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Play Nice! How to Promote Digital Inclusion and Stop Online Bullies

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Technological advancements have provided educators with a number of tools and opportunities they didn’t have five, 10, or 50 years ago. With live video streaming, smartboards, and dozens of other gadgets and lower-cost technology, educators are now able to reach a larger audience, with less funding, from nearly anywhere in the world.

Although these innovations give teachers and professors many more opportunities and creative teaching methods, they also bring new issues. From cyberbullying to student disengagement, online classrooms present educators with problems not found in traditional classrooms.

It’s important that 21st century educators are prepared to solve these problems and are poised to take on other issues that arise as classroom technology continues to improve.

Tech Benefits in the Classroom

Modern educators are becoming increasingly approving of technology use in the classroom. A recent survey from digital education company TES Global found that 84% of the 1,000 kindergarten through high school teachers asked have already incorporated some form of technology into their teaching. Teachers are ready to use even more technology in the classroom after already utilizing tablets, laptops, game-based learning, and virtual reality headsets.

More tech in the classroom isn’t simply a trendy teaching method, however; it may provide students with special needs or disabilities a better chance to thrive. According to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education’s web resource Learn NC, students who have learning disabilities may particularly benefit from increased tech in their classrooms.

Learn NC points to the example of a student who has dyslexia. If that student has a tech-based tool that enables them to listen to a reading or provides a visual support with the book, he or she may be able to keep pace with peers more easily. These “audio, visual, or concept-mapping supports” are important for teachers, too. Not only do they help students learn better, but they may allow people to perform to the best of their ability on important assessments.

More technology in the classroom can also benefit advanced students. New devices and software can help teachers challenge gifted students individually. This keeps gifted students engaged while other students learn at their own paces.

“In a classroom where gifted learners, learners with learning disabilities, and learners with other special needs are all challenged at appropriate levels at the same time, students are more likely to be engaged in learning activities and less likely to be engaged in inappropriate behaviors,” Learn NC’s Bobby Hobgood, ED.D. and Lauren Ormsby explained. Learn NC also notes that technology can help increase the rate of material covered for all students.

New Opportunities, New Dangers

For teachers who incorporate more of these tools into their classrooms and educators who teach online, technology can also present new problems. As students interact more through digital media, the risk of cyberbullying also increases.

Cyberbullying has a broad definition encompassing all bullying that takes place electronically, whether through text and email or on websites and social media. Aside from direct bullying, cyberbullying can take the form of fake social media profiles, nonconsensual photo sharing, and online rumors.

According to Cyberbullying Research Center’s 2015 survey of 15,000 middle and high school students, nearly 26% of all students have experienced at least some form of cyberbullying in their lifetimes. Many were victims of cyberbullying in just the 30 days prior to the survey.

Although it takes place online, cyberbullying has very real life consequence. This issue has been tied to suicidal actions, antisocial behavior, low self-esteem, anger, substance abuse, school delinquency, and emotional issues, among others. The risk for cyberbullying can increase significantly with the increased use of web-enabled devices, such as tablets and laptops, or online learning, which requires digital student interaction.

As an educator, it’s important to learn the warning signs and how to be vigilant about cyberbullying. Although technology may have helped create this problem, more of it might actually be the solution. Many schools are turning to new apps and software that help students report cyberbullies and prevent them in the first place. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released an app called “KnowBullying” that helps parents and teachers recognize cyberbullying.

In addition, Etowah City Schools, for instance, are now using the STOPit app to allow students to anonymously report any cyberbullying that happens inside the classroom, Tennessee’s The Daily Post-Athenian reported.

The school’s principal is the only one with access to the information that is submitted, allowing students confidence in the security of the app and what they report. Through the app, students can secretly and securely report photos, messages, and screenshots of the cyberbullying they’re experiencing. The app allows the school system some oversight in the use of classroom technology.

Other schools that have implemented the STOPit app have noticed fewer reports of cyberbullying, saying that the accountability that the app provides reduced the problem at the start, according to CBS News. School officials have also noted that this app empowers students and gives them a real weapon against cyberbullying.

Other students are turning to social media platforms that disallows cyberbullying in the first place, CBS News reported. Some students are using WeHeartIt, a photo-sharing social media platform that doesn’t provide a comment section for cyberbullying to arise.

Apps like STOPit and other new technology provide teachers and school administrators with a chance to fight against cyberbullying and improve the learning environment. This way, educators can take advantage of the benefits of technology-related coursework and online interaction without the concern of abuse.

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