At public schools around the nation, incidents of cyberbullying continue to rise, affecting tens of thousands of students each year.
Because it takes place through text messages, instant messages, social media and email, evidence of the abuse is often unseen. Nevertheless, the emotional and mental burdens of such behavior are obvious: students subjected to bullying are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and decreased academic achievement.
While everyone — parents, educators, school administrators — has a role to play in combating cyberbullying, school IT directors can play a unique role of their own.
One of the best places to start is tuning into the community’s conversations and concerns about bullying. School-community bully prevention teams should regularly discuss data regarding bullying at their school district, discuss solutions to ongoing problems and set long-term goals.
An IT director’s goal is to identify community needs and find applications to facilitate progress. IT directors exert a powerful influence on the implementation and effectiveness of anti-bullying policies.
Here are some tips to reduce the impact of bullying.
Be prepared to navigate murky legal waters
Addressing cyberbullying as an educational institution is an inherently difficult task, from a legal standpoint. Because cyberbullying is often enacted off school grounds, any punitive measure taken against it could be interpreted as a violation of free speech. Districts have been sued for failing to take action, and they’ve been sued for taking unwarranted action. Unfortunately, most states do not offer guidance for school districts on how to respond to incidents.
Cyberbullying that takes place on school grounds, is enacted through the use of a school-provided device, or interferes with a student’s academic progress falls under the district’s jurisdiction, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Educators and district leaders must be aware of these criteria before implementing any of the following policies or monitoring software.
Give teachers the tools to monitor student conduct
With mobile devices now playing a more prominent role in K-12 education, new tools are needed to combat cyberbullying — both for monitoring student communications and for giving students opportunities to report incidents.
The benefits of monitoring software versus the fundamental need for privacy is completely dependent on the specific needs of your school district, but there are many tools for monitoring student communications on school-provided devices.
Chromebooks should be installed with activity monitoring software. Many solutions are available, including GoGuardian, Omnito, NetSupport School and Crostini. While features vary, each is focused on preventing cyberbullying by giving teachers and administrators information on the digital behavior of students. As an added bonus, these applications often have content filters — a must for K-12 schools.
A wide range of apps can help instructors monitor student communications on tablets. For iPads, Apple’s Classroom app permits educators to remotely view any of their students’ iPads, assist with password resets and launch specific apps or websites. Not only can this prevent incidents of cyberbullying from escalating, it can keep students focused on class material. Other operating systems can use similar apps such as ClassMonitor, TeacherKit and Student Monitoring System.
Give students the tools to report cyberbullying
Other solutions allow students to report on cyberbullying.
These tools can be invaluable for school districts that rely on BYOD, or “bring your own device,” policies and are unable to closely monitor student communications.
Applications such as STOPit and Anonymous Alerts are essential for combating cyberbullying because they give districts the capacity to stop cyberbullying before it escalates.
Student issues involving bullying, threats, and even the possession of drugs or weapons can come to light through anonymous reporting. The option to file an anonymous report makes students feel more comfortable and secure sharing their experiences regarding specific incidents.
Equip parents and guardians with the right apps
A few other simple applications can supplement anti-cyberbullying efforts.
For instance, ReThink is an app that can detect when a user is about to post an offensive message, then alert the user with a question: “Are you sure you want to post that?” This gives impulsive students an opportunity to reflect on their behavior before saying something they may regret.
Apps designed for parents may have applications in K-12 schools. BullyBlocker, designed by Arizona State University, uses algorithms to identify bullying risk factors and alert guardians when it may be occurring. While these applications provide few essential functions, they may be useful in promoting positive digital discourse.
If your district has the budget for mobile devices, consider avoiding BYOD policies. While giving students the freedom to use their own mobile phone or tablet can be helpful from a budgetary standpoint, it also introduces many problems — not only can it put student data at risk, it leaves students more susceptible to cyberbullying.