Bullying is commonly perceived to be ‘a collection of bad behaviours’, however ‘one emergent argument is that it is an indicator of a broader, systemic problem’ (Davis et al. 2015). Traditionally it may have been easy to blame and punish the perpetrator, however the internet and social media have made it more difficult to blame a single individual, therefore alternative approaches to responding to cyberbullying are required. Anonymity has also made the response a difficult task as the perpetrators can assume false identities in order to inflict harm upon victims.
The role of education
My personal stance is that cyberbullying is a social issue, therefore education has an immense role to play in the response to, and mitigation of, cyberbullying. The anonymity of the internet and the unprecedented access that users have to public forums mean that cyberbullying cannot be prevented through monitoring use, threats of punishment or by passing instances off as simple acts of bad behaviour (Choo, 2015). Furthermore, the removal of the tools of digital technology or the enactment of bans are not options, this would be akin to removing the tools of speech should a student participate in verbal harassment. A more holistic approach is required. The following are some ideas around the minimisation of cyberbullying instances.
Firstly, if cyberbullying is to be viewed as a broader social issue the culture needs to change. Digital technologies are just a tool, changing the way in which individuals use the tool requires a change in the culture within which the individuals exist.
One way in which the culture can change is by reinforcing empathy within students by developing ‘the ability to take the perspective of another’ (Davis et al., 2015, pg. 215). Responsible digital students will also need to learn self-efficacy and the ability to form and maintain positive relationships with others.
The ability to think critically also requires development. ‘Critical thinking involves analysing, creatively integrating, and evaluating not just circumstances, but the conditions that have given rise to particular circumstances’ (Davis et al., 2015, pg. 127).
Embracing alternative pedagogies
The aim of critical thinking is to provoke conscientization by ‘recognising internalised and external oppressions, and forging strong connections between knowledge and the ability to take constructive action’ (Davis et al., 2015, pg. 165). The alternative pedagogies that emphasise conscientization include: queer pedagogy, anti-racist pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, anti-ableist pedagogy, Indigenous pedagogies, and post-colonial pedagogy.
Lastly, I believe that the following current practices should be continued:
- educating students about creating and sharing content that may cause them harm in the future
- calling out cyberbullying as it occurs
- monitoring the internet usage of potential victims (Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, 2016).
I have listed these strategies last as I believe that the more holistic measures of cultural change, critical thinking, empathy and alternative pedagogies will have important lasting impacts that break the culture of cyberbullying. Awareness is important, however if I were to imagine an idealistic teaching environment I would work for prevention over the possibility of victim shaming and restrictions.
As Media and Information Technology are subjects I plan to teach, I feel I have a considerable responsibility to educate students about the broad implications and the very real consequences of cyberbullying.
Instead of removing or blocking the tools that facilitate cyberbullying I would rather create situations where empathy (the ability to gain the perspective of another) can be learned and developed. The acts of collaboration, safe discourse and art making have been proven to help grow empathy within students (Bradshaw, 2016).
Spaces where students can form and maintain relationships will also be important. Engaging collaborative learning strategies by using techniques from Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories on constructivism will help learners to engage with content actively, intentionally, authentically, cooperatively and collaboratively (Howland et al., 2012).
Freire’s theory of praxis is where reflection and action are applied to develop critical awareness. Application of this theory will help to construct environments that bell hooks refers to as transformative; spaces that foster the ‘sense that there is shared commitment and a common good that binds us’ (hooks, 1994).
Responsible, active and progressive digital citizens contribute to safer schools, communities and online environments. The above strategies are just a few examples of creating self awareness and community mindfulness. Borrowing from the following movements, theories and fields of work may also contribute to this awareness, ultimately producing students who do not engage with the practice of cyberbullying:
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