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5 Tips for Creating a District Responsible Use Policy

By Julie Phillips Randles 
January 4, 2023
Creating Effective Responsible Use Policies for Schools Cover excerpt

One item on many educators’ to-do lists early in the school year is having students sign a responsible use policy (RUP), which spells out how district-provided devices and accounts should be used. These documents, also called acceptable use policies or technology use agreements, often focus exclusively on keeping students safe online, missing an opportunity to help students build healthy habits like using technology to explore their passions, providing constructive feedback and solving problems.  

Creating an RUP that frames technology as a driver of creativity and a means to enhance student learning shifts the narrative from providing a list of warnings to creating a framework that focuses on positive outcomes, says Marci Price, ISTE’s senior director of strategic partnerships.

ISTE RUP policy

“RUPs can be effective tools to set the tone for how to leverage technology in a classroom environment. However, many that exist are overtly negative, focusing on the ‘don'ts’ rather than the ‘dos’ of technology,” Price said. “They’re grounded in fear of consequences, rather than building a culture of trust in a classroom.” 

Here are five things to consider when creating an RUP that focuses on the positive aspects of learning with technology: 

1. Spell out the purpose.

Your RUP should include a clear purpose statement that helps students understand why the policy was created and is being implemented. Your purpose statement might include a reminder that using school-provided technology is a privilege, or that technology can be a powerful tool for learning if used appropriately.  

This statement, and the rest of your policy, should use friendly, conversational language that’s appropriate for your students’ grade level. 

2. Outline the desired behaviors.

A significant portion of your RUP should focus on identifying the digital citizenship skills you want students to practice. Frame the skills as “do’s” instead of “don’ts” whenever possible, and use “I am” or “I will” statements. 

For example, “I will give credit to the creators of content that is not mine" or "I will be a good cyber-friend, including being honest and kind online," or "I will use appropriate language and will avoid making others feel uncomfortable because of the things I say.”

You can use the list of digital citizenship skills developed by the Digital Citizenship Coalition as your guide: 

  • Informed - Students should know how to use technology to support learning and curiosity. 
  • Inclusive - Students should make sure they are respectful of others and see the value of differing viewpoints. 
  • Balanced - Students should practice balancing tech use with other activities and recognize which digital activities have more value than others, 
  • Engaged - Students should use technology to make their school and local community better and help solve problems. 
  • Alert - Students should practice principles of online safety and create safe spaces for others. 

3. Make a plan for resolving problems.

An effective RUP also includes guidance on what to do if something goes wrong online. Many students will likely do something that’s not in line with the RUP at some point. When that happens, they need to know how to respond, whom to tell and the consequences of not following the agreement. 

Spell out any consequences in a nonthreatening way so that students will seek help when needed.  

4. Involve your students.

As you develop the expectations included in your RUP, allow students to have input, make suggestions and ask questions. Students can help you frame the policy so it’s understandable and covers real-life digital citizenship experiences they may encounter.  

5. Request a signature.

Include a place for students to physically or digitally sign that they agree to the code of conduct outlined in the policy. If there’s a problem with digital behavior down the road, it may be helpful to show students their signed RUP and remind them of the behaviors they agreed to. 

You may also want to include a place for parents to sign the policy. 

Get the free guide  

ISTE, in partnership with the Digital Citizenship Coalition, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS), recently published a free guide to help educators create effective RUPs. 

“Setting Conditions for Success: Creating Effective Responsible Use Policies for Schools” shows you how to write RUPs that encourage students to develop critical digital citizenship skills and establish expectations for meaningful online behaviors so they can be their best selves online – and bring out the best in others.  

“We were increasingly hearing from educators who were looking for examples of how to do this,” Price said. “Because digital citizenship is at the heart of the ISTE Standards and a key area of focus for educators, we felt it was our responsibility to respond to the need."

Setting Conditions for Success includes tips on what an effective RUP should include and what to avoid, examples of RUPs gone wrong, and sample templates educators can use to create RUPs for elementary or secondary students. 

This article was updated in 2024 to correct outdated links.