Saturday, December 13, 2008

Let’s Get Rid of Acceptable Use Policies

Note: I ran across this idea sometime in the last two weeks somewhere in my PLN. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where. It might’ve been on Twitter, or in the ADVIS PLP, or on a blog somewhere, but I can’t recall nor can I find a link. So, if someone knows where I stumbled across this, please leave a comment and I’ll update the post.

Most school districts have Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s), usually for both students and staff. These policies are often a laundry list of things that you can’t do with technology and on the Internet. (So are they really UUP’s – Unacceptable Use Policies?) Instead of having AUP’s, or even UUP’s, I propose we have RUP’s – Responsible Use Policies.

Instead of making a list of all the things you can’t do with technology and on the Internet, what if we made a list of all the things that not only can you do, but you should do? What if students and staff had to sign an agreement that stated these are all the ways that a responsible student or staff member should be using technology and the Internet if they are to be a functional, literate, contributing member of society?

Do you think that might change the conversations we have with students? And with all of our stakeholders?


  1. The teachers would have to show a portfolio of use with students. It would be subject to peer review and examples would need to be posted on the staff wiki on a regular basis! I like this idea!

  2. In the state of Washington, a group of us worked via the Superintendent of Public Instruction and developed a sample board policy and procedure that I many school district are going to use as their AUP or the basis for it.
    As a group we decided that to have a list of things that you can do, and are more than welcome to is something we found to be the most important point, and made sure to focus that at the beginning of the document. It still includes quite a bit of what can't be done, but I think it is something that is a first step to one day reach the level you talk about here.
    You can find the document here if anyone is interested:

    State of Washington Sample Board Policy on Electronic Resources

  3. Our students do have to sign an AUP for computer use, but I went a little beyond that. I sent home a permission form to parents asking for permission to publish student work on our class web page and other web sites we will be using in the classroom this year. It asks permission to use student writing, voices, pictures, artwork, and video. It includes the assurance that I will protect students by avoiding publishing student first and last names together or identifying names with photos. It is a little different take on the "Thou shalt not"s.

  4. Much of the discussion of AUP's appears to be motivated by fear that students will go to "unacceptable sites" and either connect with people through social networking sites who wish to take advantage of our students, or browse content we deem inappropriate. Interestingly, we all take pride in teaching our students to read and comprehend at high levels. By the end of third grade, they can walk into any bookstore and browse "inappropriate content" and collaborate with some interesting people. Yet we do not have an AUP regarding reading instruction. This is to say, we tend to blame the tool, not the choices of the user. IBM has a fascinating set of Social Computing Guidelines posted at Why can't we adapt them for use in school? We can integrate a big of "social responsiblity" with our use of some very powerful teaching and learning tools.

  5. I agree with Gary Kidd's remarks. Can't wait to check out the link he provided.

    I'm in a community college setting and students can't access social networking sites (well, actually they do by proxy, but the IT folks have not caught on to that yet!), some image hosting sites, etc. This is happening even while other community colleges are establishing a presence on social networking sites as a means of recruitment and communication. It seems that there is a lack of vision, direction, understanding, etc. about the use of technologies as instructional tools.

    I suppose that it's a work in progress, but I'm more than a little disturbed that educational systems require that students leave the technologies that they use every day at the door to the classroom. Surely, there are suitable alternatives.

    I know that there are laws that must be complied with, and I realize that young children would certainly require protections that college students would not. But again....surely a balance can be achieved.

  6. Karl,

    I believe the idea was started by Kristin Hokanson. I remember her tweeting about it a while back...

  7. I like the RUP idea. Let's keep the focus on the positive, not the negative.

  8. Karl,

    A few thoughts...

    1) My client, the Eastern Townships School Board in Quebec, has 6,000 laptops with zero net filtering. They adopted that policy based on many of the issues discussed here, but most importantly because filtering gives parents and teachers a false sense of security.

    2) I don't imagine that coerced contracts between schools and parents are legally valid or have been tested.

    3) The biggest reason for behaving rationally is that it's wrong to be mean to children. It also increases the animosity between kids and adults.

    4) I wrote this article a few years ago about the messages sent by the list of threats and punishments schools use in order to cover their backsides.

  9. Thanks everyone.

    @Kris Hagel - that is better than many, but I wonder if you could've just stopped with "Expectations for student and staff behavior online are no different than face-to-face interactions"? Do you know how many district have used a big chunk of it?

    @Gary Kidd - thanks for that link to IBM's social networking guidelines. I found the intro interesting:

    "In the spring of 2005, IBMers used a wiki to create a set of guidelines for all IBMers who wanted to blog. These guidelines aimed to provide helpful, practical advice—and also to protect both IBM bloggers and IBM itself, as the company sought to embrace the blogosphere. Since then, many new forms of social media have emerged. So we turned to IBMers again to re-examine our guidelines and determine what needed to be modified. The effort has broadened the scope of the existing guidelines to include all forms of social computing."

    I wonder if we could turn to our folks - teachers and students - to develop guidelines, instead of well-meaning central office people and lawyers?

    @Michael Leonard - thanks, I'll try to track it down.

    @Gary - you and I probably agree about 95% on Internet filter and related policies (I don't want to say 100%, because that would just be scary!)

  10. Another person working on the question of AUPs is Renee Hobbs at Temple University. She's working on a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. You can read about her work at

    While this is slightly specific to media learning, it addresses some of the intellectual property and legal concerns that can come up around the subject. Her general point seems relevant, however, that educational, non-commercial use of media can be great tools for project based learning.

  11. Great discussion here - the state of Washington has an updated AUP page (the link above is broken) and it includes editable MS Word templates.