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Education Opinion

Revisiting Using Edtech for Bullying and Suicide Prevention

By Matthew Lynch — September 10, 2018 6 min read

Fall is a critical season for education advocacy, as September is suicide prevention month and October is bullying prevention month. This time of the year is bittersweet for me, as I lost a relative to suicide back in 1994. After being bullied throughout their high school years, the emotional pain became too great, and they decided to end their suffering. Because of this, suicide and bullying prevention are topics that are near and dear to my heart. I have written about and researched both topics extensively, hoping to bring something useful to the field. Since I can’t go back in time and help my relative through their ordeal, I am dedicated to saving as many lives in as I can, in the present.

Every year about this time, I write a series of articles about suicide and bullying prevention, and this year will be no different. I can always count on advocates and education companies from all over the world to send me information about what’s new in the field. Out of all the companies and products, NetSupport DNA is the one that resonates with me the most. The folks over at NetSupport do an outstanding job of not only building technology products in the area of suicide and bullying prevention, but also of partnering with organizations like DigCit Institute and the American Association of Suicidology, to launch proactive initiatives aimed at deterrence.

Last year, NetSupport contacted me with a possible story angle centered on bullying. Once I demoed their software, I was presently surprised. I was blown away by the features that were available for both students and teachers. NetSupport DNA would be one of those products that I would be using if I were still in the classroom. After my demo, I remember calling a couple of friends who are teachers and asking them if they had ever heard of the product, or of another company that was doing what NetSupport does. They hadn’t and requested more info for their district. This year, I am revisiting the product for national suicide month and bullying prevention month. Since last year, they have added several new features, which warrant coverage. Without further ado, let’s discuss how NetSupport DNA is helping educators all the U.S. with their suicide and bullying prevention efforts.

What is NetSupport DNA?

NetSupport DNA is an award-winning IT Asset Management and Internet Safety solution that helps technicians to track, monitor, and manage IT assets across individual schools and entire districts. It is one of the most useful products in the suicide/bully preventions space. NetSupport’s solutions have been developed to strengthen ISTE best practice and optimized to support and aid delivery of effective teaching and enhanced learning.

How does it help prevent student suicide and bullying?

NetSupport DNA offers several features that can aid educators in preventing student suicide and bullying before it happens. It has a “Report a Concern” feature that permits students to quickly and anonymously report any issue (e.g., bullying, abuse at home, and emotional stress) that they may have encountered to faculty or staff members that they trust. Students can also attach documents, and a screen capture to their report to provide evidence and details of their concern. To give students additional help on their own, NetSupport DNA includes a list of online resources, tools, and helplines in their chosen country. Staff can manage the pre-populated list and add any additional ones they feel are appropriate. This empowers students to confront bullying without fear of retaliation.

The Keyword and Phrase Monitoring tool in NetSupport DNA was created to give educators alerts and insights from any action by a student that might indicate that they are involved in an activity that would place them in harm’s way. A database of pre-populated keywords and phrases is used to accomplish this. It covers a range of topics from self-harm, bullying, and racism, through to risks of radicalization.

School District IT personnel can use NetSupport DNA to schedule real-time monitoring and look for exact keywords or phrases in several languages to monitor student activity. Staff can also choose to exclude specific applications from monitoring. The keywords are presented in a word cloud format, coupled with other critical insights so school officials can track trending topics across groups of students. If phrases that you believe suggest bullying/harassing behavior or may place the student in harm’s way show up, they will be presented in the word cloud. Not only does it display the word cloud, but it also puts the word into the context it was being used.

For instance, a triggered phrase that was typed in a Word document during class time would be seen as a lower risk than if the same keyword phrase was typed in a messenger app during lunchtime. NetSupport DNA can determine the severity of the phrase used and assign various sensitivity levels based on the parameters that you set. 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 can find trends and issues that would have usually been overlooked.

Let’s discuss a practical example. A student searches for ‘painless ways to commit suicide.’ Thankfully, the school IT staff have included the keyword “suicide” in the keyword database. When the student begins the search, NetSupport DNA 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 initiated 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 talks to the bullying victim and asks him about the search. He said he saw a documentary on the suicide epidemic in the United States and wanted to learn more, but that doesn’t seem plausible. The principal sends him back to class and contacts his parents to schedule a conference. Unfortunately, students who are being bullied feel like suicide is their only option. We know the story all too well, a student is bullied by classmates and ends up taking their own life. Tech products like NetSupport DNA can help you prevent this from happening.

Conclusion

It has been 24 years since I lost a relative to suicide, and from time to time I can’t help but think that his death could have been prevented. What if teachers and administrators had of acted upon his reports of being bullied by his classmates? What if he had access to suicide prevention and mental health resources? All the what-ifs in the world won’t bring my relative back.

At least I can find solace in the fact that with products like NetSupport DNA, educators can keep track of their student’s activity, even if they are on the other side of the classroom. By putting tools 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.

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