On Friday I had the privilege of joining Reading administrators at a “superintendents’ forum” hosted by the University of Massachusetts – Lowell’s Office of School Partnerships. The forum, ultimately more of a presentation, was titled “Cyber-ethics, Cyber-bullying, and Cyber-safey.” Dr. David Whittier, Educational Media & Technology Professor at Boston University facilitated the event. During the presentation data from various studies performed in the UK and United States. I walked away from the presentation with the following main ideas:
- There is a large disconnect between what adults perceive to be the risks faced by students using computers and what students consider to be the greatest risks.
- Concerns such as online-predation and revealing too much personal information online are behaviors presented by the media as high-risk, but the dangers of such behaviors are vastly over-exaggerated when compared to their actual risk level.
- Online harrassment, such as cyber-bullying is the number one risk students face when they interact on the web.
The recent events in South Hadley have brought bullying on all levels into the spotlight as a serious problem our students face that can have dramatic effects on their social-emotional stability and personal growth. Sadly, it was noted by Whittier that students are more likely to bully online than they were face-to-face. It was also noted students who bully face-to-face are more likely to bully online than their peers. So what are educators and administrators to do? Whittier suggested educators must “develop lesson plans and other opportunities that help youth develop online ethics.” Unfortunately, when polled only 22% of educators feel comfortable facilitating such curriculum.
We as educators often try to develop an atmosphere in our classrooms where students follow a proper code of conduct. Typically such behavior is modeled by the teacher, and out of bounds behavior is quickly reprimanded and corrected. Since students are likely to be more positive online community members when they participate positively in a face to face community, it only makes sense that reinforcing such behaviors in the classroom will lead to better behaviors online.
But to help students develop they cyber-behaviors, what educators really must do is begin bringing their classroom communities online and modeling positive behaviors there too. I have been fortunate enough to work with fellow educators such as Steve Olivo who do just that. Having student read, write, and comment on student blogs provide practice for appropriate online peer interaction while backchanneling class presentations and lessons in online classroom discussions help students make the connection between face-to-face and online classrooms as one.
Still, as Whittier reported, the greatest influence on students’ cyber-ethics is the proper monitoring and modeling of their behavior at home, stating “addressing psycho-social problems, especially at home is probably necessary.” Ultimately how much energy and resources a school system puts forward to such community outreach programs is a question left in the hands of superintendents and something we classroom teachers have little control over.