Friday, 30 September 2016

Legal and Ethical Contexts in My Digital Practice

According to Henderson,  Auld  & Johnson (2014) “Students will learn understandings about the law and morality from the actions teachers do and do not take associated with social media in the classroom” (p5). Whilst this statement is pertinent to a number of situations involving the use of social media in the classroom, in this particular instance I shall be exploring the ethical dilemma that arises with the use of online images, written content and music.

Photo Credit: K Anderson-McGhie Creative Commons License

The Dilemma

This is a particular ethical dilemma I have come up against on many occasions over the last few years, and for the most part it is one that stems from a lack of knowledge on the part of the various stakeholders - which can include students, parents and other teaching staff.  I am well known amongst other teachers at our school for my rigid adherence to copyright rules and laws, and will not hesitate to point out when something is in breach of copyright.

Earlier this year, consent was given and arrangements made for the children in my class to bring their own devices to school in order to create their own Weebly page about an area of interest to them.  These 'passion projects' as they were known, were the culmination of 2 terms worth of work facilitated by my classroom release teacher.  The children worked on their projects 1 day per week when I was away from the classroom fulfilling my team leader responsibilities.

In terms of the actual BYOD process and creation of individual websites, all appropriate permissions had been sought, arrangements had been made for the safe storage of the devices whilst at school.  In terms of the guidelines and policies laid out in the Ministry of Education (2015) Responsible Use document, everything was in place with regards to access and device & content ownership.

Once all the projects were finished, I had the opportunity to sit down with the students as they shared their work with me.  While I was impressed with the thought and effort that had gone into their web-pages, I became increasingly concerned at their use of music and images in particular which were in fact copyrighted.

Why Was This a Problem?

Part of the dilemma for me was that I was very concerned that the children had inadvertently broken the law. This had potential ramifications for the children, as according to NZ law they are the copyright holders of any work they produce, regardless of the ownership of the device it was produced on (Ministry of Education, 2015).  Secondly, there was the fact that the children, and potentially their parents, could be justifiably upset if I were to ask them to take their work down, both in terms of their owning the work and also the time involved in creating their sites. At the same time, parents could rightly express concern that their children were put in a position that potentially exposed them to legal action as a direct result of the task assigned by the school. The flip side being of course, that there was the potential for legal steps to be taken by the owners of the copyright.

Solving the Problem 

Ordinarily, before embarking on any online project, I take the time to educate children about copyright rules, and introduce them to creative commons licensing.  I also provide them with a list of sites where they can access creative commons licensed materials. I also tend to encourage the creation of their own images and music, and we talk about how they are the copyright holders of those. In this particular instance, what I ended up doing was talking to the children about what had happened and helping them to find images that were licensed for reuse.  There was some disappointment, as not all of the images available were as impressive as their original selections, but I was more comfortable with what they had online. Moving forward, I need to make sure that I check other teaching staff's understanding of copyright law and ensure that they have everything in place to enable the students to produce digital artefacts that are both legal and something they can be proud of.


Henderson, M., Auld, G., & Johnson, N. F. (2014). Ethics of Teaching with Social Media. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA.

Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology - Safe and responsible use in schools.


  1. Wow, Kirsten what a huge undertaking but very worthwhile. This learning is very on point with the world our learners face everyday and one that may be mis-understood by many caregivers. It is the digital world of ownership and the right of self and others. Margret Gould (2010) suggests in her "how youtube thinks about copyright" it is no longer just ownership but it is the delicate web of communication and relationships; which falls inline with our 21st century learner and skills. Secondly, it allows our learners to gain a greater vision and imagination of who inhabits our cyber world. Allows for identity and connection, that there are people out there whom own, create and share out there and they have the right to get the kudo for what they do just as they themselves like the feedback given on their own learning and creations.

    Stewart, M. (2016). How YouTube thinks about copyright. Retrieved 1 October 2016, from

  2. Hi Kirsten - Well done!! I spent some years working as an ICT specialist and struggled with students use of copyrighted material, and teachers lack of knowledge about copyright. However once confronted with the analogy of theft, they managed to see things a little differently.
    Even now I find myself confused with what is acceptable, how to use an credit things online, and when I have breached copyright myself. Things are changing so fast that it is hard to get it right.
    It is an ethical dilemna, and one that many artists are now confronting with how they distribute their art (music, movie, images). Unfortunately as software is released that makes it easier for users to copy or stream, it becomes increasingly hard to convince people that it is wrong to do so.
    Good on you for including this digital literacy behaviour in your programme.