Technology and social networking have changed the way students learn in the classroom. While the connectivity has increased productivity and collaboration, one challenging aspect is combating cyberbullying.
Several Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 students from each school served on a Digital Democracy Committee, a student-led group to combat bullying on social networking websites and online. The groups met in February, March and April to discuss, create awareness, and compile technology-related expectations for cyber behavior.
The goal was to have a student-centered, districtwide committee of 10 to 15 students from each school to create plans around the philosophy that bystanders are the way to change bullying.
The students were led by team of staff who work on anti-bullying committees, are involved with student discipline or the responsible use of technology and who want to help guide students so they will benefit from the use of technology in a way that is safe and productive for all.
The group came up with declarative statements for the Student Declaration for Acceptable Use that students will receive on the first day of school when they receive their iPad device:
• Think before posting.
• Abide by classroom technology expectations.
• Use personal social apps and games outside of class time.
• Ask before you share pictures, take video or record another person.
• Be original, be honest, avoid cheating.
• Remember, your iPad is school issued. Keep it clean.
The following is a conversation with Schaumburg High School junior Jasmin Lisowski, Palatine High School junior Ashley Shepard and Hoffman Estates High School junior Chris Washington. All are members of the Digital Democracy committee.
D211: Why was a committee such as this so important and why did you want to get involved?
Chris: We are making solutions for this epidemic we feel that we have, and that is cyberbullying. The district recently approved that every student will have an iPad. We are trying to create awareness and avoid problems that we know we are going to face. That could be anything posted on social networks that can offend someone else. We want to reduce that.
Jasmin: I definitely think that with social networking, cyberbullying has become an even bigger problem. In school you will see things posted that aren't nice, and then you will see the person it was about in the hallway. You can tell that it bothered them. That's why it is a problem right now.
D211: What do each of you do in your committees?
Ashley: We want to incorporate social media into our solutions for social media. It is really important that we're going to create a solution using the problem. We want to create different ways that we can do things to take away from the bullying aspect of social media, and replace some of the negative habits and actions with positive actions. The committee I'm on is for the kickoff and what we are thinking is doing a bunch of smaller activities where we can promote kind behavior, such as passing stickers out to each other that have positive words and quotes.
Jasmin: I am on the multimedia committee so we're planning a video. What we have now is each person saying different (bullying) statistics. That part of the video is going to be in black and white, and then we are going to share personal stories of when we were bullied. Then it is going to switch to color and we will share positive things and how we overcame them.
Chris: I am on the school wide awareness committee and we intertwine with marketing because we want to push away from everything bad you can do on social networking websites. The teachers are handing it to us and trusting us to not do something even though they are giving us the tool to. It is like handing a killer a gun and saying, "Don't kill anyone, I trust you." It eventually might happen. Not everyone is going to do it and we will have a handful that will. All we can really do is market and spread the word that there are going to be consequences for bullying. It's their choice. We are put on this earth and are faced with choices we need to make.
D211: Do you see this often in your schools?
Jasmin: At our school it has gotten better with some people, but there are still some that are causing lots of problems and saying very mean things. There is still a lot that we need to be doing. We have had speakers come in and I think it affects those people for a week and then it dies down. Then we need to do something to get it back up again and we don't have the time or money to do that every week. We have to do something that sticks.
Ashley: I have seen a decrease in certain bullying actions and an increase in positive behaviors. A lot of the time it seems like people are bystanders. They see something and they choose to ignore it. This past year I have seen people stand up for others a lot, and give students their support. So if you do see something harmful on Twitter or Facebook, there are lots of comments saying how it is totally not cool. Recently I saw a couple posts from different people on Facebook or Twitter where people are posting things like "nobody likes me," and I see others jump in right away and say that it's not true. There are lots of positive aspects. I think part of that is because they have access with this device. It allows people to see something right away and comment on it right away. Before my iPad, I would have to go to a computer to get on Twitter every two hours or so. Now I always have my iPad with me and if I see something on Twitter I can immediately comment on it. I don't have the chance to walk away from my computer and forget about something hurtful I see. I feel like I should say something. I have seen a change in our peers doing that, too.
D211: What do you hope will come out of the Digital Democracy?
Chris: I feel like we all hope this eventually subsides and ends. We are going to work hard at it. The new superintendent told us a quote that Thomas Edison said, which was, "Opportunities are often missed because they come dressed in overalls and look like hard work."
Jasmin: I definitely think that with the Operation Snowball and stuff like that, there has been a lot more of everyone coming together. Now we need to bring that into the rest of the school. I think if we can bring that atmosphere in the school, it would be a much happier place to be. That will help education, as well, because if everyone is happy to be there, there is no drama, and students aren't feeling like they are worthless, they will want to learn, get better, and work hard.
Ashley: I really hope to see a change all around in school. The idea of having everyone with a device in their hand seems crazy because distractions occur and there are temptations of every kind. I hope to see students take the initiative to overcome those challenges and overcome the temptation to make a bad decision. It gives us a portable way to be able to learn that we have the power to make choices, decisions, and changes.
Chris: It creates responsibility and that's awesome. I just wrote a paper in English where somewhere they wanted to pay students for doing well on tests. That's a false motive. Making good choices, and avoiding distractions, that's a motive we can take for ourselves. We are responsible.