Topics in Digital Citizenship- Cyberbullying and Positive Online Behavior

Part III: Topics in Digital Citizenship
Week 9

This course is in three parts:

  1. Part I. The Big Picture – A history and overview of digital citizenship; how to approach digital citizenship from a policy perspective
  2. Part II. Tools, Skills and Resources of Digital Citizenship – Theoretical and practical tools to help educators develop tools and approaches to address digital citizenship issues with students, schools, and districts
  3. Part III. Topics in Digital Citizenship – Of the many issues associated with digital citizenship, we have time to consider two: cyberbullying, media literacy

Part III allows us to drill down on a few issues that are particularly challenging and problematic in the area of digital citizenship. This week begins the first topic of Part III, topics in digital citizenship: cyberbullying.

Part III, Topic 1: Cyberbullying and Positive Online Online Practices

As always, please begin this week by watching the overview screencast I created. It is about 10 minutes long.

Essential question(s):

What is cyberbullying, and how should it be approached by our schools?

Other questions to consider:

  1. What is the relationship between cyberbullying and bullying in RL?
  2. How should cyberbullying be approached by our schools?
  3. What are the benefits of approaching cyberbullying from its converse, i.e., positive behavior?

Goals, objectives, understandings:

  1. To develop an understanding of how cyberbullying emerges in the K-12 arena.
  2. To develop an understanding of cyberbullying’s relationship to bullying in RL.
  3. To explore the positive behavior approach to cyberbullying as an alternative to, or to be used along, traditional approaches.
  4. To develop plans for addressing cyberbullying and/or using a positive behavior approach in your professional practice.
  5. To identify the role of parents, counselors, specialists, legalists, and law enforcement officials in addressing cyberbullying and positive behavior practices in your classroom, school or district.
  6. To identify and/or develop specific strategies for addressing cyberbullying and positive behavior training in your school, including how to address actual cyberbullying incidents in school.
  7. To identify and/or develop specific strategies for addressing cyberbullying outside of school.


There are a number of specific issues we could ecdaexplore in depth in the area of digital citizenship. On page 142 of Digital Community, Digital Citizen I list some of them: cyberbullying, cyberthreats, sexting, secording (secretly recording others), accessing age-inappropriate materials, using web materials that belong to others (which I address in Digital Storytelling in Classroom as UOPS- Using Other People’s Stuff), factition (distorting facts). And this is a very incomplete list. Time constraints dictate that we can address only two issues. In this course we will consider cyberbullying and media literacy, with a focus on fake news. This week we look specifically at cyberbullying.

Two points are particularly important. teens having fun showing cell phones 79229336First, while cyberbullying receives all the attention, the converse, positive online behavior, should be a primary focus. That is, instead of just reacting to negative behavior, we should also be focusing on how to facilitate and inspire positive behavior. Thus, the title of this unit is not just cyberbullying, but Cyberbullying and Positive Online Behavior

Second, the good news is that a number of researchers feel that cyberbullying is far less prevalent than the popular press would imply. Of course, the bad news is that when cyberbullying occurs, it can have devastating consequences. It our job to try to discern the hype from the truth. We need to know what is really going on in order to address the reality of the situation.

This week we will focus primarily on the work of cyberbullying expert, Nancy Willard. She is president of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, and has been a leader in researching, writing and speaking about cyberbullying for over a decade. She has degrees in law and special education, and brings both perspectives to bear on this important issue.

Where does cyberbullying come from?
To help frame this issue, I present this excerpt, that is adapted from Digital Community, Digital Citizen (141):

However we may feel about Party-cipation (the virtual, international gathering on the internet), we shouldn’t lose sight of how significant it is in the evolution of human endeavor. At Party-cipation, people basically reinvent society through their use of a number of options regarding how to identify themselves, interact with others, and develop and distribute information and creative content. What the Internet presents us is, in many ways, the extreme freedom that the existentialists have been telling us has always been our natural state. We are free to create human nature as we see fit, and we do so by the choices we make. In the process, we establish norms, values, and a sense of personal and collective identity. The result is that the carte blanche of Party-cipation creates a window into the human condition and the nature of the human psyche that is historically unparalleled in terms of depth, scope, and intrigue.

