Why Your Campus Needs an Internet Usage Policy

Posted by Josh Young on 8 December 2016 |

why your campus needs an internet usage policyFrom the classroom to the dorm, internet usage dominates much of academic life. Students can take online courses, submit projects, and regularly communicate with teaching staff -- all while never stepping foot in a classroom.

Online communication is now prevalent in administrative offices as well, replacing phone calls and letters with tweets and blog posts. And while these innovations help to streamline communication across the campus, their use can lead to new challenges with long-term consequences to your school.

To protect your campus, you need to implement a sound Internet usage policy that encourages productive behavior and discourages inappropriate activities and misuse of school resources.

What Kinds of Problems Would an Internet Usage Policy Address?

Employee productivity

A recent survey identified that 21 percent of employees waste at least one hour a day searching the internet for non-work reasons, and 39 percent identified internet use as the primary disruption to office productivity.

By outlining how faculty and staff can and cannot use school technology, you can cut down on the number of hours wasted in the office.

Misappropriated resources

Beyond tying up bandwidth, these non-work related activities can even be potentially damaging to your organization -- particularly if an activity falls outside of the law, such as online gambling or the torrenting of copyrighted materials (e.g., movies, music).

One anonymous IT director even reported that he had used his school's server environment for Bitcoin mining, tying up campus resources for personal profit. He was quick to point out that this activity wasn't illegal, but it could definitely be considered a "gray area."

With a clearly established Internet usage policy, you can discourage misuse of campus assets. Further, when violations occur, you can cite the existing guidelines to support any disciplinary action.

Confidential information

There are several state and federal regulations that outline how education records should be managed to protect the privacy of your students. And an errant email or social media post -- such as one that addresses a student's academic performance -- could easily violate these guidelines and threaten funding for your organization.

The proper handling of school records should be a critical component of any policy as even an unintended violation of privacy laws can lead to harsh penalties.

Communication problems

According to Pew Research Center, 90 percent of young adults use social media, with 82 percent currently active on Facebook. With students primarily relying on social media and messaging to communicate, faculty and administration have begun to rely more heavily on these platforms to keep in touch with current, former and potential students.

Whether an official account or not, posts by faculty and school staff are frequently interpreted as school-sanctioned and can have far-reaching consequences.

Just last week, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine made a racially inappropriate Facebook post regarding Michelle Obama. The university was quick to terminate this professor; however, the public relations damage has already been done.

Without proper training and guidance, the online activities of your staff can leave your campus open to controversy after controversy.

How Can You Protect Your Campus?

A sound Internet usage policy should outline:

  • What activities school equipment can be used for
  • What privacy rights users can expect when using campus equipment
  • Who is authorized to post on social media using official accounts and what topics they are allowed to discuss
  • What responsibility do faculty and staff have for their personal social media posts
  • Who does and does not have the right to access student data
  • What are the consequences for violating the Internet usage policy

Beyond defining appropriate and inappropriate Internet behavior for your staff, you should also draft similar guidelines for the student body.

Once your campus has clearly established policies, a comprehensive training program will help to encourage professional conduct among your faculty and staff. If possible, consider the use of monitoring tools to keep an eye out for violations, allowing your school to act before an issue becomes a crisis.

Conclusion

For more information on developing an Internet usage policy for your campus, check out our Internet usage and blogging training.  The course will offer your school ways to develop best practices intended to promote professional and effective online activity.

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