When we think of innovation in schools, we usually imagine a new piece of equipment, a new software programme that will change the way we deliver a subject, or track progress, measure attainment, something tangible that comes with a price tag. But actually, innovation is just about doing things differently; it's thinking about how and why we do what we do and trying out a way of doing it differently with a bit of imagination.
After hearing the range of discussion sparked by Anti-Bullying Week last week, I was particularly struck by the Duke of Cambridge’s passionate speech at the BBC Broadcasting House in London where he called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. He raises an important point: no-one should duck their responsibilities on this issue.
One thing is certain, we need solutions urgently. Studies show bullying is a major risk factor for serious and long-term mental health problems in children that can last into adulthood, and although in-person bullying has lessened over the last decade, cyberbullying is on the rise. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar. For example, a new Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours.
While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises, cyberbullying is more pervasive – victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying, therefore, presents a different challenge that involves stakeholders across not only education, but wider society as well, not least tech giants and social media companies. Are they doing enough to help? Most agree with the Duke of Cambridge’s view. In the Ditch the Label survey, 70% of teenagers thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and, according to the Smoothwall report, 77% of teachers thought the same. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people.
But the answer isn’t so clear-cut. The problem of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news that take place on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly.
This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.
Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them.
Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem and agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. And, as part of this, the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety-related material into the curriculum.
But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame at each other but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. Most importantly, this could scar another generation of children who are on the cusp of owning their first smartphone. But this is a defining moment for social media companies too. The daily attacks from fake news to foreign interference in elections could become a genuine existential threat. But it is cyberbullying, a threat every parent understands, that could evaporate the fragile consent the public lend to social media companies.
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I was recently asked to write about ‘Community’. My initial thoughts centred around community as both a collective and personal experience. Being part of a community is to be included and, in education, inclusion is something we (try to) personify to others. How we behave and relate to each other in school shapes our expectations of others and ourselves. How we shape our 'community' teaches others how to manage themselves. Would you agree?
Around five years ago, a colleague suggested I set up a teacher account on Twitter. I was reluctant at first, anxious about the implications of having an open profile as a teacher. Now I am a self-confessed teacher tweep, using Twitter for free CPD, connecting with colleagues around the world, sharing good practice and organising events for teachers. I also have a class Twitter account, which I’ve used to enable pupils to share their learning with parents, pupils and the world!
Smart phones. Web browsers. Social media. Instagram. Keeping children safe has become increasingly difficult in today’s hyper-wired world. While each of these digital tools has earned its place in society, each one poses a particular challenge for young people, especially teens and tweens who spend more time online than their younger peers.
On Friday 28th October, Twitter will host the Digital Citizenship Summit launch event for US Media Literacy Week at their San Francisco headquarters. The Digital Citizenship Summit has a mission to unite people, organizations, and companies across the world committed to the safe, savvy, and ethical use of social media and tech. The all-day global event aims to work towards solutions, promote best practices, and empower citizens to “be the digital change”. The event is being livestreamed (or Periscoped) through Twitter’s @Safety account, and can also be watched directly at BeTheDigitalChange.com.
I have just finished my 22nd year of teaching. By rights, as a teacher, I should be pretty stale now. Most classes should groan when they realise that they will have me as a teacher. They might imagine that I am one of those teachers who goes back to a folder of worksheets, digs out the most appropriate one for the class, wipes off the dust and makes enough copies of it for my students to let them complete it and so on. After all these years my students might think that I should know how to teach everything and that teaching grammar topics is something I have mastered and can do off the top of my head. Surely, they imagine, I have mastered the job and do it the same old way as I have always done - the job is easy for me and perhaps my students might think that I am a little boring.
Forget Facebook, for which all your students probably already have accounts. In the social stratosphere there’s a new kid in town that has stolen the show from the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and that’s Instagram. Launched in 2010, this photo-sharing app lets users publish their own exclusively square snaps for their followers to ‘like’ and ‘share’, and it’s safe to say it’s been a big hit with the younger generation — with 53% of teens using Instagram on a daily basis.
On Friday 28th October, Twitter will host the Digital Citizenship Summit, a major gathering of organizations, industry, parenting experts, students, and more. The event will bring together new, well-known, and unexpected voices from a wide variety of backgrounds for a fast-paced and energetic mix of presentations, panels, videos, and awards. The day will be live-streamed to a large global audience, and seeks to broaden the appeal and accessibility to digital citizenship and media literacy.