When I think about an acceptable use policy (AUP) or responsible use policy (RUP), I never really thought about the difference between the two. My understanding was that they were policy documents that were comprehensive in stating what students can and cannot do when using technology. The main purpose of this policy document was to ensure that students were being safe online. Normally this policy document would be shown at the beginning of the year to the students and they would be required to read it through with their parents and sign to show their acknowledgement and agreement to the terms. The AUP and RUP appeared to be a book that was read at the beginning of the year and shelved once it was done. It would only be taken out to be read when a student breached the terms.

When I read a post written by Sylvia Martinez titled “What message does your AUP send home?”, it made me think about the students’ and parents’ understanding of technology based on the terms that were listed. She posed critical questions to ask when examining your AUP. It was quite eye-opening to think about how students were being addressed in the policy whether they were potential victims who need to be on high alert and avoid different things or potential bullies who need to be reminded of proper conduct. How are we addressing and portraying our students as online users? How should we be addressing them?

I remember asking students how they kept themselves safe online and most answered by saying “I don’t …” or “You shouldn’t…” They were able to give me a long list of what you shouldn’t do! When I had asked them what they did to make sure they were safe online, it was as if I threw them a curveball! It suddenly became difficult for them to identify what they were doing that was safe. I had the realisation then that they needed more awareness and exposure as to what they can do that was safe. It felt as if the don’ts and shouldn’ts had created a limited boundary and given the impression that the online world was a dangerous place!

In one of my fellow COETAIL’s blog post, Lana had mentioned how her school had incorporated their AUP into their lessons and had students reflect on it. It was as if a switch was turned on. The AUP shouldn’t just be a book that is shelved once read. We should be doing more with the AUP. We should be drawing connections between the AUP and their behaviour online. They should be provided with authentic experiences in the classroom where they can practise and apply their understanding of the rules stated. They should be understanding why these rules are set and how they can act upon them.

Besides being merely an agreement, the AUP needed to be something more. I had never thought much about the difference between acceptable and responsible. It wasn’t until I read the article by Laura Varlas titled “Can Social Media and School Policies be ‘Friends’?” She discusses the dangers that exist in completely disconnecting our kids from social media and restricting their access to the content online. By taking away and disconnecting our kids from the online world, we are essentially running away from something that will always be present and leaving them to fend for themselves once they do have access.

She makes direct reference to a quote by professor S. Craig Watkins, “There is an abundance of evidence that suggests that the informal learning environment (i.e., leisure, extracurricular, and enrichment opportunities) of middle-income students is just as important as the formal environment (i.e., schools) in their academic achievement.” Students should be provided with high-quality online experiences where they are presented with the opportunities on how they can engage online productively and safely. In order for them take part in the participatory culture, they need to equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that would empower and allow them contribute positively.

“Rules for tools, don’t make sense. Rules for behaviours do.”
-Tom Whitby

What exactly is the difference between acceptable and responsible? The “acceptable use” explicitly tells students what they can and cannot do online. As long as they follow the rules and terms, they are demonstrating acceptable behaviour without much thought on their actions. I feel that it merely focuses on what students need to DO. When “responsible use” is used, the connotation of the policy is changed to one where students have to think about how to BE responsible and act accordingly. Instead of only DOing what is right, they should BE right in the sense that they are able to make act responsibly, ethically and safely.

In an excerpt from the ASCD book “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” co-written by Thomas C. Murry and Eric Sheninger, they write about students being held responsible for their online behaviour and footprint. The RUP should be giving students ownership over their actions and guide them on how they can be responsible and accountable digital citizens. They list out the characteristics of RUPs. I really liked the inclusion of all stakeholders and valuing students and community voice. Since we are all digital citizens, we should all be included in the discussion and formulation of the RUP. It should matter to everyone. We should all be living and breathing the RUP.


I think that being responsible is one side of the coin. You have to be able to take ownership of your actions. I think the other side of the same coin would be empathy. You would need to understand how your actions would affect others. We need to develop an understanding as to why we have to be responsible and the actions that we take to enact this.

I think that we can make use of the visible thinking routines to scaffold and support students’ thinking as they are presented with different scenarios online. There are thinking routines that are focused on perspective taking that prompt and engage students in empathy as they think about another person’s perspective. Besides guiding students, we need to understand their own thoughts and perspective as well. We have to empower students in believing that their words and actions matters and that is even more reason for them to be responsible and make decisions online that are ethical, responsible and safe. By ensuring that our students understand how to be responsible and most importantly why, they would be able to be make meaningful contributions online. With little steps we can make a difference in how we shape the digital world.