Bullying during childhood and adolescence has captured the attention of policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and citizens around the globe, bringing increased attention to this important issue. As a result, there has been an uptick in policies, research, and school-based programming related to its prevention. While research provides some clear guidance about how schools can better prevent and respond to instances of bullying, there remains a gap when it comes to the implementation of “’best practices” in schools. Prevention programming that integrates technology may be one way to fill this gap. Specifically, by helping to promote and optimize the dissemination of best practices in education, technology may serve as an important tool in increasing positive social and emotional development and reducing bullying – over and above traditional low-tech approaches.
Our recent book chapter, currently available through Cambridge, highlights several different technological modalities that aim to bolster the impact of school-based bullying prevention and social emotional development programming. For example, we cite examples of how technology can be utilized to collect data about the occurrence of bullying in schools through school-based discipline data collection; annual surveys that can provide detailed information such as location ‘hot spots’ for bullying; or providing a live vehicle for students and parents to report instances of bullying as they occur. Technology can also be used in public health campaigns to educate teens and adults about the harms of bullying and strategies for helping out youth who are the targets of bullying.
…the use of mixed-reality such as the TeachLivE interface, has been shown to be a safe and low risk environment for teachers to practice how to prevent, detect, and respond to bullying in the classroom under the support of a skilled bullying prevention “coach”.
Another potential use of technology is to help train teachers and other school staff to stop bullying in real time. As described in the chapter, the use of mixed-reality such as the TeachLivE interface, has been shown to be a safe and low risk environment for teachers to practice how to prevent, detect, and respond to bullying in the classroom under the support of a skilled bullying prevention “coach”. Online games can also be leveraged to make instruction and assessment of student knowledge and skills more novel and engaging for students.
Although there has been progress in the development, testing, and use of technology to address bullying in schools, it is important to remember that bullying is systemic and, at least in the U.S. and UK, has become part of school culture – even in the broader media and political context. As a result, there are no quick fixes. While technology-based tools can potentially enhance programming and increase interest/buy-in, if research-based prevention programming is not used consistently in schools and communities, we won’t make a dent in this challenging issue. Much of the progress in schools is incremental, no single technology will be transformative – comprehensive approaches are needed to address complex issues like bullying. Further, technology can be resource intensive and educators may not always feel comfortable engaging with or facilitating the use of technology with students. It is also important to consider that sometimes the novelty of technology comes at the expense of utility or effectiveness – the field needs greater attention to this issue to minimize this tension.
On the other hand, technology is powerful. Its novelty, particularly for youth, makes it engaging and acceptable in ways that traditional instructional approaches to prevention programming has not. It may take some of the onus in providing the prevention curriculum off of school-based staff, when used as a direct intervention with students. Similarly, technology can offer a structure and tailoring to individual needs, for example through the use of artificial intelligence, that may not be achievable or scalable when school staff need to find time in the school day to facilitate bullying programming. For example, as part of a forthcoming study in the new International Journal of Bullying Prevention, we have shown that coaching teachers using the TeachLivE simulator can reduce bullying and problem behaviors in classrooms. Through this technology, teachers also shared that they gained insight that only through connecting with students – both socially and emotionally — they experienced improvements in students’ behavior in the classroom. The teachers also reported that the simulator gave them the ability to see more subtle bullying behaviors (such as whispering, notes being passed), and practice how to intervene. For example one teacher noted that “I assumed it was normal middle school behavior…. but now I see it as bullying and it dawned on me that’s bullying…. I should do something about that.” Another teacher said that addressing the victim [of the bullying] was an ‘aha’ moment and remarked that this technology enabled me to “practice how to talk to the victim and that has translated into [improvements in] the classroom.”
Regardless of which technological approach is used, it is important to remember that bullying goes beyond focusing on the victim and the perpetrator; it is about relationships and how individuals treat one another.
Several of the technology-based programs highlighted in the The Cambridge Handbook of Violent Behavior and Aggression show promise for improving how schools address bullying. Regardless of which technological approach is used, it is important to remember that bullying goes beyond focusing on the victim and the perpetrator; it is about relationships and how individuals treat one another. Therefore, relationships between youth and their peers, the relationship between those that experience bullying and those that witness it, the relationship between the youth and the adults who spend much of the weekday with them, will all be extremely important to incorporate into any bullying prevention.
Tracy E. Waasdorp, Elise T. Pas, & Catherine P. Bradshaw
Read more about: The Cambridge Handbook of Violent Behavior and Aggression
In honour of Anti Bullying Week 2018 we are offering free access to chapters from The Cambridge Handbook of Violent Behavior and Aggression for a limited time:
Visit www.cambridge.org/antibullyingweek2018 to find out more.