Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« 2010: the year of the cloud | Main | Gifts that keep on giving »

A dozen ways to teach ethical and safe technology use

From the draft of my Survival Skills book:

A dozen ways to teach and promote ethical and safe technology use

Responsible teachers recognize that schools must give students the understandings and skills they need to stay safe not just in school, but outside of school where most Internet use by young people occurs. Over-filtered school networks set up a false sense of security; the real world of the Internet is quite different from the Internet at school.

Teachers who address safe and ethical Internet use proactively:

1. Articulate personal values when using technology. Talk to students about ethical online conduct and set clear limits about what is allowed and what is not allowed. Teachers need to be knowledgeable about the school’s Acceptable Use Policy and work to help their students understand it.  A district’s current acceptable use policy should include language about posting private information about both oneself and others. This private information includes home addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and labeled photographs. Any bullying policies you might have should cover electronic bullying as well as physical bullying.

2. Stress the consideration and application of principles rather than relying on a detailed set of rules. Although sometimes more difficult to enforce in a consistent manner, a set of a few guidelines* rather than lengthy set of specific rules is more beneficial to students in the long run. By applying guidelines rather than following rules, students engage in higher level thinking processes and learn behaviors that will continue into their next classroom, their homes, and their adult lives.

3. Model ethical behaviors. All of us learn more from what others do than what they say. Verbalization of how we personally make decisions is a very powerful teaching tool, but it’s useless to lecture about safe and appropriate use when we ourselves might not follow our own rules.

4. Build student trust. If an inappropriate site is accidentally accessed, use the incident to teach some strategies about using clues in search result findings to discriminate between relevant and non-relevant sites. (“Jose, when the search results say ‘hot chicks xxx,’ that probably won’t be a source for your report on chickens.”)

5. Encourage discussion of ethical issues. “Cases,” whether from news sources or from actual school events, can provide superb discussion starters and should be used when students are actually learning computer skills. Students need practice in creating meaningful analogies between the virtual world and the physical world. How is reading another person’s e-mail without their permission like and unlike reading their physical mail?

6. Accept the fact students will make mistakes. Coach John Wooden famously said, “If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything.” Learning is about making errors and figuring out how not to repeat them. A middle school student who shares her password with a friend who then destroys files has made a recoverable mistake -- one that she might remember before sharing personal data as an adult.

7. Allow students personal use of the Internet. If Internet computers are not being used for curricular purposes, students can research topics of personal interest (that are not inherently dangerous or pornographic). The best reason for allowing that is that students are far less likely to risk loss of Internet privileges if that means losing access to sites they enjoy.

8. Reinforce ethical behaviors and react to the misuse of technology. Technology use behaviors are treated no differently than other behaviors -- good or bad -- and the consequences of such behaviors are equal. Try not to overreact to incidents of technological misuse. If a student were caught reading Playboy in paper form, it’s doubtful we’d suspend all his reading privileges.

9. Create environments that help students avoid temptations. Computer screens that are easily monitored and the requirement that users log in and out of network systems help remove the opportunities for technology misuse. Your presence is a far more effective means of assuring good behavior than filtering software.

10. Assess children’s understanding of ethical concepts. Do not give technology-use privileges until a student has demonstrated that he or she knows and can apply school policies. Test appropriate use prior to students gaining online access.

11. Educate our students and ourselves. Aware teachers are using online curricula from organizations like iLearn, BlogSafety, NetFamilyNews, and Responsible Netizen to inform themselves and their children. These ready-made curricula are simple to integrate when teaching Internet safety units.

12. Educate your parents about ethical technology use. Through school newsletters, talks at parent organization meetings, and through school orientation programs, you can inform and enlist the aid of parents in teaching and enforcing good technology practices.

Will doing those things guarantee that a student will never get in trouble or danger online? Of course not. But schools never have been able to guarantee students’ physical safety either. What schools must be able to demonstrate is that they have shown due diligence -- that they have taken serious steps to prevent harm from occurring. That means a formal plan -- one that includes the above actions and documentation of the plan -- is necessary. And installing Internet filters alone does not constitute due diligence.

Ethical instruction needs to be on going. A single lesson, a single unit, or a single curriculum strand will not suffice. Teachers should integrate ethical instruction into every activity that uses technology.

* Johnson’s 3 P’s of Technology Ethics:

  1. Privacy - I will protect my privacy and respect the privacy of others.
  2. Property - I will protect my property and respect the property of others.
  3. a(P)propriate Use - I will use technology in constructive ways and in ways which do not break the rules of my family, church, school, or government.

Image source:

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (6)

These are great - and I believe that this past semester for me was a great awakening for at least one administrator who I am working with. I would very much like to add these to my list of resources for my unit on ethics in technology if I may.

December 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

This is a great guideline that emphasises the appropriate use of computers rather than focussing on the negative aspects of what students can't do.

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrigid Stevens

Hi Kenn,

Use these as you can.


Thanks, Brigid. It always seems that the the "Thou shall's" get a better response than the "Thou shall not's."


December 30, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Greetings from retirement land! Great post, Doug. How about P#3 = Propriety? (That way they learn vocabulary and ethics at the same time.)

December 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArt Wolinsky

Hi Art,

I like Propriety but I am not sure teachers would!

Good to hear from you. So there IS life after retirement. I am still looking at a few more years in the saddle before hanging up my spurs. (I hope!)

Happy new year!


December 31, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I'm taking Twain's advice...

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Mark Twain

I've traded academia for wood working, Tai Chi, Yoga, exploring NH (our new home), and enjoying my grandson. Of course, some things never change. The diet starts after the New Year.

December 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArt Wolinsky

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>