Technology in the classroom

What precautions should you take?

As technology becomes increasingly prevalent in the educational setting, there are numerous ways for educators to benefit from its many applications. But technology also comes with potential risks, particularly for less tech-savvy individuals. Concerns exist 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, like computers, and programs, like the district’s network. These 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. So 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 visited.

Administrators can likely also 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 even private accounts accessed on the employer’s system. So, again, it is critically important that an educator know the local policy.

Tip: It is a good practice to “log out” when you will not be able to actively monitor your computer station to prevent unauthorized use by students or co-workers that might be attributed to you.
There are three main concerns when using your personal device, such as a laptop, tablet or “smart phone” at school:
  • Using it inappropriately while at work.
  • Students viewing inappropriate material.
  • Unintentionally sharing personal information when synching your device to the district’s network.
The first two can be avoided by following district policy, using good judgment and safeguarding your device. Avoiding the third can be more complicated.

Most districts’ 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 do it 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 your phone syncing 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 of the data on your phone, including texts, emails, pictures and websites you’ve visited, being transferred to the district. There might not necessarily be anything for you to hide, but why risk turning over personal information to your employer?
Some districts issue employees 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 it, 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 her home devices, it could pull all of the texts, emails, pictures and websites she has visited from her home computer or smart phone without her even knowing.  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 a strict prohibition on any use to allowing students to tape 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 taped, unless the taping is done for safety purposes or for instructional or extra-curricular purposes. So, the local policy cannot authorize a student’s taping of other students without parent 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.

The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our online contact form