Breaking, working around, and making fun of school rules: Students meet the internet

Year: 2016

Author: Bulfin, Scott, Johnson, Nicola, Nemorin, Selena, Selwyn, Neil

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The internet presents a distinct set of challenges for schools with regards to issues of power, control, and authority. Many students are increasingly using personally-owned, mobile digital devices that are wirelessly connected to the internet and ‘always-on’. While celebrated for its educational potential, the internet also has the capacity to disrupt schools’ ability to control students’ actions and behaviours as well as introducing new sets of practices that potentially require regulation. To date, the attempt that schools make to intervene in students’ use of online spaces has proven contentious. In particular, moves to regulate technology use risk alienating digitally-attuned young people from their less digitally-centred schools. Indeed, the past twenty years or so have seen repeated concerns over ‘digital disconnects’ between technologically-restrictive schools and students accustomed to relatively unfettered technology use across all other contexts of their everyday lives. Against this background lies the primary concern of this paper: student use of the internet and the rule-making/regulatory practices of digital schools, particularly the following research questions: • In what ways do students perceive school regulation of their internet use as (in)appropriate? • What groups of students find school internet rules problematic, and why? • How do students deal with school regulation of their internet access? Data was collected from students across three case study secondary schools - co-educational, state-run public schools catering for students from 11 to 18 years in the State of Victoria, Australia. From 705 responses, three distinct types of rules were identified and coded along with a fourth set of responses arguing against the need to change any rules. For example, over one quarter of responses cited problems relating to the regulation of access to websites and other applications. A second set of responses concerned school regulation of students’ digital devices. Many of these responses related to the schools’ requirement for students to bring their own devices into school. A final set of regulations related to prohibited activities and practices. Our survey data points to diverse responses to regulation across student populations – not least significant proportions of ambivalent and/or compliant students. While this remains an issue that educators ought to take seriously, so far it does not seem to be undermining school/student relations in the fundamental ways that some commentators have feared previously. Paying particular attention to students’ actual experiences of the internet - and attached meanings - provides a basis for questioning and challenging some of the assumptions that tend to pervade discussions of schools and technology.