Responsible use policies

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Responsible use policies refers to the set of terms and conditions put in place to define the way that personal computing devices may be used in an institution. Commonly they include a code of conduct, technical restrictions and e-safety guidelines and must be agreed to by learners (and their parents) before the device can be used on-site. We are particularly interested in responsible use policies that have been developed by or in collaboration with pupils.


In schools it is common for avoidance of risk to dominate when it comes to policies relating to ICT. This can result in blocking of websites (filtering) and banning of (mobile) technologies such as smartphones. TESS carried out a survey in 2012 about ICT Policies in Scotland - which, whilst identifying variation in practice, highlighted the extent to which access to the web was blocked by (excessive) filtering and banning of mobile devices {Hepburn (2012)}.


As identified by advocates of bring your own device (BYOD) and bring your own technology (BYOT) programmes, mobile devices are in widespread use among young people {CoSN (2012)}. Some 77% of (US) teenagers (12-17 years old) have mobile phones, and around 25% have a smartphone. Some 75% of all teens text, 63% say they text every day. {Waxman (2012)}. Bosco (2009) argued that young people are increasingly familiar with social networking, blogs, recreational and educational collaborative games, and publishing of videos, pictures, stories, and commentaries. However, these applications for learning are far used far less in schools. Thus, young people experience a two-culture problem as they move between in-school culture and out-of-school culture.

Traditionally schools have resorted to “locking and blocking” sites and materials deemed inappropriate. Acceptable use policies are often more like “unacceptable-use” policies, focusing on how students shouldn’t use mobile phones and the consequences for breaking the rules {Cramer and Hayes (2010)}. A study of cell phone policies in New Zealand schools found that they covered covered social communication by students and were formed in a punitive manner, rather than from a means of ensuring the best learning outcome for students {Fielden and Malcolm (2007)}.

However, in more recent years a different approach has emerged. This approach will use blocking and filtering as required by law, but takes a broad approach based on the premise that children need to learn how to be responsible users and that such cannot occur if the young person has no real choice {Bosco (2011)}. These two approaches can come into conflict, and the idea has been presented that there is a schism between schools that embrace social media and those that ban it {Heppell and Chapman (2011)}.

Certainly the “old” approach seems alive and well. Scottish local authorities routinely seek to block the use of Facebook or file-sharing websites, and are determined to confine schools to using Glow, the Scottish national schools’ intranet. Smartphones are also routinely banned. Even where schools do have access to YouTube, teachers are expected to exert tight control {Hepburn (2012)}. There are plenty of reasons for schools to continue the policy of locking and blocking. Heppell and Chapman (2011) list eight that would have to be addressed by any policy change.

The newer approach has gained some ground. Chaplin (2012) refers to a “slew” of new Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) across the country that emphasize responsibility over mere acceptance. Chaplin cites the Katy Independent School District in Texas that recently changed its AUP to focus on “responsible use,” their director of instructional technology said, “We’re teaching students how to operate in this new world. We wanted to change the wording in our guidelines because we don’t want students to accept them; we want students to be responsible for them.”

Responsible use has also received support in two key policy documents. The CoSN (2012) report “Making Progress” argues that there should be a change of focus from acceptable use policies to responsible use policies – an approach they argue treats the student as a person. Also the UNESCO (2012) Draft policy guidelines on mobile learning encourages the promotion of “safe, responsible and healthy” use of mobile technologies.

Related 'articles'[edit]

Bosco (2011) Acceptable Use Policies in a Web 2.0 and Mobile Era. A guide for school districts. Consortium for School Networking Initiative (CoSN).

Bosco (2009) Participatory Culture and Schools: Can We Get There From Here? Threshold Spring 2009.

Chaplin (2012) Welcoming Mobile: More Districts Are Rewriting Acceptable Use Policies, Embracing Smartphones and Social Media in Schools. Blog post: Spotlight on digital media and learning.

CoSN (2012) Making Progress: Rethinking State and School District Policies Concerning Mobile Technologies and Social Media. Policy Paper. Consortium for School Networking Initiative (CoSN).

Cramer and Hayes (2010) Acceptable Use of Technology in Schools: Risks, Policies, and Promises. IEEE.

Fielden and Malcolm (2007) Cell phomes in New Zealand secondary schools: boon, banned or biased? MoLTA.

Hepburn (2012) Net losses. TESS, 31-Aug-2012.

Heppell and Chapman (2011) Cloudlearn report: phase 1. Effective practice for schools moving to end locking and blocking in the classroom.

Nagel (2012) Banning is not the answer to mobile and social tools in schools. THE Journal

Quillen (2010) Schools Open Doors to Students' Mobile Devices. Education Week.

UNESCO (2012) Draft UNESCO Policy Guidelines on Mobile Learning.

Waxman (2012) Texting 1, 2, 3: Schools Test ‘Bring Your Own Technology’ Programs. Time.

Random Notes[edit]

Guidance from Oak Hills School District (Ohio, USA) on developing an acceptable use policy in the context of BYOD.

An interesting blog post to read is Bud Hunt's SVVSD Responsible Use Policies Are Changing (But Not Just Yet), which includes links to draft policy documents and to a video discussing them. Hunt says:

"We are pretty excited about a couple of things in these revised policies. For one, we’ve tried to re-write them in simpler and easier to understand language. For another, we are starting each list of responsibilities with positive actions, rather than a big list of “Don’ts.”"

It's interesting, in the light of Bud Hunt's comments and also the Analysis (above) to examine examples of 'Responsible Use Policies'. Some of them seem remarkably like 'Acceptable Use Policies', and are full of 'Don'ts' -- with a somewhat 'finger-wagging' tone to match. Moral: just because a policy is called a 'Responsible Use Policy' doesn't mean it is one!

There is also the question of what constitutes "responsible" use. Many policies emphasise 'ethical' behaviour, which few people would argue with. However, some also include listening to music while working, unless the teacher has given permission. Is there a conflict here between saying the policy gives students responsibility and actually doing so? Please see Responsible Use for a further exploration of this.

Examples of Acceptable/Responsible Use Policies[edit]

  • Minster School AUP This AUP is one page long and "addresses all rights, privileges and responsibilities associated with staff and student use of the network resources including the Internet". An explanation of how the Policy was developed is given by Paul Stevens, Asst Head of Esafety at the school, in this video. The Policy is not simply a list of "Don'ts" but brings in the student's personal safety into consideration as well.

"Students are responsible for ensuring that any computers or computing devices, diskettes, CDs, memory sticks, USB flash drives, or other forms of storage media that they bring in from outside the school are virus free and do not contain any unauthorized or inappropriate files."

Interestingly, Forsyth County Schools have adopted a "BYOT" programme, but their AUP exprssly prohibits connecting to the internet via 3G, which would bypass the schools' wireless filtering systems.

This is also the case with...