to use the device for personal business as well as school business, the educator may be held financially responsible for the device if it is lost or damaged, but only if the educator has agreed in writing to assume responsibility and the loss or damage occurs off-campus and not at a school-sponsored event.
- The district’s acceptable-use policy will likely govern home use of district equipment—so again, an educator should know the policy.
- Again, many devices with a Wi-Fi connection may automatically seek to upload information from your home network, and this can lead to potential employment consequences if inappropriate material is transferred. For example, if the district-issued iPad a teacher brings home syncs to their home devices, it could potentially pull personal texts, emails, pictures, and browser histories without their knowledge. This could lead to an unwanted disclosure of personal information, embarrassment, and potentially even negative employment action once the device is returned to the district.
Local policies (Bring Your Own Device or BYOD policies) regulating students’ use of their own devices within the classroom and school environment are evolving as devices become more common. There is very little in the law regarding students’ use of their own technology, so to a very great extent, it’s up to the local school district to determine when and how a student may use a personal device at school. Local policies range from strict prohibition on any use to allowing students to record classroom instruction for academic purposes.
Because student use of technology is such a matter of local control, it is important for educators to know the local policy. There are, however, a few legal restrictions on local policy:
- The Texas Education Code requires parental consent before a student may be recorded, unless the recording is done for safety purposes or for instructional or extracurricular purposes. So, the local policy cannot authorize a student’s recording of other students without parental consent except in these circumstances.
- Student use of technology (such as a calculator or a calculating app on a device) while taking state-mandated examinations will be governed by the regulations related to those examinations. Again, it is important for an educator giving or monitoring a state-mandated test to know, understand, and follow the regulations developed for that test.
Published/reviewed: March 17, 2021
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.