Using social media in education has become almost routine in the past few years: from using the Internet in the classroom to virtual courses in online schools, life online is now a part of everyday teaching and learning in many schools. And just as students engage in bullying in the real world, cyberbullying is a serious problem—it’s so pervasive and dangerous that organizations like the United States Department of Health and Human Services have created resources for children and their families to recognize and stop cyberbullying.
While attention is appropriately given to the issue of cyberbullying among students, cyberbaiting isn’t often discussed. Cyberbaiting occurs when students bully or stalk their teachers online—and according to a recent article by Mashable, twenty percent of teachers reported experiencing cyberbaiting, or knowing a teacher who’s experienced it. And cyberbaiting can be as frightening and as dangerous as cyberbullying; students who bully their teachers online could negatively affect the teacher’s professional and personal relationships. Ending cyberbaiting requires educating teachers, students and their families of its dangers, as well as how teachers can reduce the likelihood of being targeted for cyberbaiting.
Cyber Code Of Conduct
Mashable’s article mentions that about half of the respondents to the survey reported that their schools have social media codes of conduct that outline how teachers and students should interact online. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that students will follow those rules or that teachers will report cyberbaiting when it occurs. Many online school programs have virtual codes of conduct, but “physical” schools need them as well to guide their students in acceptable online behavior.
While monitoring the online interactions of students and teachers would be cumbersome and invasive, encouraging schools to create and maintain an online code of conduct is the first step to protecting both teachers and students from harassment. Parents of students should also learn their child’s school’s online code of conduct, which can help them recognize signs of cyberbaiting and cyberbullying behavior.
Protecting teachers, online and offline
Before the rise of social media, students had to do a bit of research to find their teachers, but now, a simple Google search can supply a student with his teacher’s Facebook page, photos, even a street-level photo of the teacher’s home. The amount of information that can be found online can be alarming, especially for teachers who don’t want to interact with students outside of class.
While the physical world helps teachers draw boundaries between themselves and their students, teachers must take precautions to protect their online identities. By using the security settings for Facebook and Twitter accounts, creating separate “teacher” accounts to use for online interactions with students, and limiting student interactions to school related issues, teachers can help avoid being found by students who might want to harass them online.
That’s not to say that a determined student won’t find a teacher or that teachers who don’t do these things are inviting cyberbaiting—but taking steps to protect themselves can make teachers a more difficult target.
As social media becomes an integral part of teaching and learning at all grade levels, the problem of bullying will only increase.
Both teachers and students should educate themselves on the types of online harassment, and work together to help make it harder for teachers and students to be harassed online.
Author Lindsey Paho is an advocate for online degrees and writes on behalf of Colorado Technical University. She lives in the Midwest with her kids, including one miniature poodle.
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