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August 25, 2016
Vol. 11
No. 24

Setting the Tone for Technology Use

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For teachers, the new school year brings a chance to influence the lives of a brand-new crop of students. To set a positive tone for the year, effective teachers devote significant time to communicating and rehearsing expectations for classroom norms, behaviors, and routines. However, in many schools the learning space now extends beyond the classroom walls and into digital environments. This shift allows teachers to use technology to meet the diverse learning needs of students; it also means that they must develop, communicate, and rehearse classroom norms for digital spaces. Specifically, a roadmap for successful technology use at all grade levels might include the following:
  • Determining student access to technology or Internet at home
  • Troubleshooting for students without technology or Internet access at home
  • Establishing expectations for technology use at school
  • Establishing expectations for online communication at home
In this article, we provide tips for navigating this roadmap—determining students' technology resources and establishing expectations for their use toward academic purposes.

Audit Access Away from School

Teachers who regularly integrate technology into their instruction are likely to expect students to complete some assignments at home. Unfortunately, not all students have the same access to resources (e.g., devices, Internet) when they leave school. Even in districts implementing one-to-one initiatives, students may lack online access at home. Asking families about Internet use at home helps teachers consider students' capacity to complete assignments away from school; it also facilitates communication and collaboration with parents and guardians. Figure 1 features a sample survey that teachers could use or adapt to determine what technology students can access outside of school.

Figure 1: Sample Technology Survey (adapted from Carbaugh & Doubet, 2016)

1. Do you or a family member or guardian have a computer or tablet at home?

2. Do you or a family member or guardian have a smartphone that you can access nightly?

3. Do you have access to the Internet at home? If "yes," skip ahead to question 7. If "no," continue with questions 4–7.

4. If you don't have Internet access at home, do you have a study hall or some other time during the day when you could work on assignments requiring technology?

5. If you don't have Internet access at home, are you close to a library or some other place (coffee shop, friend's house, fast food restaurant, library) where you might be able to access it?

6. Are you able to stay after school any afternoons during the week to use devices or access the Internet? If so, do you have transportation home?

7. What concerns, if any, do you have about completing assignments using technology at home?

Troubleshoot Resource Gaps

Once teachers have determined student needs, they can begin circumventing impediments to access. Here are two common problems and our suggested solutions.
Problem 1: Students don't have access to computers or applications (e.g., Microsoft Office).
  • Determine if students can check out devices from the school media center.
  • Discover if local libraries provide public access to computers, and consult with media specialists to determine if these resources will meet your students' needs.
Problem 2: Students don't have access to the Internet.
  • Consider using study halls or afternoons where students might stay after school to complete work before going home. Many schools provide buses for clubs and other extracurriculars should students need transportation
  • Encourage older students to visit the library or nearby businesses with free Wi-Fi access. You could also reach out to the community for potential resources.

Set Expectations for School Use

Once teachers resolve student access issues, they should turn attention to expectations for at-school technology use. Figure 2 depicts a sample policy.

Figure 2: Technology Policies (adapted from Carbaugh & Doubet, 2016)

Ms. Munns's Classroom Policies for Technology Use:

1. Distribution and Care of Equipment

  • Take only the machine that you are assigned. Pick it up from and put it away in the designated slot, and carry it carefully to your desk (with two hands).

  • Report any broken pieces or malfunctions.

  • Be gentle with machines. Do NOT pull off keys or other pieces.

2. Use of Equipment

  • Visit only approved websites related to the lesson.

  • When the teacher says "eyes on me," turn off screens, close laptops, and place tablets and smartphones facedown.

  • Never hold devices in your laps.

  • Keep your passwords confidential.

3. Use of Personal Devices

  • Use personal devices for school purposes only.

  • Always connect personal devices to the school Wi-Fi network.

  • Turn off e-mail and text alerts prior to using personal devices.

  • Do not take videos or pictures without permission from the teacher.

  • Turn off and put away devices when you are not using them in class.

  • Bring devices at your own discretion. Neither the teacher nor the school is responsible if the device is lost or damaged.


Establish Expectations for Home Use

When students are using technology to complete academic work away from school, you want to establish some standards for online interactions that foster positive communication, establish trust, and eliminate any attempts at cyberbullying. Steps for setting positive expectations include the following:
  • Model appropriate interactions. Teachers use various learning management systems for students to post work and comment on classmates' ideas (i.e., blogs and sites such as Padlet and TodaysMeet). We suggest teachers model appropriate responses by employing a sorting activity to help students understand proper online interactions. The teacher distributes ziplock bags filled with slips printed with online comments of varying degrees of positivity (e.g., "I'm not sure I agree," "That's a silly thing to say," and "You're a moron"). In small groups, students sort these into categories, name the categories, and share with the class.
  • Structure students' interactions. One effective way to prevent negative communication among students is to ensure that they all connect with one another regularly in the online environment. If all students are required interact in the classroom AND respond to one another electronically, then they are less likely to develop cliques. Use a simple chart to set up a schedule for responding to classmate's work to ensure that students interact digitally with a variety of classmates rather than simply with one or two buddies.
  • Monitor student interactions. Teachers should monitor posts, intervene in negative interactions, and set consequences for students who display poor judgment online. is one site that requires the teacher to approve a student post before their classmates see it. Padlet recently introduced a setting that allows teachers to monitor student responses in a similar manner, requiring approval before comments go live.
  • Revisit these steps. The adage "practice makes permanent" certainly applies to fostering healthy digital communication. After a few weeks of regular, monitored online interaction, pull up students' Padlet posts (both negative and positive) and use them as context for a frank discussion with the class about posting etiquette.
A successful classroom establishes and reinforces a positive learning environment. For teachers who use technology as part of a high-quality curriculum, this environment extends into the virtual world. As with all norms and expectations, teachers must be proactive, clear, and consistent in the communication of technology routines. The payoff is a healthy classroom community, both at school and at home.

Carbaugh, E. M., & Doubet, K. J. (2016). Differentiating the flipped classroom: A practical guide to digital learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Eric M. Carbaugh, PhD, is a full professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary, and Mathematics Education at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he instructs both undergraduate and graduate courses. As an educational consultant, he has worked with teachers and leaders at more than 100 schools and districts on a variety of topics related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

He is a coauthor of Designing Authentic Performance Tasks and Projects and the quick reference guide Principles and Practices for Effective Blended Learning. He has teaching experience at both the elementary and secondary levels and serves as the journal editor and a board member for the Virginia ASCD chapter.


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