Students hacking iPads: Mostly good, isn’t it?

By Anne Collier

Calling it a “hacking scandal,” NPR reported that less than a week after receiving their iPads in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s $30 million iPad program, more than 200 high school students had already figured out how to bypass the filtering software installed on them.

A scandal, maybe, for educators who just want to control students’ use of the devices. But this is school not jail, right? Unless school is only about controlling students (“classroom management”), the whole point of the iPad program is learning, correct? Learning involves inquiry, creative problem-solving, testing ideas, arguments and systems. Maybe people don’t understand that hacking has a lot of the same characteristics. Sometimes it’s a crime, sure, other times a protest, but it’s also a service that exposes problems that need to be solved. It definitely tests systems. And it’s well-rewarded by corporations and governments to secure their databases and networks.

Instead of a scandal, this could be a huge opportunity for L.A. Unified – to celebrate the students’ ingenuity and engage all students in:

  • developing a better filtering system, one that gives them partial ownership and a role in developing filtering policy concerning social media
  • learning not just the importance of securing school networks but the process and policymaking involved in device and network security
  • teaching the school community – parents and everyone else affected by the iPad program – about the program, its safety and security components and how they use social media and devices
  • growing their own digital literacy, media literacy and – as they work with school officials on these projects – social literacy.

So here’s a great sign: “District officials … expressed some admiration for the students’ ingenuity, and they discussed the possibility of enlisting students’ help on an anti-hacking committee,” the Los Angeles Times reported.