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Online bullying: The Teacher’s Role in Bullying Intervention, Prevention and Education of Students about Online Safety

With the advancement of the internet and social media, online bullying has become a common phenomenon. There are different definitions of cyberbullying but the most relevant is the use of electronic media to repeatedly send or post content about an individual that would logically be deemed harmful, threatening, frightening, harassing, vulgar, cruel, or embarrassing (Snakenborg, 2011). Therefore, cyberbullying takes several dimensions and comes with several negative consequences. Several papers have discussed the signs of cyberbullying and the roles teachers play in prevention, intervention, and education children about the practice. A deep understanding of the various prevention and intervention strategies is required to minimise the severity and frequency of this unethical social practice. Mus of past research on online bullying has established that it is critical that teachers, students, and the general community must all be involved in eradicating cyberbullying if any strategies are to work (Couvillon, 2011).

When cyberbullying occurs, the targeted individual is usually left frustrated, angry, depressed, and sad; this may lead to the child refusing to attend school because of embarrassment (Stauffer, Heath, Coyne, & Ferrin, 2012). Most studies have linked cyberbullying to problems in the families of the aggressors, physical aggression, poor academic performance, and low self-esteem (Freis & Gurung, 2013). Stauffer et al. (2012) cite that many victims of online bullying in the United States have held suicidal thoughts, and some have tragically taken their lives. One such example is the case of Holly Grogan, who on September 16, 2009, jumped from a 30-foot bridge and plunged into her death. The result of her actions was driven by an online bullying campaign driven by some of her schoolmates on her Facebook page. Other recent examples include the cases of Ryan Halligan, and Megan Meier (Stauffer et al., 2012).

Eden, Heiman, & Olenik-Shemesh (2013) conducted a research on teachers’ perception on cyberbullying and found that most teachers are not concerned with cyberbullying as they consider it a childhood phenomenon. As such, they lacked the essential techniques of managing the practice. They also established that teachers that had been victims of cyberbullying were more concerned about the practice than did those who had never experienced it. In another parallel study, Minor, Smith, & Brashen (2013) found that 60% of college instructors lacked the skills necessary for dealing with cyberbullying. The conclusion is that, if educators are unprepared to deal with cyberbullying, then they can give only minimal help to their students. Various studies, such as Boyd (2014) and Cronin (2014) indicate that while lower elementary school teachers are responding positively to preventing cyberbullying, those in higher education levels are not so well prepared.

The problem statement: In the last decade concern about online bullying (‘cyberbullying’) and aggression has escalated (Smith, 2015). Teachers are considered a critical factor in bullying prevention and intervention (Yoon & Bauman, 2014). Research also shows that although preservice teachers have a good understanding of what cyberbullying is, many have little confidence in handling it in school (Li, 2008) and may lack knowledge of cyber ethics and safety (Pusey & Sadera, 2012; Spears, Campbell, Tangen, Slee, & Cross, 2015). The eSafety Commissioner (n.d.) offers specific advice about how to deal with cyberbullying and various services such as KidsMatter (n.d.), and ResponseAbility (n.d.) have a lot of advice for teachers and parents. Unfortunately, we have little research about whether preservice teachers know about such resources or if their advice to students reflects current eSafety recommendations. Due to the limited information regarding the subject of teachers’ ability to deal with online bullying, this inquiry aims to address the following questions:

  1. How do preservice teachers view the seriousness and likelihood of intervention in online forms of aggressive behaviours?

  2. What forms of intervention does the preservice teacher recommend for the behaviours?

  3. Does preservice teacher understanding and advice align with recommendations from the eSafety Commissioner and other recommended resources?


The respondents in this study were five preservice teacher education students. Among the five, four taught secondary while one taught at a primary school.


Teacher beliefs about seriousness and intervention strategies: The survey described by Bauman & Del Rio (2006) was used to measure the teachers’ perception on cyberbullying and the intervention strategies they would use. The interviewees were asked their opinions on a scale of one to five regarding a given classroom scenario. They were then asked how they would likely intervene in the situation. A questionnaire was used to collect these views. The questionnaire tested various issues of online bullying, including the interviewee’s perception the seriousness of cyberbullying in learning environments, the likelihood of intervening in certain bullying situations, and the need for prevention strategies and their effectiveness. The first six questions adopted the five-point Likert scale model, while the rest were open ended.

Teacher eSafety advice and understanding:
the teachers’ understanding of the eSafety and its functions were also tested and recorded. Teachers were asked about their likelihood to intervene on risky online scenarios that could lead to cyberbullying. Their responses were recorded on a scale of 1 to 5. Those who showed greater likelihood (above 3) were asked about the approaches they would use in intervention. The responses were open-ended, so each respondent gave his or her guided opinion. This was meant to evaluate the teachers’ eSafety advice.


