Keeping Clean in Technology Use

The technology innovations shared in the accompanying article have the capability to reshape the learning and teaching experience for students and teachers everywhere.

Along with that capability comes the responsibility and challenge of managing these varied forms of accessing and creating knowledge. It’s incumbent upon superintendents and school boards to spend time reviewing their current policies around the instructional process and making modifications as necessary to support these new collaborative tools.

One of the most common misunderstandings about the use of new technology tools involves copyright. Strictly speaking, it is an infringement of the original copyright to make a copy or a derivative work without the original copyright holder’s permission. You will hear the term “fair use” bandied about by students as a free ticket to use anything, anywhere and anytime.

Fair use is generally defined as any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and transformative purpose, such as commenting on, criticizing or parodying a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner. Fair use generally precludes the use of an entire work and then only to be used for non-distribution other than class presentations or student portfolios.

To be sure, much of our knowledge has come from our ability to build upon the work of others. Lawrence Lessig, a prominent Stanford University law professor, likes to use the example of Walt Disney building upon Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. character to bring us the cartoon character Steamboat Willie and eventually Mickey Mouse. Although that was an example of fair use at the time, under today’s legislation, Disney would have undoubtedly ended up defending against a costly lawsuit leveled by the creator.

Be certain your teachers and students are familiar with your school district stance on copyright and fair use and that they review it at the beginning of each school year. Digital copyright is an area that is constantly under investigation and new standards may emerge in the near future. Make sure your media, instructional technology and curriculum staff stay abreast of current law and practices by visiting sites such as the University of Maryland University College at

Similarly, as you investigate the means to use more collaborative technology tools in your school system, your local acceptable use guidelines will need to be modified to carefully point out new areas of responsibility that students and staff need to be aware of. In addition, with this change of mindset, not only will teachers need a great deal of professional development to teach in a more open, collaborative classroom, but support staff, particularly network support staff, will need time and funding to investigate new means and to put in place new practices to protect student privacy and secure information as appropriate.

Free online resources about these and related issues can be found at the Consortium for School Networking website (