There’s a Place for Us(e): Incorporating the Responsible Application of New Technologies into the K-12 Curriculum: Results of a Study Assessing the Level of Knowledge, Preparation and Dissemination among Educators


Tomas A. Lipinski and Elizabeth A. Buchanan (US)


Preparing future citizens for the responsibilities of full participation in the information society means more than just imparting an understanding of the use of the information and communication technology (ICT) that supports that society. Rather, it means also imparting an understanding of the responsible uses of that technology. The necessity for the responsible use of ICT is becoming widely recognized, especially as part of the primary and secondary educational experience. The developing case law,1 as well as the surrounding publicity of the Napster litigation2 demonstrates that legal and ethical issues are gaining prominence in educational settings. Many schools, however, have far to go in making their environments both compliant in terms of the law and committed in terms of ethical uses of technology, combining the legal and ethical issues into a compound concept of so-called responsible technologies. In a revealing article, Victoria Slind-Flor,3 asks rhetorically: “Should schools be teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, and copyright?”
Many responsible institutions have come to believe that the answer to that question is “yes.” Unfortunately few effective tools or frameworks exist for incorporating such concepts (“responsible technologies”) into the classroom environment.4

Unfortunately, educators are ill prepared to teach legal and ethical concepts regarding the uses of new technologies in the classroom.5 Administrators also receive little training and moreover, place legal and technical issues regarding new technologies low on the concern list.6 Until faced with the actual threat of impending litigation educational organizations in the PK-12 environment offer ineffective guidance either by doing little to change the behavior of those in its employ, such as teachers and other staff, or to mold the development of the charges in their care, the students. As a result, students learn first hand (by observation) not only how to infringe copyright and abuse the rights of others online but also to take such actions without any thought or consideration of intervening concepts such as fair use. Copyright infringement is now second nature among the upcoming generation of information society participants. It is no wonder then that the current educational system seems more designed to turn out the next generation of teenage “hackers” than it is law abiding or conforming “netizens.”

K-12 schools are particularly at risk for violating ethical principles and legal precedent, as teachers are often pressed for time, money, and resources, but mainly lack of knowledge about technology law and ethics. Previous educational rhetoric, policy, initiatives, and funding has focused decidedly on getting new technology into the classroom with little thought on the legal and ethical implications of those decisions. Perhaps, it was assumed that the adoption of “responsible technologies” would be a given, but an ongoing research study indicates that this is simply not the case. The researchers propose that a systematic program of “Responsible Technologies” is necessary to directly assist teachers, administrators, and ultimately all students in making ethically sound and legal decisions regarding technology use in schools.

This paper presents ongoing results of a project funded by a University of Wisconsin System PK-16 Initiative grant to study the implementation of Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy (WMASITL), in specific the responsible (legal and ethical) uses of technology in PK-12 environments. WMASITL mandate that students, from grades 4 on, will “use information and technology in a responsible manner . . . respect intellectual property rights . . . [and] recognize the importance of intellectual freedom and access to information in a democratic society.”7 This three-year study assesses the readiness of teachers, administrators, and students to implement the WMASITL and identifies the components of an effective “responsible technologies” program in a PK-12 environment. The initial results are part of the first and partial second year phases of the project. The focus is on the ethical and legal (copyright) uses of technology in the PK-12 environment. The study is carried out with the cooperation of the Cooperative Education Service Agency, District #1 (CESA 1), and with participating school districts located throughout Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Waukesha, and Washington counties, Wisconsin.

The focus of phase one is upon the educators, phase two focuses on administrators, and phase three focuses on students. The first year phase begins begin with a needs assessment, in which several dozen participating CESA 1 teachers are surveyed on their opinions and knowledge regarding ethical and legal issues in PK-12 environments. A continuing education model for instructing teachers on these issues is developed and assessed. Upon completion of the two in-service sessions, teachers will have the opportunity to review and assess various additional learning and teaching tools including practice quizzes, tutorials, etc. available through a Web CT learning module created by the academic research host. Third, a follow-up on-site assessment and audit of legal and ethical practices is made of selected schools within the participating CESA 1 school districts. On-site observations may be video taped, evaluated, and incorporated into a collection of video clips of best practices. Implementation materials designed for staff and teacher use are developed and include a web-based clearinghouse of resources on copyright issues, a best practices multimedia tool, and teaching modules consisting of lecture ideas, activities, and evaluation plans for teachers to use. (Phase two repeats the process for a selection of administrators from representative CESA 1 school districts.)

Presentation at the ETHICOMP 2002 may include demonstration of the continuing education model and assessment (tutorials), the initial curriculum design, and the clearinghouse and best practices tools. Findings and conclusions of the current level of teacher preparation incorporating WMASITL regarding the use of responsible technologies in their classroom is reported as well as suggestions for achieving success in future implementation initiatives. In addition, areas for improvement as well as unresolved issues are identified. The result is the presentation of several possible directions for compliance efforts in elementary and secondary education regarding the legal and ethical uses of ICT in the classroom.


  1. Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees v. Substance, Inc., 79 F. Supp. 2d 919 (N.D. Ill. 2000).
  2. Metallica v. Napster Inc. et al., No. 00-0391, complaint filed (C.D. Cal., April 13, 2000).
  3. Victoria Slind-Flor, Students Flunk IP Rights 101, The National Law Journal, March 13, 2000, at B6.
  4. Lesley Ellen Harris, Editorial, Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter (Volume 5, Issue 4), 2001, at 1.
  5. Douglas W. Green, Copyright Law and Policy Meet the Curriculum: Teachers’ Understanding, Attitudes, and Practices, ERIC Doc. # ED 364 946, 1993; Alex Carter and Landra L. Rezabek, The Awareness of Copyright Issues by Preservice Teachers, 20 International Journal of Instructional Media, 1993, at 43; Dana R. Monts, Student Teachers and Legal Issues, ERIC Doc. # ED 428 039 (1998); F. Patterson and L. Rossow, Preventative Law by the Ounce or by the Pound: Education Law Courses in Undergraduate Teacher Education Programs, 9 National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 1996, at 38.
  6. Richard L. Rice, Behavior Opinions and Perceptions of Alabama Public School Teachers and Principals Regarding the Unauthorized Copying and Use of Microcomputer Software, ERIC Doc. # ED 340 703 (1991).
  7. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Information and Technology Literacy 14 (1998).