ISTE Educator
standards addressed: 3, 5, 6 7

What concerns us is the misuse that occurs at the extreme edge of all this freedom, particularly when it comes to the safety of the children in our care. Some combination of disinhibition, an underdeveloped adolescent brain, the lack of a moral compass (which some would say indicates a lack of moral training) and, no doubt, grievous personal issues have led a number of people in digital community to behave rudely and injuriously.

The infosphere is filled with stories that illustrate this. (When I wrote) this in the spring of 2010, a national furor was erupting in the news about another teen suicide that has allegedly been caused by extreme cyberbullying. While the suicide is disturbing enough, equally so is the fact that cyberbullying is largely an underground activity. Given that it is largely out of public view until something horrendous like a suicide occurs, we are left to wonder what else happens in the largely invisible world of the infosphere.

In fact, when I conducted a case study of an online community during the early 1990s I observed this phenomenon repeatedly: the anonymity offered by virtual space brought out the best and the worst in people.

For the most part, the Internet offers a cornucopia of inspiration and possibility. While there may be parts of it that each of us finds questionable or even deplorable, we seem to be willing to live with these, given the immense upside that the Internet provides us personally, social and professionally.

But life at the negative edge understandably concerns us. And cyberbullying is part of the negative edge.

There are connections between bullying in RL and VR, and understanding how bullying arises in the former helps us understand how it emerges in the latter. But there are many issues that are specific to cyberbullying that challenge us, which we will address through our materials and discussion this week.


Take the Cyber Savvy Survey
Ms. Willard is a professional researcher in the area of bullying, school climate and a number of digital citizenship issues. She has graciously given us access to the questionnaire she has developed for use with students to assess their attitudes about a number of cyber related issues.

You are, of course, free not to fill this out. But keep in mind that you are not asked for personal identification information, and the results will not be shared with anyone but you.

That is, we are not conducting research here. Our primary interest is to see how actual research is conducted and how an instrument like this might be helpful you and your school.

Click here to access the questionnaire.

Read/view for this week:

  1. Digital Community, Digital Citizen, pages 141 to 145
  2. “Cyberbullying- An Interview with Nancy Willard.” This can be found online as part of the ETC archives.
  3. Video by Nancy Willard on Bullying Prevention. While this is more about RL (real life) bullying, it provides a very thorough overview of the basis of Ms. Willard’s approach to cyberbullying. Watch it here.
  4. Cyber Savvy Questionnaire. This is a questionnaire Ms. Willard developed to assess how Cyber Savvy your students are. Access this here.

Other topic specific resources by Ms. Willard

Ms. Willard has generated a number of resource-based research reports about digital citizenship issues. Her resources are downloadable as PDFs. Here is a sample of the kind of resources she offers to the public:

I highly recommend you use her articulate, insightful work. She has a very strong reputation for providing helpful, objective assessments of often emotional issues, and providing the public with very useful information and perspectives.

Cyberbullying Materials from Commonsense Media
If you have time you should look at the following materials that were either created or endorsed by CSM. Most differentiate by age and grade level, which makes them particularly helpful on a practical level:

While all their materials are good, I found the following particularly helpful:

Find our discussion for this week at the Google+ Community. Look for my lead post for the week, which will always be a restatement of the week’s essential question. Please post at least one substantive posting about this week’s material, as well as at least three responses to colleagues’ postings. Please always address this question as well: How can you apply what you learned this week to your professional practice?

ePortfolio postings: By Sunday, post a 1-2 page synthesis of your major understanding from the week’s materials and discussion. Please use the following format:

  • Thesis (main point)
  • Development (discussion and support for your major point, referring to the week’s materials, as well as other sources and your own experience)
  • Conclusion (wrap up of your discussion, and call for further study)

Add resources to your ePortfolio: As always, add resources you have discovered this week (or remembered from previous activities) to your ePortfolio. The goal is to build your ePortfolio into an online professional resource site you can use and build on in the future.

Citations, credits

Embrace Civility Logo. Retrieved 1/5/2014,

Ohler, J. 2011. Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Students with cell phones. Retrieved 1/4/2014,, used with paid subscription

World, in header [Photoshop created image]. (2011). Created by Larry Addington for Corwin Press. It is a modified version of the cover of my book Digital Community, Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.