The study was conducted with the use of questionnaires that required to be filled by the respondents. The teachers were first briefed about the ongoing study and introduced to the set of questions to be asked. Each vignette was read to the participant and their verbal responses to each question obtained and recorded or transcribed. The closed end questions were recorded on a score of 1-5 with one being “not serious” and five “very serious”.

The Research Ethics Committee at the Macquarie University approved this study before it was carried out. The ethical guidelines used in this study required that the identity of the respondents not be revealed; hence, their names, institutions, and ages were not asked.

At the conclusion of the study period, the data from the questionnaires were recorded in an EXCEL spreadsheet and the results tallied (Table 1). Descriptive statistics were employed to report the respondents’’ knowledge and perceptions of the dangers the Internet had on students. The mean seriousness score were 4.3, 4.2, 4.3, 3.8, and the mean intervention score were 4.6, 4.2, 4.8, 4.2, and 4.2, respectively.

Table 1: the scores of preservice teacher



Mean_ Int






* Ser = Serious score

**Int = Intervention score

Most teachers (3) did not know of any helpline they could use to address bullying behaviours among students. However, 2 teachers reported that they were aware of and would recommend it for reporting cases of online bullying. When asked about the eSafety commissioner, all the teachers responded that they have never heard of it. All the teachers interviewed agreed that sharing of passwords was a leading cause of online bullying; hence, students should be strongly advised against sharing passwords, especially those that they use for social media websites. All the respondents also reported that they would advise students who came about unwanted, illegal or unauthorised content to report the matter to relevant authorities such as teachers, counsellors or their parents.


This study was structured to evaluate the perception of preservice teachers regarding the seriousness and likelihood of intervention in online forms of aggressive behaviours, the forms of interventions they would recommend, and whether they understood the recommendations of the eSafety Commissioner or related bodies. The teachers involved in the survey all agreed that online bullying or such aggressive behaviours were likely to occur online and that they would intervene to some level. The study showed that teachers were likely to advise students not to engage with unknown people online, share their personal information or visit suspicious websites. However, apart from that, there were no indicative preventive measures that the teachers were engaged in. These findings contradict the study done by Eden, Heiman, & Olenik-Shemesh (2013) on cyberbullying. In their survey, they found that most teachers did not take cyberbullying as a serious issue and therefore lacked the necessary skills of handling such incidences. However, the study resonates with that of Minor, Smith, & Brashen (2013), which established that while school teachers were aware of cyberbullying, they lacked the skills and techniques of handling the situation if it occurred within their environments. The inference of these results is that, teachers view online bullying as something that takes place outside the classroom or the school environment. The conclusion is that, if educators are unprepared to deal with cyberbullying, then they can give only minimal help to their students.

Of particular significance in these findings, the study indicated that preservice teachers were unaware of the eSafety Commissioner. This would imply that while educators had an awareness of certain subjects or terms relating to Internet safety of students, they might not have a good working knowledge of preventive and intervention measures. This compounds the problem identified by Li (2008) that most school instructors have little confidence of handling cyberbullying in schools. This study also indicates that teachers lack knowledge of cyber ethics and safety and as such, they cannot protect their students effectively. Yoon and Bauman (2014) found that teachers have a critical role to play in bullying prevention and intervention. However, if they lack both the knowledge and skills on how to handle the situation, then it would be difficult to achieve any significant success in its prevention. The implication is that extreme cases, such as suicides resulting from online bullying, may continue unabated.

The recommendations for this study is that teachers should be made more aware of the recommendations offered by the eSafety Commissioner, which are quite crucial in dealing with bullying. There are also other online resources such as KidsMatter and ResponseAbility that could offer a lot of help to teachers.


Bauman, S. & Del Rio, A. (2006). Preservice teachers’ responses to bullying scenarios: Comparing physical, verbal, and relational bullying. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1)doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.219, 219-231.

Couvillon, M. (2011). Recommended practices: A review of schoolwide preventative programs and strategies on cyberbullying. Preventing School Failure, 55(2), 96-101.

Eden, S., Heiman, T., & Olenik-Shemesh, D. (2013). Teachers’ perceptions, beliefs and concerns about cyberbullying. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(6), 1036-1052.

Freis, S. D., & Gurung, R. R. (2013). A Facebook analysis of helping behavior in online bullying. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2(1), 11-19.

Minor, M. A., Smith, G. S., & Brashen, H. (2013). Cyberbullying in higher education. Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 3(1), 15-29.

Snakenborg, J. A. (2011). Cyberbullying: Prevention and intervention to protect our children and youth. Preventing School Failure, 55 (2), 88-95.

Stauffer, S., Heath, M., Coyne, S., & Ferrin, S. (2012). High school teachers’ perceptions of cyberbullying prevention and intervention strategies. Psychology in the Schools, 49(4), 352-367.