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The internet playground : one school’s experience of cyberbullying

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Ryan, SM 2017 , 'The internet playground : one school’s experience of cyberbullying', EdD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

There is extensive documentation that clearly demonstrates that bullying is a persistent and insidious problem in schools, a matter of ongoing concern for teachers, parents and young people, and one that presents a grave threat to child and adolescent development. In recent years, the emergence of a new form of bullying through the use of technological tools such as mobile phones and online sites such as Facebook, has added to the impact and potential damage caused by and to young people. This study emerged as a result of my involvement in dealing with the human consequences of cyberbullying in a large co-educational secondary college in Tasmania and in response to evidence that both the academic performance and social and psychological development of adolescents who are bullied can be impacted seriously and negatively (Arseneault, Bowes, & Shakoor, 2010; Breguet, 2007; Cross, Lester, & Barnes, 2015; Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Hinduja & Patchin, 2010a; Swearer Napolitano, Espelage, Vaillancourt, & Hymel, 2010).
This research is based on the assumption that the issue of bullying does not exist in isolation with the victim and the perpetrator; rather, it is conducted within a much broader social context, which includes peers, family and the larger school community. This study aims to develop a fuller understanding of the nature of cyberbullying during the Middle Years of education, specifically Years 7 and 8, the first two years of secondary schooling in the Tasmanian education system, where both my anecdotal experience and professional learning gave strong support to the view that the issue was particularly pervasive during the Middle Years. Such an understanding is also widely supported by literature (BoysTown, 2010a; Cross et al., 2009; Pepler et al., 2006; Williams & Guerra, 2007), which evidences a peak during these early transition years to secondary school. A large Tasmanian secondary school provided the case study setting for the in-depth exploration of this issue for this study, and was an attempt to explore the experience of cyberbullying from the perspective of key individuals, including bystanders, and to fill a void in current research with the involvement of staff members as stakeholders in this issue.
The study examined the impact of a relatively new and growing form of bullying – cyberbullying – on two key groups within the case study setting:
• Middle School students who have newly transitioned to secondary school, and are generally aged 12-14 years,
including those who become victims, are perpetrators and bystanders; and
• Staff including teachers, non-teaching support staff and management staff.
It explored the perspectives of key school community members, Middle School students and staff, both teaching and non-teaching, within the wider school setting. Specifically, the research focused on (a) the pervasiveness of cyberbullying in the Middle School, and (b) the perceptions that school staff and students have about cyberbullying. The study also investigated the impact of cyberbullying on members of the school community. Significantly, it explored the role of the bystander as well, as growing emphasis has been placed on the role of bystanders as powerful moderators of behaviour in cyberbullying situations (Ball, 2007; Kraft, 2011; Price et al., 2014).
The research technique was a survey conducted with school students and staff. The qualitative and quantitative techniques used aimed to increase understanding and awareness of the impact of cyberbullying on school members by eliciting data on both the perceptions of the frequency and intensity of Middle School cyberbullying, as well as providing a vehicle for respondents to express in narrative form their experiences, concerns and suggested management strategies related to this issue. The findings from this study showed that cyberbullying at this case study school was strongly prevalent and has had a considerable impact on educational engagement, student wellbeing and school climate. Cyberbullying affected academic performance within the case study setting, but also had a profound effect on social and psychological wellbeing. A significant concern to emerge was that victims reported suffering from extreme isolation and feelings of hopelessness. This study has also unveiled the damaging psychological impact of cyberbullying on bystanders, both students and staff: they also indicate feelings of distress and uncertainty about how to manage this phenomenon.
The results of this study contribute to our understanding of students’ involvement in the occurrence of cyberbullying and provide a foundation for developing prevention and management interventions for educational settings. This study will inform educational practices and contribute to improved management of cyberbullying among adolescents within this and other educational settings. I strongly maintain it is the moral and professional obligation of educators to pursue answers to this phenomenon and to be proactive in the informed and appropriate response to cyberbullying.

Item Type: Thesis - EdD
Authors/Creators:Ryan, SM
Keywords: cyberbullying, bullying, internet, middle years, education, bystanders
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2017 the author

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