Sunday, April 12, 2009


Cyber-bullying is, alongside the technology that has spawned it, a relatively new phenomenon. Bullying of any type is harmful and anti-social, and can result in negative outcomes for both the victim as well as the perpetrator - What Are the Effects of Bullying? There are major differences between cyber-bullying and a “traditional” style of bullying:

Previously, the plight of the victim would often only be observed by the bully or a small group of bystanders. Once you were away from the attacker(s), then there would be some sense of relief as you were out of the immediate physical vicinity of the perpetrator. Leaving the playground and heading home would offer some respite from the actions of a bully.

However, technology has allowed greater scope and more chance for attack. Phone text messages, digital photographs, hate-sites, blog posts and any other types of digital media can be manipulated at any time; in effect it is possible to be a target 24 hours a day. Just going offline has no real effect, as the internet can be used to post images or words immediately, to a worldwide audience. This information is considerably more difficult to erase than words graffiti-ed onto a desk or wall.

The impact of this on young people can be severe and long lasting. It is for these reasons that cyber-bullying should be taken very seriously by educators. We need to ensure that our students are taught about this, from the time they start to actively and routinely integrate technology into their everyday life. Many students may be actually unsure of what constitutes cyber bullying; to some it may be just a “bit of fun”. We need to make sure that if a student ever finds themselves being targeted, that they understand what they should do to deal with the issue. There are a number of steps that can be taken, to Prevent cyberbullying. This may include the importance of keeping a record of any text or message, which would allow the identity of the bully to be determined, and action to be taken. There are also helpful internet resources that can be shown to students.

As teachers we can work together to prevent this type of abuse from becoming a part of the school culture. In the past, bullies could often continue to terrorize others, because to confront them would have meant “catching them in the act”. With technology, it is possible to track comments or texts to their source. It is our job to ensure that our students know this, and know it from early on. The key will be to integrate this important topic successfully into an already packed academic, cultural, sporting and social calendar.

Our Middle School AUP regarding cyber-bullying reads as follows:

"Cyber-bullying is not tolerated at ISB. ISB becomes involved when student’s online activities impact at-school life and community. In other words, if the actions of students outside of school have an effect on students feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school, then ISB administration will act and remedy this. Additionally, if members of ISB staff or its community are targeted, then the school administration will get involved."

This means that if online activities away from school, on personal computers, negatively impact members of the ISB community, then action can be taken by ISB. While this may be some kind of deterrent, I believe that it is important for the school to also take a pro-active approach by educating all students about cyber-bullying.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Copyright Capers

Modern humans evolved from small bands of hunter gatherers over thousands of years to become the keyboard pounding guardians of our collective global destiny. Various mental structures allowed us make that journey; the ability to think, to speak, to listen, to remember, to solve problems, and to see things from different points of view.

Tool making, agriculture, and the rise of civilizations all helped propel us to our current state. Guiding many of these achievements has been the human ability to create. Creativity has given rise to the wonderful things we see and experience around us everyday. The process of creation often occurs because human minds are able to observe, analyze, modify and ultimately improve things that are already in existence around them (made from nature, or by other people).

Concepts may be taken and improved upon to produce another entity, that may now be used in a more efficient, or even an entirely novel way. We are surrounded by the legacy of this "standing on the shoulders of giants" which has aided our world in developing into what it is today. It has always been a human trait to seek to make things anew, and this is also occurring nowadays against the backdrop of the digital revolution. In order to understand how that affects us as creators and users, we need to attempt to understand concepts like copyright and creative commons.

Copyright has historically provided one of two options; a work is either accessible to anyone because it is in the public domain, or else it’s creator has requested “all rights reserved”, which effectively means no one else can distribute, perform, or create derivative works of the original.

Creative Commons gives structure to the grey area between copyright and public domain. It allows a creator to keep their copyright but allow others to copy and distribute the work on the condition that they give credit. The creator of the work may decide on which "level" they are comfortable sharing on; for example, options include allowing commercial use of your work (yes or no), and modification of your work (yes; yes - as long as it is shared; no).

Creative commons allows the sharing of work by bypassing traditional, restrictive methods used by large powerful groups to restrict the use of this work. If I license my work with creative commons then I am allowing the use of my work by others who will then be able to transform it into something entirely new.

The use of creative commons sees a shift from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved", and with this I see another parallel with the natural world. Natural selection in evolution allows those genes (representing their particular organisms) to live on if they provide some kind of advantage with regard to survival; human ideas (representing our creativity) should also be allowed to flourish, and provide benefits (cultural as well as survival) to our species.

Footsteps in the Concrete

Well before the age of the internet people had to take measures to ensure their privacy, whether it was closing curtains, talking discreetly, or being cautious when it came to providing personal details to others.

Now, the internet provides a completely different way for us to unwittingly expose our private lives to anyone who is curious enough to look.

A quick Google search of my own name suddenly realized a slew of entries, each providing possible insights into how I may be living my life. Surprisingly I found an entry for a paper I published at university 14 years ago in the Australian Journal of Chemistry! It was unnerving to think that something that occurred long ago has cast a digital shadow across my immediate present.

Fortunately, an entry like this is one that would be perceived in a positive light. It brought home to me how aware we must all be, of how our digital footprint can extend beyond us and this moment of “now”, and on into infinity.

The idea of future employers viewing our digital life and making hiring decisions based on this is a strange concept. Earlier in the year, Mr. Bates spoke to the middle school about the dangers of this, in particular regard to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. In all my years of attending assemblies, it was perhaps the quietest and attentive I had ever heard a group of kids be. I could sense their mental gears processing all the times they had posted/commented/tagged on the internet. It was as if this was the first time they had considered this possibility; this is not surprising, if we as educators are yet to embed this as a concept into our day-to-day teaching of technological literacy.

The good news is that there appears to be ways to deal with having an unsavory digital footprint. Requesting people to take down unflattering photos and employing outside agencies to sanitize your trail can be some approaches to take. Another, more self-driven and proactive option may be to make the decision to ensure that your footsteps leave behind a legacy of material that sculpts you in a positive light.