Cyber Bullying

Alan Turing, ‘Now 44’ and a nasty email

What do Alan Turing, the 90’s music CD ‘Now 44’ and cyber bullying have to do with each other?

I’ve had a pretty rough week, all told. Some of it I can’t comment on, but other highlights included waking up to a kitchen covered in mouse guts (the joy of cats), trailing pieces of freshly laundered tissue all through my house without realising (dark blue carpet), and knowing I’ve got 75 Year 9 exams sitting downstairs waiting to be marked. Not great. Look at this in contrast to last weekend where I was still feeling enthusiastic and energetic after attending the CAS conference on Friday, overflowing with cool ideas from the people I’d seen speaking and cheerful to have spoken in person to many of the lovely people I’ve been conversing with on Twitter for the past half a year. All week I’ve been frantically tweeting away trying to re-live a little bit of that glory – more on that later…

So, last night I did what any reasonable person with absolutely no issues would definitely do *cough* – brought out my collection of “Now ….” CD’s in a foolish attempt to regress to my childhood. It worked, a little too well. ‘Now 44’ is a CD which came out in 1999 when I was in Year 12 at school, and this brought back a very specific memory – I am young enough to have been cyber bullied at school.

In 1999, my school had three computers which were connected to the internet – I often tell my students this and they find it absolutely hilarious. You had to be organised in advance and book in your time slot with the librarian if you wished to use the internet, be it for personal messing around or school work. One day I logged on to my Yahoo account to find a pretty vile message from someone in the upper 6th – I won’t go into specifics, but it was pretty uncomplimentary about my good looks, if you get what I mean. This was followed up later that week by another slightly less nasty message from a different person. I did the totally obvious thing – told the head of Sixth Form who invoked the school cyber bullying policy and both people were found out and kicked out. Bzzzzzt, rewind – this was 1999 – no teachers used the internet, let alone schools having a cyber bullying policy, so that didn’t happen. I did the totally obvious thing (to a teenager) – I replied to their emails. (They eventually got bored and stopped.)

So what has this got to do with teaching? 

Well, as I’m sure you’re very aware, you as an ICT/Computing teacher are one of the only technological role models some students may have. Even now, as in 1999, they have very few places to turn to see people making use of technology appropriately and safely. Although we have now moved on and we have widespread cyber bullying policies and online bullying education, the problem still exists and will probably continue to exist. I know that many teachers of other subjects claim “oh I’m so bad on the computer”, and students know that most staff are absolutely not wise to what goes on in the mysterious world ‘online’. In fact, for some of the older generation it’s a badge of honour to claim that they know absolutely nothing about how computers works and have never been on Facebook in their life. I think it’s incredibly important that all teachers have our own online presence and where this presence is visible (e.g. Twitter) we use it with the understanding that curious students may find it, and we demonstrate how to use social tools online in a manner that does not tarnish our own online reputation. By refusing to use such technologies, we are condemning the students to the wilderness of 1999 when there *was* no one to turn to and bullies were free to roam without fear of repercussion, because the people in charge simply did not understand what was possible.

And Alan Turing?

Also this week, I was reading the article on the BBC News about Alan Turing’s suicide. This particular sentence stuck out for me:

His neighbour described him throwing “such a jolly [tea] party” for her and her son four days before he died.

I realised this week that since the CAS conference I have been tweeting excessively, like some kind of addict trying to get back the fix of replies and the feeling of popularity that arose from connecting with people at the conference. I looked back over my tweets of the week and noticed that many of them contained smiley faces – even though I knew that I had not been feeling particularly good at the time of writing. The quote from this article about the jolly tea party tied in with both this and the cyber bullying memory, because it is entirely possible to be displaying one state and feeling quite another (don’t worry, I’m not planning on ingesting any cyanide, accidental or otherwise). It is often easier to display emotions to the faceless internet than it would be to talk about them to another person, so we need to be knowledgeable about the kind of things our students do online to provide other students a credible outlet for letting us know if they notice a change in their friend’s online behaviour.

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