Every year during October, schools, and organizations all er the world celebrate National Bully Prevention Month. The goal: increase awareness of the effects of bullying on children of all ages, and motivate community stakeholders to collaborate to end all forms of bullying. Over a decade old, National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month was initiated by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in October 2006. Since its start, the event has grown to an entire month of learning and awareness activities, which are designed to help individuals become more aware of the grave consequences of bullying.
Every October, I am approached by organizations looking to bring awareness to this cause. In response, I send out their messages and resources to my social media followers, but that’s about it. Well, this year, I am to stepping my game up. To support National Bully Prevention Month, I decided to author an article aimed at helping schools use edtech solutions to prevent bullying.
Bullying in the era of hyper-connectivity
The proliferation of edtech in schools has given students an entirely new way to connect and communicate. Unfortunately, being able to access the internet also tempts students to peruse inappropriate content, or harass and bully their peers. The irony in this is that although technology is the root cause of a significant number of problems in modern schools, it can also be used to prevent them before they start or solve them once they occur.
To save students from their own curiosity, many schools block access to all websites that are not education related; especially social media sites. This certainly can stop cyberbullying, but it also prevents students from becoming responsible digital citizens. Also, the act of blocking websites is not a perfect science, and the lack of flexibility always causes issues for the teaching and learning process. Ordinarily, sites like Facebook would be flagged as inappropriate and blocked district-wide, but what if they are needed by high schools seniors studying digital marketing?
Overall, blocking social media sites does not stop cyberbullying. The proper response is to educate students about appropriate online behavior and how to be good digital citizens. This approach needs to be coupled with online monitoring, which includes tracking the search terms that students use, what they talk about on social media, as well as the websites that they visit.
How can edtech help schools prevent bullying?
More than ever, we need innovative ways to keep our student’s safe in today’s hyper-connected world. How can edtech help? Companies like NetSupport are creating software solutions designed to help schools stop bullying events before they start, and respond appropriately to bullying that becomes fully realized. Their award-winning IT Asset Management and Internet Safety solution, NetSupport DNA, helps technicians to track, monitor, and manage IT assets across individual schools and entire districts.
NetSupport DNA contains a “Report a Concern” tool that students can use to quickly and anonymously report any issue that they are encountering to an adult that they trust. With its most recent update, teachers can also use the same tool to report an issue in situations where they are verbally told of a student’s concern. In addition to reporting the issue, students also have access to the contact information for several national support organizations. These organizations can help support students in ways that underfunded school districts cannot. Empowering students to confront bullying can give them the confidence they need to attend school without fear.
School IT administrators can use NetSupport DNA to schedule real-time monitoring and search for exact phrases and keywords in several languages to keep an eye on suspicious activity. Keywords are presented in a word cloud format, along with other intuitions, so school officials can be alerted to recurring themes across groups of students. If keywords or phrases suggest bullying or harassing activity that may place the student in danger, they would be presented in the word cloud. In addition to being presented in the word cloud, the term is also placed into the original context in which it was used.
When an alert is triggered, the system can ascertain the threat level of the phrase and use differing sensitivity levels based on the time and context in which the phrase was used. To document instances of cyberbullying, educators can capture screenshots and video clips of bullying episodes. Teachers can use the word cloud feature as a springboard for discussing the significance of having a positive online footprint. This can help educators prevent cyberbullying and help students gain invaluable digital literacy skills.
NetSupport DNA gives schools the context that they need to piece together the full picture, instead of trying to decipher bits of information. School staff can avoid “false positives” by determining the context of possible matches. If a keyword is triggered and reviews as a false alarm, a “false alarm” note can be added. By looking at a student’s entire journey, not just the end event, schools are able to spot trends and issues that would have ordinarily been overlooked.
Let’s look at a practical example. A student searches for ‘Smith & Wesson,’ which is a company that manufactures firearms. Thankfully, the school IT staff have included phrases and keywords related to various types of firearms into the keyword database. As soon as the student initiates the search, the system is triggered, and the school IT staff are alerted. They inform the principal, who decides to investigate the matter further. She finds out that the student who conducted the search recently reported that they were being bullied by a classmate. The alleged bully had been disciplined, and she thought the issue had been resolved.
She sits down with the bullying victim and asks him about the search. He says it was a mistake and blames it on Google’s autocomplete feature, but who knows what the truth is. The principal sends him back to class and puts together a plan to monitor the situation further. She knows that students who are being bullied and feel like they have no other options may resort to gun violence to protect themselves. We know the story all too well. A student walks into a school with a loaded gun, and tragedy ensues. Edtech apps like NetSupport DNA can help you prevent this from happening.
As educators, we have a professional obligation to make schools and classrooms safe environments for all students. To achieve this, we must actively deliver the message that bullying is wrong in all circumstances and be proactive in preventing it. However, in today’s hyper-connected world, we can’t be everywhere and see everything that happens within our learning environments. Well, not until now.
With technologies like NetSupport DNA, schools can monitor their student’s activity at all times, even if they are on the other side of the classroom. By putting power like this in the hands of educators, we ensure that bullies don’t stand a chance.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.