Friday, April 9, 2010

Cyberbullying as a Non-Cyber Disposition Part II

You cannot understand 21st century students without participating in 21st century tools.

During a lesson on Web 2.0 in my Web Design class, one student shook her head in refusal to download a podcast. "You have to take a risk!" our teacher responded. Everyone laughed. I cringed. When participation in Web culture has to be sold to educators as "taking a risk," it shows a crucial disconnect between learners and teachers in the digital world.

In our online message board, another student questioned the use of blogs in an educational context because of her "fear that they can be used for bullying." Sure, this fear is partly legitimate. But it's also oversimplified. Here was my response:
I think cyberbullying is much larger than the tools that students use to facilitate it. Let me ask you this: before the proliferation of the Internet, bullying happened all the time. Would the elimination of recess be an effective solution for bullying? What about allowing recess to happen, but making the students ask the teacher permission every time they wanted to talk to another student? Would these scenarios eliminate bullying?
Unfortunately, events like the recent suicide in Hadley as a result of cyberbullying cause people to have gut-reactions against technology, viewing it only as a new medium for kids to be mean to other kids. It really isn't that simple, and cyberbullying should never be an argument against using technology in school settings or for making new media tools too private or walled-off from the outside world for them to be of any use.

Sure, students could use spaces like blogs to bully other students, and yes, perhaps moderation would filter this out. Yet at some point, moderation would become unsustainable as more students collaborate. The delay that moderation creates would make the tools less authentic and useful for the students familiar with the open Web, and they would likely abandon them or move to other tools that do the same thing without moderation or school branding. Students are smart about these things: as soon as Wordpress is blocked from a school firewall for behavior, students will immediately go to Blogger, Drupal, Livejournal, or a myriad other sites that work the same way.

Bullying is a much deeper problem that needs to be addressed with deeper methods that get right down the the culture of school in general. Blocking and restricting websites is's like having weeds in a garden and snipping off their leaves when they get too big-- this will stop them for a moment, but they'll always grow back until you pull them out from the roots. Cyberbullying needs to be addressed from the roots, not just snipping off the leaves of social networking.

Sorry about the rant, but I get really frustrated when people dismiss new media because of its potential for bad behavior. However, it's definitely a reality we have to face as the Internet empowers everyone, not just those we want to empower.
Web culture is a deep part of young peoples' identities, and this is not a bad thing. It's a different thing. And parents, teachers, administrators, and anyone else in leadership roles around students must understand this. So instead of fearing that which you don't fully understand, go read a blog, write a post, share a link on Twitter, just do something interesting on this thing we call the Internetz, because that's what everything is really all about, in the end, e.g., this:

Man in a Chicken suit plays "What is Love" on Pianica from Ring Mod on Vimeo.


  1. I agree Jason, What does the T stand for in LMT anyway? I'm just surprised that I learn more about technology in a day of following up on Tweets than a day of classes. Has anyone ever told you about ISTE or NECC? Why isn't there a class called "Wikis,blogs & more", or "Dynamic Facilitations", or "Virtual Environments for Higher Education", or "Building your Professional Learning Network" and on and on. Are you motivated to take the class on Motivation? Sorry to complain on your blog, but I'm slightly frustrated myself...

  2. I think it has a lot to do with the recent emergence of the field. I mean, applying communications studies and media theory with learning has only become mainstream in the last 5 or 6 years, I think.

    Perhaps programs like ours are looking for qualified instructors who can link these fields together (like you and I : )

    In the meantime, I suggest you look at courses in the communications studies department, particularly with Jarice Hanson. They have do a lot with tech culture.