Sep 22, 2021 by Team Hidden

Creating a Responsible Use Policy? Here’s where to start

Creating a Responsible Use Policy? Here’s where to start

Your school may already have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that sets the rules for how technology is used there, but you may feel that it needs a rethink. You’re not the only one. Many schools are now turning towards a Responsible Use Policy (RUP) as a more positive and behavior-centred approach to tech in schools.
There are many reasons for the growing impetus from an AUP to an RUP model. The content and language of AUPs don’t always adapt well to the growing trends within education, such as BYOD and distance learning. In these situations, schools have less oversight, control or knowledge of what’s happening on devices and networks outside their remit. Sanctions for unacceptable or inappropriate use are more difficult to implement, and this is part of the reason for the push towards students’ personal responsibility for their behavior with tech. On a more positive note, RUPs are seen as:

  • A more flexible and solid foundation for the practice and teaching of digital citizenship
  • More aligned with school principles and values
  • Supporting the principle of personal responsibility, which especially underpins the ethos of progressive schools such as Steiner and Montessori
  • Supportive of a more progressive pedagogical approach in using technology for teaching and learning. When behavior isn’t a problem, schools are freer to use platforms such as YouTube for learning

This doesn’t mean that the AUP’s purpose is defunct because you still need to cover the legals. Many schools are taking a blended approach with a multi-layered RUP that incorporates the legal elements of an AUP, too.

Free spreadsheet: Access 100+ Responsible Use Policy examples and other useful online resources, learn about best practices and get all the information you need to kickstart your policy writing process.

How to get started: Decide your RUPs objectives

You’ll know that success is all about preparation, and a key part of preparation is to clarify your RUP’s objectives. When you know what you’d like the end result to be, it becomes much easier to create a roadmap of how to get there. Think through what you’d like to achieve with your RUP. You may want an RUP that:

  • Supports teaching and learning, now and in the future
  • Underpins, encourages and supports the right behaviors
  • All stakeholders buy into
  • Covers the legals such as state and federal regulations
  • Is easy to understand and use by all age groups

A values-driven RUP

Your first port of call in creating a RUP is your school vision and values, which are unique to you. Often, an RUP will align with your school or district vision, especially if your vision supports a safe and positive environment for student learning.

The right behaviors

School values often contain expectations of students’ behavior - to each other, to the teachers and staff, and with school property - and, because RUPs are behavior-based, it can be a simple task to incorporate the spirit of those values within your RUP. For example, respect, kindness and responsibility might be some of your school values and are appropriate behaviors for your RUP, too.

There are several advantages to using behaviors as the cornerstone of your RUP. Behaviors:

  • Underpin how students and teachers approach technology
  • Future-proof cultural or technological developments. For instance, respect is respect, whatever technological advancements are adopted by the school years down the line
  • Make the RUP personal and hands-on, rather than something distant, and helps with creating a culture of ownership

The trick is to keep it simple, rather than to draw up an exhaustive list of behaviors that cover every eventuality. Simple yet effective statements of behavior could include:

  • I treat myself and others with respect
  • I think about privacy before I post something
  • I stand up to inappropriate behavior
  • I report things that I make me feel uncomfortable
  • I recognize other people’s work and ideas
  • I support my own learning with technology

Many schools have found it useful to identify the expected behaviors early on in their RUP in a simple, overarching statement that links the RUP to school values, before getting down to detail later on in the RUP.

Conversation starters:

  • What behaviors might be missing from our RUP?
  • Can we break our values down into a few core principles?
  • Are our values broad enough to cover the behaviors we want for our RUP?
  • Should we develop different expectations and guiding principles based on grade level?

Pedagogy and technology

It’s also useful to consider your school’s attitude to the relationship between technology and your pedagogical principles. These days many learning experiences are mediated by technology, and not all learning happens in school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated discussions on how technology can facilitate learning and make it more accessible during challenging times. With the proliferation of useful learning platforms, cloud-based learning, learning apps, school intranets and greater student access to personal devices, technology is an opportunity to experiment with different ways of teaching and learning.

Conversation starters:

  • What's our end goal in using tech?
  • What’s worked in our approach to tech during COVID-19? What hasn’t worked? What would we do differently?
  • How is tech evolving, and how does this affect our pedagogical approach?
  • Do we consider access to tech a privilege or a right?

Decide the scope

Now you’re clear on your purpose, it’s time to think about the scope of your RUP. What should it cover? Think in terms of:

  • Key behaviors and attitudes from your values and vision. You’ll already have worked on these during your discussions on your RUP’s objectives.
  • The groups of people who need to buy into the RUP, as each has an important part to play. Relevant groups might include:
    ○ Students and their parents or caregivers
    ○ Teachers and other staff
    ○ The IT department and IT lead
    ○ The school or district board, management and administrators
    ○ External experts such as the school’s legal advisory team
    ○ The school’s insurance company
  • The technology: school and student devices, social media, learning platforms, safety, security and tracking of school mobile devices.
  • The legals: for instance, how your RUP might incorporate the requirements of federal and state laws.
  • The format: how will people access the RUP easily? Will you create a series of grade-appropriate mini-RUPs?
  • How you’ll deal with different audiences e.g. using grade-appropriate guidance and language.

Gain buy-in

If your students, staff and teachers feel a sense of ownership of the RUP, they’ll be more likely to adopt its behaviors and practices. Two ways to build that sense of ownership include:

Co-creating the RUP

Creating an RUP together is a great opportunity to start a school-wide conversation about what it means to be responsible and why it’s a good thing. Focus classroom discussion on questions such as:

  • What does it mean to show respect for people online?
  • What does positive behavior mean?
  • How should we take care of the technology we use?
  • What should we do if something online makes us feel uncomfortable?

Discuss ways in which your school values link to appropriate behaviors within your RUP.

Consider the possibility of a special steering team made up of representatives of each group as the driver of the RUP, but be clear that everyone “owns” the process and has the responsibility to support the steering team. Get the involvement and support of existing groups such as:

  • Parent-teacher associations
  • Class representatives
  • An IT club or student interest group that might like to take part in co-creating the RUPas a special project

Consider online surveys and other feedback methodologies to reach as many people as possible.

Framing the RUP as an agreement

Frame the RUP as an agreement, rather than a top-down list of rules. It’s also helpful to use “I” statements. “I” statements are an assertion of the intentions and beliefs of the person making that statement and promote a sense of responsibility and ownership. They are especially empowering if they’re framed positively, for example:

  • I respect other people’s feelings when I’m online
  • I take care of the school computers when I am using them
  • I visit the sites and use the apps that are of benefit to me and my learning

When there’s common understanding and agreement, buy-in is so much stronger.

Next steps

These are just the first steps in putting together your new RUP, but they’re key to a successful process. When you’ve identified your RUP’s objectives, involved all the relevant people in discussions, and outlined the RUP’s scope, putting it all together becomes much easier.