A school district in Iowa has decided to fight the battle against bullying with the tool that so many bullies use to reach their victims: technology.
Like others across the country, East Union Community School District had its run-ins with bullies. One instance, in particular, of cyberbullying caught the district superintendent’s attention. Several girls used Facebook to bully their classmates. It only stopped when one of the victims reported wanting to leave school to one of the administrators.
After that, the school district implemented an educational curriculum to impress on their students the negative consequences of bullying. Middle and high school students receive a new lesson on bullying every week in their homeroom. But administrators have also taken a more proactive approach.
As a “one-to-one” district, in which all middle and high school students are issued laptop computers with a Google-based email and document sharing capabilities, it had the potential to become a cyberbullying haven, since access to social media was not restricted on the laptops. But it was the ideal place to experiment with new technology designed to detect bullying.
The district implemented a Human Monitoring Service, which data-scrapes the school server to monitor email and chats for hate speech, sexual language and other signs of bullying. If the service detects something, it sends the student an email, cc’ing the school administrators. And if the instance is life-threatening, the service calls the superintendent.
Of course, the service cannot monitor social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, where cyberbullying often takes place. But in the small district in rural Iowa, the technology has already had a tangible impact. It picked up
on the bullying of a boy who was assaulted at a birthday party. And in an incident that went far beyond bullying, the service revealed two boys who were discussing raping a girl. The technology has allowed administrators and parents to become aware of bullying before it gets out of hand and to take proactive action in stopping it.