Colin's Sandbox

A Review of the CyberSavvy Approach

by on Mar.18, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

“Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology,” while defining bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time” (, 2014).

Nancy Willard cites key differences between cyberbullying and bullying. With cyberbullying, the behavior can continue well after face-to-face interaction.  In addition, the power structures can be different; “sometimes less powerful young people are using the Internet to attack more powerful people or groups of people” (Willard, 2007, p28).

Just how prevalent is bullying and cyberbullying?  A recent infographic published by the Anti-Defamation League shared in the Google Community claims that out of all students surveyed in the 12 to 18 age range, 28% reported being bullied at school, while 24% reported being cyberbullied during their lifetimes.  From the European Union, 19% of “young people” reported an incident of bullying in the past year, with 13% reported that this occurred face to face, while the other 3% occurred online (Willard, interview, 2011).  Comparable numbers for the state of Alaska were not readily available.

Although these numbers do mean that students have been targets of both bullying as well as cyberbullying, they don’t match up with the level of media hysteria on the topic.  This fear of cyberbullying and the desire to protect our students has led many districts and governments to extremes.  Ohler mentions one extreme example of overreaction by a legislative body: mandating that minors who engage in sexting, either sending or receiving, have to register as a sex offender for their entire life.  Schools often greatly restrict student access to parts of the Internet, particular social media sites, out of fears of potential cyberbullying (Ohler, 2010).

Willard’s work focuses on identifying positive social norms and encouraging positive peer interventions in order to create a healthier school atmosphere, empowering students to police each other, know when and feel empowered to report incidents to adults when necessary, and encourage resilience to withstand incidents should they arise.  After review of her CyberSavvy program I believe that a school can and should implement a quality program focusing on positive peer interactions as the guiding force to effect change.  Willard’s CyberSavvy program and its materials is a great starting point

CyberSavvy Program Details

Willard’s approach to engaging students in the topic of cyberbullying, entitled “CyberSavvy”, is to start by surveying the student population.  The survey gauges student experiences both as a target of cyberbullying as well as someone who has witnessed it occurring to their peers and then examines students’ perception of what is right and wrong in certain situations as well as what they perceive as their peers’ norms.  Demonstrating the difference between students’ reported norms and individual participants’ perceptions of the group norms is key, since “students often behave in accord with what they perceive peer norms to be.”  Additionally, “when those norms discourage peer aggression and support positive peer intervention, the number of students who are willing to act in a positive manner increases” (Willard, 2013).  Additionally, having taken the survey myself I can attest to its ability to make me reflect on many of the aspects of bullying as well as cyberbullying and allowed me to play out how problem situations may ideally resolve themselves.

Willard identifies a few factors that work to inhibit peer responses to behavior that they see as aggressive: diffusion of responsibility (somebody else will handle this), audience inhibition (I might be embarrassed), social influence (no one else is doing anything).  In contrast, she notes factors promoting positive peer intervention (Willard, 2013):

  • knowing that a situation is hurtful
  • interpreting the situation correctly
  • having a sense of personal responsibility
  • having sufficient personal power
  • having effective intervention skills
  • being supported socially

Willard mentions several activities post-survey and depending on the results, their particular style, and the capabilities of the students, the facilitator leading the class would be advised to use these as potential starting points for action.  One that was most interesting to me was the suggestion to lead the students through a school awareness campaign over a variety of media types highlighting the social norms identified from the data to educate the general student population and promote a positive environment.  There’s value on two sides of the activity: the activity reinforces the data the students have already been exposed to, and it serves as a visible reminder for students who have already been through the program and are already familiar with the message (Willard, 2013).  In keeping with the overall theme of focusing on positive peer interactions and intervention (“In this school we help each other”), and away from negative messages of powerlessness and victimization.  The other approach that I thought would be a wise integration would be to link as part of a wider discussion on topics of digital citizenship, serving to spiral the topic over a few weeks and using the model responsible / positive behavior online.

Getting Started

I mentioned that the CyberSavvy program could serve as a great starting point.  I would certainly expect an organization to review the survey, update as needed to reflect current technologies, modify the questions or adjust the language as needed.  I found the survey to be long, it gathers great data and I believe it is intended to be given during a class period, but I wonder, especially with short attention spans, if you may not get more complete data if the survey was shortened.

A highlight of this program was the focus on student-led discussion and action as a result of the data collected.  Acknowledging students’ experiences and allowing them to lead the discussion should help them take ownership of the social norms that were brought to light. As you go forward on implementing cyberbullying into your curriculum, look for ways to hook it into current events, or past relevant history.  Integrate with other lessons.  Cyberbullying isn’t limited to one space on the Internet or one activity, your approach to modeling good behavior and empowering students should reflect that as well.


Willard, N. E. (2007). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats, and distress. [Google Books]. Accessed from

Willard, N. E. (2011). Cyberbullying: An interview with Nancy Willard. Retrieved from:

Willard, N. E. (2013).  CyberSavvy program description.  [Digital citizenship MOOC course materials]. Retrieved from: (2014). Cyberbullying.  Accessed on March 18, 2014 from

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital Community, Digital Citizen. [Kindle Edition]. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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