Cyberbullying: the research reveals school itself is (a lot) more problematic than the open web
When we perceive of risk in sharing publicly and interacting online we nearly always risk obscuring huge benefits with our own inflated fear of the unknown. Research shows that digital risks are far outweighed, in fact, by challenges more close to home and school.
Throughout my New Zealand masterclasses we've been exploring notions of risk management, seeking out the means to maintain positive benefits-based risk analysis rather than negative barrier-inducing risk management. When thinking of students sharing out onto the world wide web and not just to their 30 peers in a private learning network, most educators have a twinge of fear.
One of the most compelling cases for this attitudinal shift in thinking about technology, student-led learning and teachers-as-enablers-of-student-projects can be seen in Gever Tulley's "Tinkering School", whose empowerment of very young children with power tools, nails and saws to achieve something spectacular wowed crowds real and virtual at TED:
This innovative thinking on risk is not limited to those reaching the lofty heights of a $6000-a-ticket innovation conference. In North Lanarkshire, Scotland, infants are being empowered in similar student-led, student-designed projects that spawn from often banal-seeming 'inspirations' - the delivery of some sand to the school leads to children as young as four constructing their own machines from wood, metal and other materials:
"Yes there's nails and hammers and saws, but those are the tools that the children need to achieve what they have in mind... The children don't have a risk analysis done for them. They are actively involved in forming their own risk assessment."
Seeing others doing amazing work like this is all good and well, "but what about my school which doesn't think like that?" So, in addition to seeing others undertake positive risk assessment in this way, I pull heavily on the work of keynote speaker and risk analyser Caspar Berry, former child actor turned professional Poker player, advisor to Casino Royale filmmakers and, importantly, not gambler. Caspar is genius at exploring risk through the medium of coin-flips, roulette tables and Deal or No Deal. He knows I rip off his work (with due credit, I must add) and that it has helped hundreds of teachers start to 'feel' risk differently rather than just conceptualising it.
But even this acceptance that we perceive risk differently from one another even when the stakes haven't changed, isn't enough. So what about the research? What does the research show us about the likelihood of something negative happening online, something serious even? Perhaps if we know some percentages then these facts, along with some great anecdotes, examples and gut feel, can help sway our attitudes, and those of parents, towards setting our web defaults to social. This May's Pew report Cyberbullying 2010: What the Research Tells Us has a US focus, but almost certainly these butterfly wings create winds of recognition elsewhere. From it, we know first of all that...
Children access fast broadband, normally away from adult eyesThere is a slight decrease in teens going online from home since we first asked – broader use/access and also wide variety of access points/mobile access.
- 93% of teens 12-17 go online
- 63% of online teens go online daily
- 89% of online teens go online from home, and most of them go online from home most often
- 77% of teen go online at school
- 71% go online from friends or relatives house
- 60% go online from a library
- 27% go online on their mobile phone
- 76% of households with teens go online via broadband, 10% via dial up, and 12% do not have access at home.
Library access and cell phone access is particularly important to African American, and to a lesser extent English-Speaking Hispanic students. One quarter of low income teens (HHI under $30K) and 25% of African American teens say they go online most often from school, compared to 15% of online teens overall.
Mobile phone access to communication and the web, and video games, are treasured
- 75% of teens have a cell phone
- No gender or race/ethnic differences in ownership
- 50% of teens with phones talk to friends daily
- 54% of teens send text messages daily
- 27% use their phone to go online
- 73% of teens use an online social network site
- 37% of SNS users send messages through social networks daily
- 80% of teens have a game console
- 51% of teens have a portable gaming device
Teens connect and interact with others online through games
and the most important piece of research for schools shows that...
Bullying does happen more at school than online:
School is by far the most common place youth report being bullied (31%) versus elsewhere (e.g., 13% online)
The prevalence rate of Internet harassment (both perpetration and victimization) appears to be stable (2006-2008).
The majority (59%) of Internet harassment comes from other minors
Youth who report being harassed online report a myriad of concurrent psychosocial problems offline, too.
What does this all mean in terms of the risk of sharing and communicating with the wider world web?
It would seem that the problems associated with sharing on the web are a) very small in number and b) related to bullying going on already in school. But more importantly, the web provides an environment through which to collaborate that is, in many respects, safer than the physical environments of the school institution. What else have you spotted in this research and how does it relate to your own perceptions of risk?
Image: Page from a school punishment book at TheirHistory, published with Creative Commons permissions.