NetSafe has produced a model for staff and student use agreements since its first version of The Kit back in 2001. With each subsequent release those documents have been updated to reflect the changing nature of technology and the way it is used in schools.

Over time it is fair to say that the Acceptable Use agreements ended up as “Not Acceptable” use documents as schools battled to protect themselves, their students and the wider community from a growing range of online challenges.  But even these documents failed to hit the mark. In a 2012 report on mobile technology UNESCO provided advice to policy makers in education that said;

“Universal bans, unless implemented for well considered reasons, are blunt instruments that usually obstruct educational opportunities and slow innovation in teaching and learning”

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) identified that these Acceptable use policies as having the potential to both protect students from harmful content online and provide access to online tools to enhance learning  and engage learners. While these two features are not on the surface conflicting, all to often this is exactly the position that teachers and students find themselves in.

While the motivations behind the development of acceptable use documents which seek to protect students by restricting their access to the internet are easily understood in the context of a school, they are often the result of “worst-case thinking” where they attempt to protect students from an imagined worse-case scenario rather than from reality. Bruce Schneier describes this problem as;

“Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.… Worst-case thinking leads to bad decisions, bad systems design, and bad security.”

NetSafe proposes a different approach to Use agreements, one with students at the centre. This is a reflection of our Learn:Guide:Protect model for supporting the development of online safety in young people via digital citizenship framework. Our “Responsible Use Agreement” is written for students rather than framed as a quasi legal document, and it is intended to be used as the beginning of a conversation with young people about what it means to them to be a successful digital citizen.

While the renaming of this agreement could seem on the surface to be simply a semantic change, in actual fact it reflects a change in approach that recognises the importance of young people’s ability to recognise challenge online and to resolve them in a way that causes the least harm to themselves and those around them. In short this reflects a change from protection to preparation.

You can read more about our use agreements and policy templates inside the NetSafe Kit for Schools