Getting Right Down To It

This was originally posted on the Technology & Learning blog page earlier this week.

School starts soon. For some, classrooms are already filled with curious, eager to learn, and savvy millennials, who, while they pay attention to you, are skillfully texting their friends with cell phones under their desks — typing with one hand.

I have continued to work through the summer presenting at conferences, staff development institutes, administrative retreats, and school openings. The most requested topic continues to be 21st century literacy. I prefer to call it “Contemporary Literacy.” It is a good presentation, but the topic can be provocative, as it goes against a lot of the conventions that years of schooling have instilled in us.

Expanding our notions of reading, arithmetic, and writing to reflect an increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming information landscape requires that we let go of a lot of the rules we have based not only our curriculum on, but even our styles of teaching. I have spent much of the summer engaged in a nearly explosive debate with librarians about a number of topics related to literacy, and you can read them in my blog at (

It all comes together, though, when we rest our notions of literacy on a very simple, yet very new assumption. We must include, in our very definition of what it means to be literate, a basic code of ethics — a right and wrong for the information highway. I have written, with the help of others, A Student & Teacher Information Code of Ethics. This document, which is available as a downloadable MSWord file, points to four areas of concern, and lists proactive considerations that students and teachers should apply to every information decision that they make. I am including them here, and suggest that they might be a good way to start the school year. You are welcome to download the MSWord version and edit it for your school level and curriculum.

A Student & Teachers
Code of Ethics

Seek Truth and Express It

Teachers and students should be honest, fair, and courageous in gathering, interpreting and expressing information for the benefit of others. They should:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.
  • Always identify sources. The consumers of your information product must be able to make their own judgment of its value.
  • Always question the sources’ motives.
  • Never distort or misrepresent the content of photos, videos, or other media without explanation of intent and permission from the information’s owner. Image enhancement for technical clarity is permissible.
  • Tell the story of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
  • Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between opinion and fact when expressing ideas. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Minimize Harm

Ethical teachers and students treat information sources, subjects, colleagues, and information consumers as human beings deserving of respect.

  • Gathering and expressing information should never cause harm or threaten to be harmful to any one person or group of people.
  • Recognize that private people in their private pursuits have a greater right to control information about themselves than do others.
  • Consider all possible outcomes to the information you express, guarding against potential harm to others.
  • Never use information from another person without proper citation and permission.

Be Accountable

Teachers and students are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and to each other.

  • Clarify and explain information and invite dialogue about your conduct as a communicator.
  • Encourage the information consumer to voice grievances about your information products.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Expose unethical information practices of others.

Respect Information and its Infrastructure

Information, in the Information Age, is property. Information is the fabric that defines much of what we do from day to day, and this rich and potent fabric is fragile.

  • Never undertake any action that has the potential to damage any part of this information infrastructure. These actions include, but are not limited to illegally hacking into a computer system, launching or distributing viruses or other damaging software, physically damaging or altering hardware or software, or publishing information that you know is untrue and potentially harmful.
  • Report to proper authorities any activities that could potentially result in harm to the information infrastructure.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.