Positive Vibration

Looking at the Responsible Use Agreement (RUA) from a couple of schools was interesting. Its something I had gone over with my students two years in a row, but I honestly had not thought much about it.  It always fell into part of the “we have to do this to start the year” pile of documents and things to sign. Taking the time to really read through it and think about the information and how it was presented was interesting.  I was disappointed with how negative the RUA from our school read.  A big list of things you cannot or should not do. A perfect way to get students to listen, right?  Yeh, no way.

So I partnered up with Matt Fron for this project, who I had previously engaged with through #AfricaEd as well as other blog posts in COETAIL,  to see what we could do to make this user agreement a little more user friendly. We each asked our students what they thought about the existing agreements and if they read them before they signed them.  The responses were not startling.  Very few of the students had actually read the entire agreements, even though they had all signed them.  None of them were overly impressed.

Photo Credit: Brian Lane Winfield Moore via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Brian Lane Winfield Moore via Compfight cc

But is that really any different from us?  How many user agreements have we checked off with out even glancing thru.  They are so full of legal lingo its hard to focus and read even a quarter of the way through them.  To be fair, even the people that write them even say they rarely read them completely.

Its an interesting thing working with someone you’ve never met in person.  Its hard to know how they work, when they work, heck, if they work. I have to say, that this was definitely a positive experience though.  Shared Google documents and folders make collaboration easy, allowing each of us to work when it is convenient, check the revision history and leave comments directly on the document.

I don’t know if asides are legitimate parts of blogs, but I’m going to take one here.  I’ve been a fan of this we don’t have to meet to work together process for years now, and am constantly working on my colleagues to utilize it within the school to work more efficiently.  I also still have to sit back and giggle or shake my head from time to time in amazement of the power of the internet.  Its amazing the work that can be accomplished across distance and time.

Through our collaboration and investigations we managed to make at least the initial part of the agreement more positive and readable to students, but as Matt inquired with the “powers that be” they informed him that some of the stale and negative language needed to be there for policy and to allow for follow up if rules were not followed.  Fair enough.

Co-created with Matt Fron
Co-created with Matt Fron

We also created a poster using Canva (also allowing asynchronous collaboration) to be displayed in classrooms to encourage students to think about their digital footprint and online presence.  I believe the simple, positive phrases and images create an attractive and effective poster.  Each phrase matches with a sub-section of the document and the included QR code links to the RUA document itself for further information.



It is proven that positive reinforcement is much more beneficial than warnings or threats to students, so why do we so often provide them with threatening documents in case they fail, instead of positive documents that assume they will succeed?


  1. Angela Langlands says:

    @rharwood17, I left a similar comment on the blog of @mattfron… so if you read my comments there, you don’t need to read any further.

    Let me start out by saying: awesome! I am extremely impressed with the work that you put in to this AUP. I am pretty amazed at all the details you added especially after receiving feedback from students about how they don’t even read before signing the AUP. I am really impressed with your positive poster and particularly like the QR code. But I wonder why the need for so many words? Your poster has 4 basic rules to focus on: safety, kind, fair, and responsible. So I think to myself, is there really a need for all the extra information? Do we need to write all these words about what students should not do or should you just rather focus on what they should do: be safe, kind, fair, and responsible. I think the danger of putting in too many words is that you will, inevitably, not cover all topics that will come up. You’ll leave out something and then a student, administrator, or parent will find a gap to dig in to. By leaving your AUP open to your “be” outline, you leave things more ambiguous. If a child is cyberbullying or torrenting, you can stop them and say, “You weren’t being responsible. Now… here’s a consequence.”

    I raise these questions because @mschristymartin and I did the complete opposite by creating a policy that has only 6 guidelines. After working in a PYP school together, @mschristymartin and I observed that we could get ANY bad behavior to fit neatly under the PYP’s core principles (Learner Profiles and Attitudes). I think schools often spend too much time writing policies that nobody reads and fewer people “know.” Maybe sometimes, less is more. Hmmm.


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      I think you raise some really good points. If I’m honest, I didn’t think as much about shortening the language as I did about re-phrasing. In the end we looked at how to make the current language more positive which may or may not have helped the readability. If it is too long, they won’t read it even if it is positive.

      I do hope that we struck some sort of balance here though. Could it have been less wordy? Probably, but I also think we gave a good shot at conversation starters with a little more detail. As I think we both stated in our reflections, to a certain extent some of the language needs to be there for the school’s protection, like it or not.

      Thanks for the feedback. I hope to introduce this to our tech committee next year (that I get to take charge of) and I’m interested to see what the response is. There may be further revisions coming…


  2. Ryan Harwood says:

    Oh, and funny enough this just came through on my email this morning from ISTE


  3. Angela Langlands says:

    @rharwood17, I’m glad you get to share this with your tech committee next year. I hope you get a positive response because the vocabulary is certainly positive. It was interesting to me today, when I looked at the policies and handbooks my school share with all of its stakeholders. On our school portal alone there is a link just for handbooks:
    1. child protection policy (15 pages)
    2. faculty handbook (85 pages)
    3. elementary handbook (48 pages)
    4. middle school handbook (58 pages)
    5. high school handbook (52 pages)
    6. handbook for our 2nd campus (76 pages)
    7. T & L Handbook (40 pages)
    I don’t know what that total is but it’s somewhere over 350 pages of words. Words, words, words! As you both noted in your work, the students don’t read it. The parents don’t read this stuff. So I guess I just can’t figure out why we keep spending so much time wordsmithing and meeting to write words when no body is really reading them. Are we just ensuring we are protecting ourself? Is that what our school have turned in to? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just fed up because I just wrote 16,000+ words for my report cards… and I’m tired!


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Turns out I’m sharing it with admin now. The conversation came up in a meeting so it is going through another revision cycle and we’ll see what happens.

      And yes, I think a lot of it is just protecting ourselves. The document is protection, the learning comes through discussion.


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