Thursday, March 5, 2015

Report on Cyberbullying in Online Higher Education

Donna DiMatteo-Gibson, PhD

Paula J. Zobisch, PhD

Andree Swanson, EdD

The research in cyberbullying has been heavily focused on elementary and secondary education; however, cyberbullying permeates throughout online higher education. The challenges regarding bullying in higher education are the need to define cyberbullying, detect cyberbullying, and how to respond to cyberbullying when it is occurring. Policies and best practices must be in place to minimize these occurrences for students and professors. Procedures on what students and faculty can utilize will be recommended based on survey results.

Literature Review

Misawa and Rowland (2015) reviewed academic bullying as it takes place in adult education, higher education, continuing education, and professional education. Misawa and Rowland found that in higher education, cyberbullying frequently was focused on racism and homophobia. Unbelievably, Misawa and Rowland also found evidence of gender and race cyberbullying. In fact, they found that faculty were often mean to one another.

Morgan (2012) in a review of cyberbullying found that because of the anonymity of individuals on the Internet, they found a form of bravery by threatening others through the veil of the Internet. “The higher degree of anonymity afforded to students on the Internet allows bullies to have less fear of disciplinary action as a result of their nefarious activity” (Morgan, 2012, p. 175). Morgan stressed that a plan needs to be in place to deal with the inevitable attack. “Unfortunately, many teachers do not have enough training of knowledge on how to respond to bullying” (p. 176).

Rivituso (2014) conducted a study using Bandura’s Theory of Tradic Reciprocal Determinism and the General Strain Theory as a framework. Six themes emerged:

1) repeated instances leading to feelings of vulnerability and fear; 2) distrust of technology and mistrust of people; 3) the value of friends in college and their impact on victim self-esteem; 4) self-control in response to lack of control over cyberbullying instances; 5) feelings of stress, depression, and embarrassment; 6) frustration leading to self-blame. (Rivituso, 2014, para. Abstract)

A 2013 study surveyed 202 online faculty members who were asked whether or not the faculty member could identify what constitutes cyberbullying and if the faculty member understood how to cope with cyberbullying. The findings from the study indicated that 50% of the faculty who had experienced cyberbullying (Smith, Minor, & Brashen, 2012). Although very few studies have been conducted that assess cyberbullying at the higher education online level (Eskey, Taylor, & Eskey, Jr., 2014a; Eskey & Eskey, Jr., 2014b; Smith, Minor, & et al.), the findings were supported by Smith et al. whose study results showed 17% to 30% of faculty had experienced some type of cyberbullying.

The findings of the studies indicate educational institutions need to address the issue of cyberbullying as well as methods to cope and/or reduce cyberbullying. Methods could include faculty training as well as addressing the issue of cyberbullying in the school’s faculty and student handbooks (Eskey et al., 2014a; Eskey & Eskey, Jr., 2014b). An organization’s legal department should be able to provide insight into potential policies and protocols.

Washington (2015) specifically addressed cyberbullying and the law. “To date, 18 states have laws to address cyberbullying, compared with 49 states, all except Montana, having laws to address bullying (Hinduja & Patching, 2013)” (Washington, 2015, p. 24). Although state laws focus on the k-12 arena, nowhere (federal or state) addresses cyberbullying. In 2009, a cyberbullying prevention act was introduced into Congress, but was not successfully passed. Specifically, the business college in this current study has campuses in California, Colorado, and Iowa, thus, these states were reviewed for their legislation on cyberbullying.

Results and Discussion

Our study has shown that cyberbullying is a serious issue that must be addressed when it comes to faculty teaching at online schools. The importance of investigating cyberbullying and netiquette issues within online institutions was emphasized. Also, the complexities in regards to defining cyberbullying and how to best respond to these issues was addressed. Our study addressed that recognizing what is and is not cyberbullying is an ongoing task; however, recognizing differences between cyberbullying and netiquette was not a concern. Even though a majority of our participants indicated that they knew how to respond to cyberbullying issues, there was still a sizable percentage that did not.

Our study addressed differences between netiquette and cyberbullying. By obtaining this survey data, we highlighted the importance of schools ensuring that online faculty understand what are netiquette and cyberbullying issues as well as outlining how to respond to such instances.

Concluding Comments

The purpose of this study was to assess the knowledge and understanding of cyberbullying and netiquette within the school of business at an online university. Faculty, both part-time and full-time, were asked questions regarding their understanding of cyberbullying, netiquette, and how to respond to it and report it. Based on the data from this study, the researchers created a list of best practices for creating policies, procedures, and implementing training. The researchers developed a list of best practices for incorporating an awareness and reporting of cyberbullying and netiquette issues:

1. Review current faculty policies and procedures.

a. Are they current?

b. Do they address the procedures for faculty to report and respond to cyberbullying?

c. Provide examples

2. Review current student policies and procedures.

a. Are they current?

b. Do they address the address appropriate netiquette?

c. Provide examples

3. Create a cyberbullying email or hotline for faculty to report cyberbullying.

a. Ensure a response to faculty within 24 hours

b. Assign a trained person to respond to emails

4. Create faculty training via webinar, tutorial, and or job aid on how to recognize and report cyberbullying and inappropriate netiquette.

We had many strengths that came out of this study. The strengths were that the researchers focused on one online school of business, which helped to focus our research efforts. These results can be generalized to other schools and online faculty by replicating the study through different online colleges and universities. Another strength that we experienced was that the Dean of the school supported the study and provided the researchers with a specific database of faculty addresses. This helped to connect with this particular sample of participants. The researchers attempted another study by reaching online faculty through social media (Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter) and did not have success that we had hoped. In regards to the limitations of the study, the participants self-reported on cyberbullying or netiquette instances. An observation style experiment may result in different perspectives on cyberbullying and netiquette especially since the literature has indicated that sometimes cyberbullying occurs but online faculty do not recognize certain instances as cyberbullying Participants may also have experience teaching at other online colleges or universities that may have different policies, procedures, and experiences and this can add to our results.

***This is an excerpt from a paper that will be presented at the DLA 2015 Conference (***

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