Will edtech use limit cyberbullying in schools?

As children increase their digital media use through smartphones, social media and mobile apps, they’re likely to experience at least one type of online bullying behaviour

The pandemic caused a year of disruption for the UK education sector, prompting concern that students may have fallen behind. Right now, the UK government is working on its COVID catch-up plan, which involves funding for extending school hours, continuing professional development (CPD), and investing in education technology (edtech) for data-led teaching programmes.

And it’s this latter point that has been most enthusiastically received; indeed, our own research found that UK teachers are increasingly keen to use tech in schools, with 77% teaching themselves digital skills to ensure they can deliver digital or remote teaching but face a lack of devices (52%) and software (47%) in the classroom.

Of course, any technology adoption brings with it challenges – and in schools these are particularly acute, including network security and institutional transparency. Perhaps even more prevalent and even more worrying is the rise in cyberbullying that has dogged the introduction of technology to classrooms. Presenting a serious risk to both teacher and student welfare, cyberbullying can often lead to institutions wanting to distance technology from the classroom – but this would be a mistake.

In fact, when used right, the technologies that aid teaching can also help to minimise cyberbullying among students while in school.

Authority figures have full control

In all cases, school devices require students to log in to use their accounts, removing anonymity and discouraging bullying. Teachers usually have complete oversight and control of devices that are used in the classroom and are plugged into the school network. They can use this ability to delete inappropriate comments on collaborated work and restrict access to certain users. With consistent monitoring and a cyberbullying policy, teachers can look out for any signs of online bullying and make sure to stop them.

On most devices and programmes, students only have access to their individual work and can’t access other students’ copy. This means they’re not able to comment or annotate other people’s work. The software that schools use also have filters that can help to restrict harmful content including bad language and access to inappropriate sites.

Investing in content filters can be a practical defence to prevent cyberbullying

Investing in content filters can be a practical defence to prevent cyberbullying. These filters will help to shield students from showing inappropriate, hateful language or content and limit access to social networking sites. This can be an additional aid for teachers in catching inappropriate comments shared by students.

For schools in particular, data security can be a challenge. In many cases, this is due to low funding, small IT departments and the amount of sensitive information on a schools’ network. Young people are the main tech users in schools which makes the task of cybersecurity more demanding.

Good digital citizenship starts in schools

As children begin to increase their digital media use through smartphones, social media and mobile applications, they are exposed to online safety risks and are likely to experience at least one type of online bullying behaviour. It’s important for teachers and parents to educate children on concepts such as digital citizenship so they can learn about appropriate online behaviour and create a safe online environment for themselves.

Sadly, bullying is a damaging issue, but it needs to be prepared for as schools begin to adopt technologies. Devising a policy for dealing with incidents and looking out for signs of it happening can help to prevent it.

Additionally, creating a ‘not in our school’ mindset is not enough and can force the students being targeted to deal with the online abuse alone. Instead of just relying on the devices and content filters themselves to limit cyberbullying, teachers can give students the opportunity to explore and discuss topics such as online etiquette, respect, and digital law. While teaching students about life online, it can be helpful to discuss difficult topics such as online bullying to create a safe space and allow students to understand these issues.

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